A couple anticipated attending the opening of a new museum exhibit.
At the last moment, their childcare plans fell through. They were left with the only option of taking their young daughter, seven years old, with them. They expected that the event would be tedious for the girl, but hoped she would not be a drain on their evening.
The exhibit was large and varied. One room of watercolor paintings, another of pen and ink sketches. In another great bronze sculpting. In another, modern art in oil. And in another, small blown glass figurines. Exquisite. Gossamer.
The little girl spent the evening mesmerized.
On the way home, the parents said to their daughter, “We’re sorry we took you to such a long adult event. But we’re proud of the way you behaved. And we want to thank you. Did you enjoy any of the evening?”
The girl paused, and then told them, “Oh yes… all night, I wanted to touch the fragile things.”
The little ones understand.
Here’s the wonderful irony in this unnerving truth. The very gifts that allow us to be fully human and fully alive are fragile precisely because they have the capacity to be broken open. These are all gifts that spill courage and hope.
And here’s the deal: There is exquisite beauty in what is fragile, in what can be broken. In love, tenderness, kindness, generosity, gentleness and empathy, there is strength and power and life.
Yes. I do want to touch the fragile things. I do not want my heart to be hard. I do want my heart to be soft. Well, at least that’s what I say out loud.
It doesn’t help that we live in a world where soft isn’t popular. And fragile is considered detrimental. So we choose tough, fighter, inflexible. It is not surprising that we hear too many stories about cruelty and bullying and bombast and ways we demean and diminish one another. When I see this, it is easy to close the door of my heart.
We are human. We are prone to breakage. That’s not a surprise. Everyone of us is or has tussled with grief, heartache, sorrow, woundedness and loss.
Although in our image consciousness, we scramble to appear put-together (sometimes in the name of God), and in so doing, we miss all the places where the light shines from the wound. (I must admit, to my detriment, I’m actually pretty good at that. You know, appearing put together.)
But after while, there’s no payoff to living implacable or callous. And I want to touch the fragile things. I want to touch my heart.
I’m a storyteller, and I love stories that ignite, hearten and uplift. Stories that make my heart glad. And soft. Stories make space for healing, passion, inclusion, wonderment and grace. And the fragile things.
I love football season. There is nothing more rousing than an unimagined, bring-you-to-your-feet touchdown run.
“He scores! An eighty-yard TD. And the crowd goes nuts.”
And the player carrying the football? He lives with cerebral palsy, which limits his ability to walk, let alone run, and more often than not, uses crutches for help.
But not this past weekend. Not in the game between Atlee High School and Varina (in Virginia). This past weekend, high school senior Sepp Shirey ran with his whole heart, even though liable to fall at every step. And, he scored a touchdown.
What is honored will be cultivated, Plato reminded us.
And that’s the fun part of this story. There were choices honored. Choices to be made.
Atlee Coach Matt Gray chose to put Sepp in the game. (He had asked that the defenders go easy, two-hand touch instead of a tackle.)
Sepp’s father, Hunter (on the sideline), chose to say, “No, let them tackle Sepp.”
The referees were alerted.
His teammate and defenders had already chosen. They chose not to tackle, and instead chose to clap and cheer Sepp on as he ran. Without crutches. In the video it looked doubtful that Sepp would make it for the entire distance, let alone another yard. But he did. And when he crashed into the end zone, he fell into the arms of a teammate.
Oh yes. Varina beat Atlee 63 – 21. Not that it mattered in the bigger picture. Because “we learned more from him than what anyone thought we gave him. It’s the toughest 80-yard run I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll tell you that,” Varina coach Brown said.
“We all have limitations,” said Coach Gray. “Obviously his are visual, but those are things, that you know, you talk about being inspired… he will not allow anything to hold him back.”
Limitations? Well, yes indeed. If by limitations you mean those fragile places that remind us we are fully human and allow us to shine the light? Those places where there’s a break or a crack, that make space for confession, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation.
I love the song All My Favorite people are Broken, by Over the Rhine. I read songwriter Linford Detweiler comments (for Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity).
All my favorite people are broken
Believe me my heart should know
Some dreams (prayers?) will break a rib cage wide open
Try to fly free, try to fly home
Here’s the good news. This reality—that we are indeed broken people—does not dishearten me. It motivates, animates and emboldens. To live with a soft heart keeps my hope alive. Knowing that the gift of my own fragile heart is the best gift I can give.
“Well, nobody else can live the life you live,” Mr. Rogers reminds us. “And even though no human being is perfect, we always have the chance to bring what’s unique about us to live in a redeeming way.”
Of course it is always easier to believe this affirmation about others, than it is to believe it about ourselves. And that light inside does dim from time to time. And if we’re honest we know how easy it is to live small or to be diminished; by shame or exhaustion or discouragement. And we are no longer dispensers of grace and light. In other words, we live with armor.
Why do I write Sabbath Moment? Because I want to live with a soft heart. And I need a reminder to set my armor down.
With a breakable heart we touch the fragile things, gentleness, empathy, compassion and kindness, and that can make all the difference.
We can choose
We can risk
We can forgive
We can redeem
We can bear witness
We can be the light of the world
In this dance we call life
On this planet we call home
It is time change Sunday. So we fall back. Of course I wasn’t aware of it until this afternoon. Now I have to decide what to do with that extra hour.
I’ll keep reading Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult’s incredible look at race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion. She does not shy away from broken and fragile things.
Halloween this past week. Our island shuts down, and people wander the main street in town. Trick or treating at each of our small businesses. I saw a fair number of super heroes this year. To avoid reality? Perhaps, or to find different ways to see reality.
And today, snow. Heavy swirling snow. Not typically a Seattle thing this early. There’s only one option; I think I’ll go finish this in front of the fireplace.
Quote for your week…
It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have. The alphabet is fine, but it’s what we do with it that matters most. Making words like “friend,” and “love.” That’s what really matters. Fred Rogers
Note… Sepp’s story adapted from Richmond-Times Dispatch
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Sometimes a nook, a wall half down,
a swerve in the path where the breeze
can’t catch you; other times a made shelter,
a shepherd’s build up of flat stones curved
to keep the wind off. Once, at the top of the pass,
it was a cave in the mountain rock taking you in
from the swirl and eddy of snow and the killing cold
so you could live to the grey blank dawn.
Then in Galicia, it was a breath of warmth
from a kitchen door, palatial with light
and a daughter’s smile, the family behind,
asking you in, as if to say, of all shelter,
traveler, you’ll ever find on the road,
even with those you know,
the stranger’s love is best of all.
Pilgrim. Poems. Many Rivers Press
The peace of God, the peace of men,
The peace of Columba kindly.
The peace of Mary mild, the loving,
The peace of Christ, King of tenderness,
The peace of Christ, King of tenderness.
Be upon each window, upon each door.
Upon each hole that lets in light.
Upon the four corners of my house,
Upon the four corners of my bed.
Upon the four corners of my bed;
Upon each thing my eye takes in,
Upon each thing my mouth takes in.
Upon my body that is of earth
And upon my soul that came from on high.
Upon my body that is of earth
And upon my soul that came from on high.
Carmina Gadelica is the most complete anthology of Celtic oral tradition ever assembled. During his travels with the civil service as an excise man, Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) spent hours with peasants in their huts in front of peat fires listening as they “intoned in a low, recitative manner” these poems and prayers.