The death of Ricky Everson in 1967 at first seemed to be a strange place for me to start on my journey of connecting the dots of my life because it was so long ago. For years, I did not see it as anything more than just another piece of the flotsam and jetsam of the wreckage of my growing up years.
But it seems now to be symbolic of the countless times I “stifled myself” (a la Edith Bunker), discounting the great trauma and tragedy as another “piffle”--of no great consequence to who I was becoming (or not becoming) as an adult. Alas, it’s so much easier to stifle things if we regard them as mere “piffles.” For years and decades of my life, I was first stifled by the chaos and eventually learned to stifle myself. By the this time, at the hardened age of 18, I was a pro.
The result was as a young adult I made a lot of impulsive decisions, based on others’ needs and desires. They were my guide while my inner compass was MIA. Q: Where do you want to go to eat? A: Where do you want to go? Q: What movie do you want to see? A: I don’t know. What do you want? Q: What do you want to do when you grow up? A: What do you think I ought to do? Q: Will you marry me? A: Will you marry me? Q: Where shall we live? A: Where do you want to live? Yada yada yada. The only question to which I had a definite answer "yes" was: Do you want children?
Like the heroine of my favorite childhood book (Cinderella, the Walt Disney version with the honeycomb paper pumpkin that popped out when you opened it!!), I waited for a “Prince Charming” (in some shape or form: human, financial, or chocolate) to swoop in and “save” me from my life. From myself. Alas, every “Charm” that came along eventually turned into a frog or had frog-like qualities, so I just kept stumbling along, stifled and so very sad.
A lot had to happen in my life before I got to the place I am now where I don’t stumble as often, mostly because I have learned that as a friend of mine likes to say, “There’s always a hitch in the giddy-up.” Life isn't perfect, people aren't perfect, I'm not perfect--that's the human condition. Instead of critical judgment of others or myself because we're not perfect, I'm seeking to have compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff, of the University of Texas at Austin, teaches that self-compassion has three "core components": 1) self-kindness 2) awareness that "imperfection is part of the shared human experience" 3) mindfulness, or awareness of our own feelings of suffering.
As I'm learning self-compassion, I'm shifting from unrealistic, optimistic expectations that always seem to lead to disappointment and instead now try to hold no expectations and just be surprised when good things happen. I’m setting boundaries around me that I do not want to cross over, nor do I knowingly allow others to trespass, so that my suffering can be as minimal as possible. I feel that my paradigm is shifting from being pie-in-the-sky optimistic to being grounded in hope, which as Emily Dickinson writes:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea,
Yet, never, in extremity
It asked a crumb of me.
What I now sense (and that Miss Emily and young children seem to know innately) is that hope is a “built-in” of life. It’s a living energy that makes beauty, trust, perseverance, generosity and hospitality possible. It is the spirit of the earth and the Spirit of the earth’s Creator.
So here’s the sermon:
The strength and wisdom of civilizations rise and fall, but the Creative Force of Goodness that gives rise to life itself, gives rise to new strengths and growing wisdoms, and a large measure of love, joy, and peace in each generation and in each human spirit. This Force of Goodness neither rises nor falls, but is the pulsing life of each soul, each generation, in the midst of the individual and communal sufferings of humanity. Hope recognizes the arid bleakness but sees the greening grass on the horizon and leads us on.
I believe this Goodness (one writer calls it the “More” or the “Really Real” and another calls "God's YES!") exists beyond time and space in an everlasting and elastic NOW. God’s NOW embraces the beginning and the ending of: the universe and all its realities; the world and all its creatures; this generation and all its peoples, me and my personal history with all my sorrows and joys, my loves and particular pains. And it is the now—this earthly moment— that is the best boundary for my life. It helps me to be mindful and to keep from stepping out in front of God.
There is a “holy harmony” in me now. A “tune without words” has joined my inner voice and is helping me to become a non-anxious presence in my little corner of the world even as the pokes and slams continue (recently: my husband’s death and a serious medical diagnosis). But they no longer have the power to destroy my inner self. I am. And it is enough.
The Christian theologian Eugene Peterson in The Message, translates Galatians 5:22 ff (where St. Paul is talking about what the “fruits of the Spirit” are: affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Greening. Holy harmony. Spirit-fruit. However I say it, it’s what I’m leaning into even as I parse my childhood and adult years to “connect the dots” of myself and draw a truer picture of my inner essence. It is my FayT to reveal my story to myself, to accept my sufferings, and to have compassion on myself. There is a shimmer of vitality to my life, a little more greening every day. Today is enough. Now is all I am designed to handle; now is all I want to handle and NOW is all I want to handle me. Yippee!
Next: Life in Illinois
Will you pray with me?
O Infinite Source of Being,
We praise you for the Lifeforce you are, for the life that arises within your Eternal NOW, and for the way you imbue the earth, including the human family, ith your joy and passion for life in its infinite varieties and vagaries. We are grateful that the “earth laughs in flowers”* and thank you for the beauty and order of all that is. Help us to learn to listen for the laughing, that we may daily linger with the beautiful and so inhale the sweet aroma of your grace.
You make us to exist in a mortal and limited state, mere children, earthlings, creatures. Yet too often we exploit our desire to “hold things together” and frantically spend our time and energies trying to rule, manipulate or dominate the chaos and crises beyond our sway. We are grateful for your wisdom that helps us acknowledge what we can do to work toward justice and peace and to help us recognize our powerlessness to control the world, other people, or even most of the circumstances of our own lives. We are grateful for the resurrection of our truest selves as we learn to trust that you are able to do what we cannot. Hallelujah!
We thank you for the spiritual gifts you give to all peoples, in all places and generations: for the ability to forgive and be forgiven, for the grace to persevere with deeds of kindness and justice in the face of overwhelming odds, and for the Holy Harmony that your presence sings with the unique and particular song to each of our hearts. Give us the humility and grace, we pray, to persevere in hope to the end of our days so that those who walk beside us or come behind us may also find cause to join the Choir of the Ages. In your holy and blessed name we pray. Amen
*Ralph Waldo Emerson