Fear, Anger, Relief, Compassion…Exhaustion…a week of conflicted emotions…
I am a Boston girl and when I am tired, I can PAAK the CAAH with the best of them. April vacation week with its kickoff Marathon Monday is an integral part of my childhood lexicon. Patriots Day is full of tradition, ‘Listen my child and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere’ and the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ that signaled the beginning of our Revolutionary War. You can’t attend Boston College as I did and not be part of the masses cheering on the runners as they crest Heartbreak Hill for their first sight of the Prudential Tower and the final five miles to the finish line. Last Monday, I knew my BC daughter was among the throng, cheering on the runners near the finish line…
Each night since then as I have gone to bed, a cacophony of thoughts has bombarded my consciousness. Relief that my friends and family are really safe…some so close to the blast and saved through sheer luck. Sadness at the path that lies ahead for so many injured…visualizing the Emergency Department where I had spent a day a few months ago, teaming with victims and reliving my own ambulance ride in Boston, thinking about those who respond seemingly effortlessly to help others. Pride in having played an early role in defining Boston’s EMS system - my first job after graduate school. Horror at the thought of the lives that were lost and those that have been changed forever. Incomprehension for a wayward kid drowning in a pool of his own blood…And that’s just Boston. The explosion of the fertilizer plant in Texas, the spree of car bombs in Bagdad…the uncertainty we all face…it seems overwhelming. As the calls and emails came in checking on the whereabouts of my Boston family, I was touched by the messages of concern; the outpouring of caring from people around the globe was an unexpected gift.
I now have a new mantra, Be Not Afraid. So easy to say (or to sing) and a phrase I have used mindlessly so many times with my children or to those facing illness and trauma letting them know they are not alone. And yet in this week where nearly all of us have tasted fear, any feeling of peace has been impossible for most of us to achieve. Ironically, when I think of fear, it’s bravery that comes to mind. At one of the California Women’s Conferences, Maria Shriver made a comment about bravery that resonated with me. She said you can’t be brave, unless you have first been afraid. The experience of fear is different for each of us and is part of who we are. It astounds me that some people like jumping out of planes, that Shawn White actually enjoys sending his snowboard high into the sky soaring above the walls of the half pipe. And yet, some of us are afraid of standing up in a room and speaking out, others of driving, or sharing our stories or dreams with each other. Regardless of where we are on this continuum, I have come to believe that we are united in our fear of the unknown…the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely…not here, not now, no way. The events of last week have brought all of this closer; the improbable could happen right here, right now.
The question is not just how, but how do we act: conquer our fear, advance our understanding, face the unknown? It is a call to action. We have to be vigilant as the subway signs in NYC tell us; we cannot afford to wallow in helplessness and despair...the victims deserve better than that. Four days before the marathon, Lee Woodruff commented during a presentation at BC that things look better with faith. For me, it is a poignant reminder. As I Skyped into a book club meeting in a suburb of NYC the night of the marathon, the conversation turned to skepticism, faith and doubt. I was struck by how the women supported each other in their questions in their friendship as they explored the difficult questions of life. It reminded me once again that I don’t’ have to have all the answers, maybe I can just be thankful, maybe I can try to practice forgiveness. It’s the connection we heard about or saw on TV in the heroic acts or the simple random acts of kindness where we can find meaning and hope. So take action. Hug someone today…tell someone you care, that you appreciate them…take a moment (maybe even two or three) and look at the beauty that surrounds you: a flower, a smile…do something for someone else…it’s good for them and it’s good for all of us…it’s a way to cope and to regain some of the strength we lost last week as we look to make the future brighter and be ready for ‘the next thing that comes along.’ (Joan)
CK Chesterton said, "We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty."
I imagine this boat filled with friends, more Love Boat than Titanic, all of us fighting to stay afloat at one time or another, alternating between the rowers and the rowed, recognizing a certain coordination in our efforts, a rhythm to our movements, that results in safe passage.
We need each other to survive and we need friendship to survive well.
One of the unexpected outcomes from our miracle journey was the nearly universal comment made about the "...awe-inspiring power of friendship..." reflected in the pages of The Miracle Chase. It is a power available to all of us, of course, but at the time one we didn't recognize.
A few weeks ago, the three of us made a rare appearance together (geographic constraints being what they are) at Meb's and my alma mater, Santa Clara University. We came in separate cars from different directions. Meb arriving from a few hours down the coast where she was visiting her Dad. Without much warning, she and her brothers were in the midst of end-of-life discussions about their father's quickly deteriorating health.
Joan drove herself along with her walker and cane, the accoutrements of her healing broken hip. "It's just so annoying, " Joan said in her typical life-goes-on fashion as she hobbled up the Mission Garden walk.
In spite of life having thrown both of them a curve, Meb and Joan both demonstrated two of my most important ingredients of friendship: showing up and honoring commitment.
I had flown in a couple of days before and was being driven down by Jan, a dear friend since the days when we were roommates in college. She knows where my secrets are buried, she is my younger daughter's godmother, and she is coming to hear us speak for the third time. Since no skeletons have come back to haunt me, I'm going to assume Jan has honored our friendship with loyalty and the keeping of confidences. I also assume she is coming to our talk because sometimes friendship motivates real effort - in this case, getting up early on a Sunday morning, the day before a cross-country business trip. I always get nervous before these events and being driven down by Jan added reassurance. I definitely appreciated that she was the rower.
Joan, Meb and I always begin our talks by sharing our stories as we did among the three of us when we began this journey so long ago. If stories are "data with a soul" as Brene Brown says, then when we share our stories we also open ourselves up to friendship. In someone else's hands, our stories can take on new meaning, deepen our understanding of who we are or who we want to be, and, allow us to see ourselves through a different lens, perhaps, a more objective one. We live inside our own stories and our stories live inside those people we are privileged to call our friends. Friendship weaves the threads of our personal stories together and as they intertwine we find connection and strength, each becoming a part of the other.
Maybe I have old times and old friends on my mind, stirred up memories from going back to walk the college path. Moving across the country four years ago has reinforced a deep gratitude for life long friendships, ones that transcend distance or long absence, give the benefit of the doubt and are quick to forgive and congratulate; friends that come to the rescue when tragedy strikes and then stick around when most people have moved on. A friend's expectations of us elevates the expectations we have of ourselves. John O'Donohue calls friends "found blessings" without which "...we would never have become who we are."
I am also more aware of how exhilarating cultivating new friendships can be. New friends hear your story all over again and challenge you in different ways. If friends are a "...mirror in which we recognize ourselves..." then new friends allow us to see ourselves in a different light. Jan gave me a card that day that said, "Life is like riding a bike, you must move forward in order to maintain your balance." (Albert Einstein) New friends keep you moving forward.
As our talk turned itself over to the crowd, several women stood up to tell a story, a piece of themselves laid bare, and ninety women listened, the seeds of friendship, found blessings, planted on an unseasonably warm and spring like day. (Katie)
We all know how a life can turn on a dime.
This month, Joan found out how quickly things change when she tripped on an upturned brick in Boston and came crashing down, breaking her hip. My father has given up on living alone after his doctor finally fessed up and told him the truth- at 86 he will never have the balance and stamina he did five years ago no matter how much he walks with his walker. My daughter ended a serious relationship last week, suddenly awakened by a long-delayed conversation that made it painfully clear she and her boyfriend did not share important values.
At these moments, where life presents challenges to the careful balance we create between independence and interdependence, we are hard-wired to reach out to others. There is a proverb from Vermont that says, “Pleasure makes us acquainted with each other, but it takes trials and grief to make us know each other.” This hard-wiring for connection is what I view as the Law of Two.
The Law of Two exists because we are social animals. We come into this world wired for connection. Babies notice similarities between their actions and those of others. They participate in “conversations”, taking their turn once Mom makes a face or sticks out her tongue, copying the gesture or responding with a delighted coo. Babies can tell if you are looking at them and notice if you turn away, signaling their disappointment with a cry. In short, babies are born with brains already capable of creating meaning – especially emotional meaning – from the experiences they have with other people. We can even measure these connections in the brain with the new neuroscience; our brains light up at the faces of others. For humans, nothing is more entertaining than a human face.
“It is not good for man to be alone” says the Bible. Even though we can all admit that at times it is a great relief. (John Barrymore), we know that solitude is a good place to visit but a bad place to live. We Americans especially have a love/hate relationship with reliance on others. We value rugged individualism and a “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” philosophy. But we are really interdependent animals. While we celebrate self-reliance, the reality is that ‘no man is an island’ and it is by cultivating relationships with each other where we find true satisfaction. In uncovering a second passion after her successful acting career, Audrey Hepburn became an ambassador for the United Nations and recognized the dual nature of the power of two sharing her experience that, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
We provide a helping hand for those we love almost without a second thought. Special calls, meals prepared, additional visits, or late night conversations to soothe a troubled soul or body. As we reach out to others, we are blessed with the knowledge that we are connected to each other in the same/new way.
Intrinsic as it may seem, we do have a choice. We can choose not to connect by ignoring the needs of others, being blind to those around us through our pride or prejudice. Bryce Courtenay in his novel, The Power of One, clarifies the distinction, “Inside all people there is love, also the need to take care of the other man who is his brother. Inside everyone is a savage, but there is also happening tenderness and compassion.” The choice is ours. It is choosing to connect in tenderness and compassion that transforms the Law of Two into the Power of Two. (Meb)
On my frequent trips to San Francisco from my home in Pebble Beach, I often follow Rt. 1 North along the coast, through verdant fields overflowing with artichokes, up and over the hill in Santa Cruz, the road winding recklessly into the heart of Silicon Valley before crossing over and turning north on Rt. 280. There, backing up to one particularly scenic vista of rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep, I see the massive circular disc pointed skyward that’s known as the Stanford Listening Station. It’s manned 24/7 by modern day Lt. O’Horas constantly listening for communication from other galaxies. I always know when I pass it because in an ironic twist, my cell phone coverage is interrupted and my personal listening device is rendered useless. Annoying as this experience is, it reminds me of the importance of communication and connection, where the simple act of listening can be transforming. What if they (or we) actually hear something?!
Somewhere along the way we’ve lost our ability to listen and really hear someone else. Ernest Hemingway recognized this disconnect, commenting, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” As teens we chattered constantly. In college we spent whole nights brainstorming solutions to the problems of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As we entered our cocoon of work and family, the connections we came to depend upon become funneled down to a limited few. As a parent, I‘ve had moments (ok, whole weeks) where I wondered whether I was talking to myself about picking up the dirty laundry, getting homework done on time, and being in before curfew. I have even had discussions with my husband after he’s forgotten a message from weeks earlier, when he innocently asks, “Did you tell me it was important?”
As we travelled the country on our book events, Katie, Meb and I heard time and time again that we were lucky to be such close friends. Many were shocked to hear we didn’t start off that way, but over the years of working together we had our own personal 24/7 listening devices open to what each other had to say. Our willingness to listen empathetically, without judgment and with compassion, facilitated our deeper connection as well as our continuing successful collaboration.
At a series of talks we did last year, we spoke about the importance of having, and being, an empathic listener - someone who listens and really hears us as we express our thoughts, our dreams and even our fears, with a willingness to provide honest feedback. Even complete strangers were stunned at the connections they found in the first two minutes of conversation. Some of us find this connection in marriage, others with friends, and sadly, some don’t know what they are missing. In our case, as we chased miracles, not only was it the listening that was important, but the non-judgmental atmosphere that facilitated really being heard and our willingness to challenge each other to go beyond the obvious telling to really understanding the ‘back story’. Listening forged not only a deepening connection of trust and commitment to each other, but Joseph Campbell’s comment, “Love is a friendship set to music,” became music to my ears. (Joan)
Please share your Christmas traditions as Katie has done here...
I have always loved Christmastime. When our children were young, finally tucked into bed, I would turn off all the lights except for the tree, sit on the couch, and enjoy a magical moment, silent and reminiscent of days gone by. Not every night during the season but always on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, there would be the remnants of a fire in the fireplace, the contentment of an evening spent with loved ones and the anticipation of more family and fun the next day. It is a ritual suggested by my Mom-something she had done and somehow it connected me to my younger years, as my children now connect me to the years ahead. I bask in feelings of love and of hope in my little oasis, warm and twinkling, and feel connected to the message of Christmas: Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men. Though it is a loose translation from the gospel of Luke (2:13-14), as “…a great army of heaven’s angels…” sing praise announcing the birth of Jesus, the message is a universal one.
Peace on earth seems so impossible; it would take the miracle of miracles to achieve it. Yet, ninety-eight years ago it happened. On Christmas Eve, in the first year of the Great War, men on either side of the front lines spontaneously declared, at least in their hearts, Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men. This was not a cease fire, nor was the war just warming up. A million men had already died. At first the men were tentative as they mustered their courage and confidence to venture out to no-man’s land, to chat, exchange gifts and souvenirs, even to play soccer. They sang Christmas carols back and forth and enjoyed the candles the Germans lit on their small Christmas trees, gifts from home. Each side was allowed the dignity of retrieval and burial of the dead. “Christmas had made the bitterest foes friends,” wrote one soldier. They understood the enemy reflected in their own hopes and fears. If it can happen once, though spotty and fleeting, maybe there is a sliver of hope, the possibility of a great miracle, Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men.
Henry Van Dyke, professor, poet and theologian wrote a sermon more than a century ago called Keeping Christmas, the idea that the spirit of Christmas reminds us to set our “…own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity.” What if, working together, friend and bitter enemy, we can capture this spirit not just for a day, but always? You wouldn’t have to be much of a cynic to consider this idea laughable or naïve. In our own country, we can’t seem to agree on how to stop the train headed over the fiscal cliff, much less figure out a solution in the Middle East.
As I sit in the dark this Christmas Eve, I will remember that once, the spirit of Christmas moved men to embrace their humanity rather than their differences. I will translate my own feelings of love and hope into a little prayer for a big miracle, Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men. - Katie