Read Second-Hand Books

“It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Invitation  ~

There is the adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’  which I try to ascribe to.  Sometimes the stories have been good, some have been bad and others have been profound.  One of the most profound stories that I have ever come into contact with, lies with three beggars, who passed my way about a decade ago.  Two of them were male and one was female, and little did I realise that my decision to give them something to eat would lead to me being the recipient of something far greater instead.

Our exchange in conversation led to them sharing about themselves and their life journeys.  The striking thing was that they didn’t have a “woe is me” and a “woe is my life” approach.  Granted, they started off by sharing about how one of the men had been attacked on the previous night, and that it had resulted with him being kicked in the groin.  I remember the woman encouraging him to show me and I responded by frantically trying to dissuade him from doing so.  I did not need to look at “the boys,” especially on the sidewalk in front of passersby!  Could you imagine?!  Fortunately, he respected my wishes.

It turned out that one of the men (the one that had been attacked on the previous evening) was in a relationship with the woman.  They became friends with the second man at some point, which culminated with their decision to take him under their wing and allow him to be a part of their ‘family’.  Their story was contrary to how one would envisage such a story to be.  More than anything else, theirs was a tale that spoke about appreciation, loyalty and it especially spoke about love.

The woman (at this point I am going to call her Grace, a name befitting her spirit) was enraptured by being presented with two listening ears.  The more that she spoke, the more that her inner beauty broke through her veil of leathery skin, frazzled hair and stench.  She bore an elegance and charm that was captivating.  I hung on her every word to the point of not realising that I had seated myself on the edge of the sidewalk.

She could have told me that her man (I will call him John) was a failure.  But Grace didn’t.  She could have spoken about how life had dealt her with a flimsy set of cards, but she didn’t.  She could have wallowed in self pity, but she didn’t.  What Grace did talk about was her pride and appreciation of John.  She shared about how he tried to protect and care for her.  Grace spoke about how, much as she had nothing, she had everything that truly mattered to her.  She expressed her gratitude for his companionship and love for her.  She was happy and excited from being given the opportunity to share about her relationship with John, but what warmed my heart the most, was that it was more than obvious that in spite of being in a depressing and difficult environment, Grace didn’t just love John deeply but she was also deeply in love with him.

It was as if Grace stooped down, plunged her hands deeply into the bowels of her truth and drew out an unpolished diamond.  She held it out for me to survey and bear witness to, and then right before my eyes, her words of hope (being held against a backdrop of a life of hopelessness) set about polishing this gem until it shone brilliantly and had irradiated her spirit.

Grace continues to humble me.

I am compelled to give the adage that I had opened with, an entirely new spin:  “Take the time to read second-hand books.”

Let me point out that by saying, “second-hand,” in no way represents value, but rather it represents life experience.  Grace teaches me that a tatty cover means nothing more than that the book has endured a lot, which indicates that the contents could possibly bear great worth, much beauty and many lessons.

Going through life is big people stuff.  Sometimes you’re just out there in the jungle with a machete and nothing else, not even bug spray.  There are scary noises of things waiting to eat you after nightfall, and all that you can do is to learn whatever survival skills you can, lest your lingering costs you.  The harshness of life may tarnish our covers and make us second-hand books, but we can still decide to hold onto our stories and ensure that they unfold in line with our inner truths.

We all have stories to tell and I believe that the biggest gift that one human being can offer another is to say, “I see you –  will you share your story with me?”

I have reflected on this experience on many occasions and I continue to walk away with new lessons that I have learned.  I have written two poems with this encounter in mind. The first was written about a year after I had crossed paths with Grace, and it was published in the United Kingdom in an anthology of poetry, about a year thereafter.  The second was written about three years afterwards and it came from the perspective of, “What if I had treated them as if they were beneath me, or attempted to brush them aside?”  Because it truly would have been a huge loss on my part.  I have decided to share the second of the two with you.

LIFE TOURIST

You come into my life
like a tourist
eagerly searching for scenes
to capture
through the camera
of your ignorance.

My misfortune
displayed for all to see
under the magnifying glass
of advice and self importance.

My dignity and worth
treated like a commodity to be bought –
you haggle over the price of my life
in search of a trophy
to boast about to your friends….

…at my expense!

You walk away
in search of something new.
I remain
frozen by disbelief.

I held out my hands to welcome you,
but you filled them with coins
and scalded my pride.

RE-Connection

“I have sent you my invitation,
the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living.
Don’t jump up and shout, “Yes, this is what I want!  Let’s do it!”
Just stand up quietly and dance with me”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Dance  ~

I had hoped to spend some time with you sooner, but I was unfortunately unable to do so. I woke up on Monday morning and was greeted by an eventful and demanding week, which included me celebrating RE-Birth Day – and what a wonderful day it was!

I am sure that you remember me sharing previously about the approach that I have towards my birthday, which is why I now look at it as RE-Birth Day: A day of RE-Newal, Re-Demption and RE- Investment. However, based on this last experience, I would like to add one more element to the list: RE-Connection. Indeed, it was a day of RE-Connection!

My time of quiet and pause had allowed for me to bring myself to a place where I was able to RE-Connect with myself; to be in touch with the man that I am…and the man that I strive to be. At this point, let me say that my time of introspection has reminded me that the man that I am striving to be, is the same as the man that I essentially am. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Allow me to take you down memory lane in order for me to explain.

During my time in seminary, I was once given an assignment that required that I talk about my interpretation of the concept of ’original sin’. Within the realm of Catholic doctrine (and possibly other Christian religious institutions) lies the teaching about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, which (as Catholicism teaches) has resulted in the belief that all of us are born with original sin – hence the need for babies to be baptized. With my spirituality and my concept of the Divine being what it is, I tend to have a lot of unconventional thought concerning such teachings.

I do not believe in the traditional concepts of heaven and hell, and I won’t even go into the hymn “Amazing Grace,” because it makes the hair at the back of my neck stand on end. That hymn seriously riles me up! There have been times when loved ones have laughed at me during a service while this hymn was being sung, because of my refusal to sing it and because of the expression on my face. They would oftentimes look at me questioningly for not singing and I would respond by whispering out loud, “I am NOT a wretch!!!!”

Well, I am not!

In my assignment, I spoke about how I believe that original sin is the cause of most self confidence issues, and especially the cause of psychological disorders. And there is nothing mystical or spiritual about this either. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instruction by eating the forbidden fruit, and that their disobedience led to them trying to hide away from “Him” afterwards. I do not believe that it was out of guilt or shame. I do, however, believe that it was out of fear. I also believe that this story is an expression of a reality that abides within each and every one of us, from the time that we take our first breath until the moment that we take our last.

We are afraid.  And the most fundamental truth about this reality, in my opinion, is that we are afraid of ourselves.

I believe that we are more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. With it comes responsibility, which is scary. But even scarier than this, is our fear of failure. “What if my impression about myself is wrong?” “What if I make a fool of myself?” And even scarier, “What if I am right? “What if it leads to there being even more demands and expectations being placed upon my shoulders?!”

I believe that these fears and internal messages then lead to us feeling disempowered. And in order for us to then have some level of feeling empowered and of being in control, the ego then steps in and tells us that we are right. We aren’t good enough. We won’t measure up. We will only be a disappointment. And we are more than happy to accept and reinforce these internal messages because they let us off the hook. The bad thing is that these messages are carried down from generation to generation, until we find ourselves living in the kind of world that we are in today; a psychologically ill and hurting society where we don’t really value and respect each other as much as we ought to, any more.

In the preface to her book ‘The Dance’, Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks a very pertinent question:

“What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be,
but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?”

Perhaps becoming who and what I truly am happens, not through striving and possibly even pretending to be what I perceive a better me looks like, but by be-ing and allowing myself to drift into who I already am in my sacred core – a gentle, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, loving and lovable being.

As I continue my journey through this life and head towards my next RE-Birth Day, I remind and embrace the following truths about who I believe I essentially am:

I believe that I am a child of light and of love.
I believe that I am a sacred, gifted and unrepeatable gift to the world.

But, above all else:

I just AM, and that is enough!

 …and so are YOU!

What truths do you hold onto about yourself?  Have you celebrated these truths today?

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.

What you’ll discover will be wonderful.

What you’ll discover is yourself”

~  Alan Alda  ~

You Broke A Man – I Hope That You Are Proud!

“I have heard enough warrior stories of heroic daring.
Tell me how you crumble when you hit the wall,
the place you cannot go beyond, by the strength of your own will.
What carries you to the other side of that wall,
to the fragile beauty of your own humanness?”

 ~  The Dance – Oriah Mountain Dreamer  ~

Have you ever walked away from a situation where you have been in a daze and found yourself rubbing the back of your head while thinking, “what the heck just happened?!!”?  Yeah, me too…

In one of my previous posts, I touched very briefly about a friend of mine called Peter (which, for the sake of his privacy, isn’t his real name). But, before I attempt to share his story with you and the way that it had a profound influence on my life, I need to warn you that this post is most probably going to be very long and heavy, and it may lead to you running for the hills.

I met Peter a couple of years ago, in the midst of my online meanderings.  Let’s just say that the site where we met is hosted in the Land of Queerville.  You know, the place that is home to the three fairy godfathers Ed, Ned and Ted; where everyone belongs to the Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand Appreciation Club.  Peter contacted me in private and our initial discussion led to our agreement to move our interactions to MSN, where we got to know a bit more about each other.  He struck me as being a nice guy and we got along well.  And then it happened.  The following words appeared on my screen:

“I think that I was raped.”

I think that I reacted like most people would, “What?!  When?!  What happened?!” 

I realised what I was doing and clamped my hands over my mouth, in an attempt to stop myself from subjecting him to further interrogation; to allow him to share what he felt comfortable with, and at a pace that best suited him.

He then tried to retract what he had said by saying, “Then again, I don’t know if I was, because he said that he loved me.”  I was initially confused but then realised that he was in the process of opening up deep and festering wounds, and he was trying to stop himself from doing so.  I assured him that he was in a safe place and that the only thing of importance to me was his wellbeing, so he wouldn’t be judged.  I told him that I had heard stories that would make paint peel from the walls, so there was little risk of me being shocked (although I was when he shared about his sexual assault!).  And I told him that he was free to share as much or as little as he felt comfortable with – if he had any desire to share at all.  The thing of most importance was that he had two listening and non-judgmental ears that had his full attention.  Peter thanked me and told me that he would like to share about his experience.

He had experienced a slight attraction to guys from the time that he had reached his teens.  However, in light of his upbringing and the fact that his attraction was slight, he had chosen to ignore it and it eventually led to him getting married and fathering two kids.  There were issues in his marriage and he got divorced.  It was an ugly and messy divorce; he was the devil incarnate in his wife’s eyes and she would try to use their kids to hurt him.  Soon after his divorce, he decided that since he was single, he would explore his attraction to men, which led to him agreeing to meet a guy that (he’d met online) at his house.

Peter then shared every minute and graphic detail about what transpired after he arrived at this guy’s house.  His sharing was so in-depth that it left little to the imagination; it eventually felt like a movie that was playing minute by minute inside of my head.  There were times when I wanted to cover my eyes and yell, “la-la-la-la-la-la,” to try to make it stop.  What transpired was vicious and cruel and above all else, inhumane.  He was in a battered, bleeding and broken heap by the time that his assault came to an end.  Peter’s rapist then threw his clothes at him and told him to get out.  He put his clothes on slowly and with effort because of his physical injuries, and while doing so, he asked, “why did you do this to me?”

“Because I love you so much that I just couldn’t help myself,” was his rapist’s reply.

I was outraged.  But more than this, I was enraged!  I was also in shock.

For Peter’s sake, I had to put my reaction aside and focus on helping him come to terms with what had taken place.  What added insult to injury was the fact that, in light of his messy divorce and his ex wife hating him, his rape had taken place three years prior to our online meeting…and in an attempt to protect himself and his kids, I was the first person that he had shared this with.  The fact that he had kept this a secret and carried this burden on his own for such a long period of time was soul destroying for me.  It still is, to this day.

There were a few things that stood out in my mind:

The fact that he initially said that he had been raped, told me that he was aware of what had transpired,  and that he was coming to a place of being ready to admit it to himself.

The fact that he then tried to retract what he had said, told me that he still wasn’t entirely ready, and that it would be a delicate process before he’d be ready to move away from being in denial.  He had pretty much spent the first year convincing himself that his rape was in fact an act of love, and for the two ensuing years, there were shifts between him telling himself that this was the case, while at other times, asking himself if it wasn’t perhaps rape.

Finally, the fact that he had gone into so much detail, told me that very little (if any) healing had taken place.  To be expected, with him keeping this secret to himself for such a long time.

I told him that I was with him and that I was willing to help him to process things if he wanted me to. He wanted me to.

I told him that I was going to ask him questions, which he didn’t have to answer out loud if he wasn’t comfortable doing so – the important thing was that he allowed himself to ask himself those questions, even if he didn’t have any answers right away.

It was a very slow and deliberate process that lasted a couple of hours.  Pushing too hard, too soon, would have been to his detriment.  Our exchange went something like this:

Me:  “Did you say no?”

Peter:  “Yes”

Me:  “Did you want it to happen?”

Peter:  “No…I mean, I don’t know.  He said that I wanted it, so I don’t really know.”

Me:  “It’s not about him, it’s about you.  What do YOU say?”

Peter:  “No, I didn’t want it to happen.”

Me:  “Would you do something like this to someone that you love?”

And so it went.

My only intention was to put enough questions into his head so that he could reexamine his assault and allow himself to process his trauma.  Unbeknownst to me, he had committed himself to the process, to the degree that his denial was gradually being eroded away.  It culminated with him saying:

“I was raped.”

And then, silence!

Me:  “Are you okay?”

Silence

Me:  “Are you still with me?”

Silence

Me:  “I am growing concerned, can you please let me know that you’re okay?”

Silence

As the minutes ticked steadily away, my concern turned into panic.

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick. 

My panic turned into a sense of helplessness.  My heart was beating in my throat.  I felt physically ill.  I broke into a sweat.  It felt as if he had held a loaded gun to his head and I had subsequently pulled the trigger.  It was a horrible, horrible experience!!

About half an hour later, the following words appeared on my screen:

“I am crying”

And at that point, I joined him in tears.  Tears of relief, but mostly pained, sorrow-filled tears.  Waves of grief flowed through my body as tears streamed down my cheeks.  We chatted for a little while longer, with me trying to establish where he was at and how he was feeling.  Peter eventually told me that he was wiped out and that he was going to sleep, and I was comfortable with it because by then I could sense that, much as he was dealing with a lot, he was in a good emotional place to be able to cope with it.  I gave him my mobile number and told him to either call or text me in the course of the following day, if he needed somebody to talk to.  We exchanged our goodnights and I went to bed.  My head was swimming.

I woke up the following morning feeling numb inside.  I chalked it down to my exhaustion, after all, I had gone to sleep after 4am, so I had only slept for two hours.  I spent the day confronted by images of Peter’s rape flashing through my mind.  The more that these images flashed, the more aware I became of what had transpired, not only with our previous night’s conversation, but especially about the details concerning his rape.

By the end of that day I was completely devastated.  All of this had taken place without word or warning, so I had little opportunity to distance myself emotionally from what he had shared.  I was especially devastated by the thought that one human being was capable of being that vicious to another.

I was amazed when I chatted to Peter that evening.  There was a lightness in his voice coupled with a hint of peace.  He told me that there were periods where he broke down and cried during the day.  On one occasion, an office friend asked him why he was distressed and it led to him telling her about his rape.  Surprisingly enough, she then shared that at one point in her life, she too had been raped.  Her admission made it possible for them to share experiences and she encouraged him to seek professional help, which he had decided to do.  The amount of healing that had taken place in a timeframe of just one day was amazing.

Peter and I became friends.  The days that followed led to him experiencing waves of grief, sorrow, mourning and anger, which is part of the healing process.  He found a psychologist soon thereafter and started to go for therapy.  He started to display freedom and happiness.  It was like watching a flower unfurl under the rays of the sun.  It was incredible.

On my part however, I continued to feel numb inside.  My numbness led to me experiencing about a fortnight of weeping off and on.  I was devastated by Peter’s rape.  I was devastated that a living and feeling being was capable of being so inhumane to another living and feeling being.  I struggled to reconcile myself to the fact that human beings are capable of such cruelty and, much as I try not to play the moral police, EVIL.  I had a process of my own to go through.

After working myself into a number of snits, I realised it was futile for me to try to examine the conscience of another, and it wasn’t my responsibility either.  I could only look at myself and bring my own conscience and life choices under scrutiny.  This shift in examination allowed for me to move forward and it also allowed me to uncover one of my own personal beliefs about humanity, and especially about myself.  It continues to be a standard that I set before myself and measure myself up against, especially at this time of the year:

I believe that we are better than we dream and worse than we fear,

and that we each get to choose which we will strive for.

It was an honour to bear witness to Peter’s journey towards healing and closure.  About six months after our meeting, he came to me with news about his decision to move to another part of the country.  He felt that he was ready to put his rape behind him and to build a new life for himself.  This decision included his decision to end our friendship and cut all contact with me.  I could accept the loss of our friendship but I was concerned that his decision stemmed from an attempt to run away from the past.  However, I respected it because I felt that it was his therapist’s responsibility to ensure that he was doing the right thing, and I was loathe to interfere with the therapeutic process.  We bade each other goodbye and I have never heard from him since.

My trip to the part of the country that he was planning to move to, about two weeks ago, has led to me thinking about him from time to time.  I wonder how he is doing and if he has been able to come to a place of complete healing.  I experience deep gratitude for being allowed to be a companion on the journey that he undertook, and for being allowed to bear witness to the strength and resilience of the human will.  I don’t believe that there is a greater compliment that one human being can offer another.

Peter is my hero.

On the eve of RE-Birth Day, I am once again inspired by Peter’s story.  I celebrate his presence in this huge and mysterious reality called life.  I am humbled by the way that he filled my hands with the sacredness of his trust and vulnerability.  I am challenged by his courage and commitment to giving himself a better and brighter future.  I send him light, love and gratitude, and I wish him only the happiest and brightest of futures.

As this day comes to an end and I prepare myself for a night of slumber, before waking to greet RE-Birth Day, sharing Peter’s story has led to me concluding that it takes a long time to become a person – longer than I thought.   I am grateful for my past because it has given me the present.  I want to do well by the future.

As an aside:

My last conversation with Peter ended with him telling me that he had a confession to make:

He told me that the night of our meeting had played out differently to how he had planned.  He came across the website that I was on, read my profile and felt compelled to contact me.  However, he had logged online for a different reason.  He was tired of being dead inside.   He was tired of not experiencing any emotions, even when he was with his kids.  He was tired of the weight of the burden that he was carrying inside of him.  It led to his decision that he would go online that night and try to meet someone that would make him re-experience what he did on the night of his rape…and if he still didn’t feel anything afterwards, Peter had decided that he would kill himself…

…I went cold…

In The Meantime…

 “Hold tenderly to who you are and let a deeper knowing
colour the shape of your humanness.
There is nowhere to go.
What you are looking for is right here.
Open the fist clenched in wanting and see what you already hold in your hand.
There is no waiting for something to happen,
no point in the future to get to.
All you have ever longed for is here in this moment,
right now”

~  The Call – Oriah Mountain Dreamer  ~

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I am grateful to my mother.  I am grateful to her for bringing me into this world almost at the cost of her own life.  I am grateful to her for the sacrifices that she has made for me throughout my life.  But I am especially grateful to her for the lessons that she has taught me.

I think that she would flip her lid, if she were to find out that I am opening her up to scrutiny on the internet – she is an extremely private person.  But I need to, and I would like to, because there was a moment in time where I learned and experienced a couple of deeply profound lessons, through her own life experience and the questions that she grappled with.  They have undoubtedly influenced the truth that I embrace and live my life from today.  I cannot help but reiterate that I am deeply grateful to her for this.

She was diagnosed, a couple of years ago, with a medical condition that put her in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ predicament.  Without a doubt, if left unattended to, it would have eventually led to death.  The issue however, is that it was such a rarity, that her case was presented to a panel of experts, in order to determine whether there was something that could be done to remedy the situation.  This meant that there were a lot of risks involved, if she were to be operated on.  A member of the panel stepped forward and volunteered to risk performing corrective surgery on her.  There was an unspoken agreement between all parties concerned, that her surgery came with very little guarantees.

My mother does not allow herself to express the ‘touchy-feely’ element to her human reality.  Over and above this, she is a proud woman and tends to not want to ‘burden’ anybody.  As I personally tried to come to grips with the situation, I couldn’t ignore that she lived her life from those two places, and therefore knew that behind her poker face was a woman trying to come to grips with her mortality and the subsequent fears that go along with it.

I also knew that she needed a lifeline, by being given the opportunity to express these things to another person.  But how was I to do it?  She doesn’t do ‘touchy-feely’ and she doesn’t like feeling as if she is being a burden on anyone.  And even more importantly than this, how do I get her to ‘go there’ without turning her into a basket case in the process?

It took a bit of discernment before I was able to come up with a way of giving her the opportunity to “go there” while making it unthreatening, and allowing her to decide whether she wanted to vocalize her fears and emotions or not.  I visited her and in the midst of our discussions surrounding her upcoming operation, I casually told her that even the bravest of hearts would shy away from what she was going through…and that it was okay.  I can’t say for certain that it came across as being casual because I remember earnestly fighting back my tears.

There was a momentary flash of fear in her eyes which was followed by a flash of acknowledgement.  The only response that she could offer was a surprised, “REALLY?!”  I reassured her that it really was okay; that I’d want to run for the hills if I were in her shoes.  And then there was a period of silence while she looked at me and her face spelled out each and every emotion that she had been harbouring inside the secret places of her heart.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Uncertainty.  Pain.  Fear.  Insecurity.  Doubt.  More fear.  Fear by the bucketload.  And then there was relief.  It was as if her body had sighed and released all of these emotions that had been weighing her down, and with it came the ability for her to find ways to come to terms with what lay ahead of her, and to prepare herself for it.

The day of her surgery arrived.  She went into theater in the early hours of that evening.  Her operation lasted over eight hours – complications!  I was weary to the bone as I drove home in the early hours of the morning.  I was unable to sleep with worry.  I called first thing after getting up to find out how she was doing.  They told me that she was stable.  I then went through to see her in the intensive care unit.  Nothing in this world could have prepared me for what was waiting for me.

The specialist on duty briefed me before I went to her side.  Her vitals were stable but she was far from being out of the woods – the slightest thing could make everything go pear shaped.  In short, her life was hanging by a thread.  Even this brief couldn’t (and didn’t) prepare me for what lay before my eyes.  The once vital woman that had raised me and appeared to be invincible, had been reduced to a barely living being.  She looked like she had suffered a stroke because of her face pulling to the left.  She looked frail and physically vulnerable.  Her heartbeat was steady but slow.  My mother had been reduced to a rumpled mass of barely living flesh!  I was horrified.  And even more than this, I was terrified!

Being caught off guard meant that I had no time to persuade my emotions to obey my resolve.  My mother’s eyes met mine.  They widened with shock.  The blip of her heartbeat on the machine that she was attached to, made me realize that the look in my eyes had made her aware of just how dire her situation was.  Within seconds, an alarm went off and I was shuffled aside while the specialist and a team of nurses surrounded her, in order to stabilise her heart.  I felt as if I had failed her and that I had subsequently put her wellbeing at risk.  I spun around and I fled out of ICU feeling angry with myself…ashamed of myself.

As I ran, it felt as if my emotions had turned into a stone that was lodged inside my throat, making my eyes sting until I started to tear up.  Pressure mounting inside of my head as well as my heart.  I ran until I found the doors to the chapel.  I entered it and was fortunate enough to be on my own.  I remember saying aloud, “Hello God.  This is David.” (cue:  God snapping His fingers while saying, “hello John….er Simon….Paul?  Who are you, boy?  And don’t lie to Me, because I WILL find out and then you will be in trouble!”)  This was the sum and total of what I cannot even consider to be a prayer.  As those words left my lips, the stone dislodged itself from my throat and I crumbled.  I burst into tears and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, slowly seating myself in one of the pews, before burying my face in my hands and sobbing some more.  I eventually managed to compose myself and advised all of my siblings that it would be best if they prepared themselves for the worst.

My mother’s journey of ailing from a medical condition to undergoing surgery, to having her life hang in the balance and culminating with a full recovery and new lease of life, has taught me that there is birth and there is death, and in-between is ‘in the meantime.’  Nothing more than just ‘in the meantime,’ and if one is fortunate enough, then there will be several years of this.  I have been able to expand upon this truth, with time, by saying that it validates the adage:  ‘it’s about the journey and not the destination.’  Life happens in the midst of our planning.  The only fundamental truth about life that we can all hold onto with certainty, is that it will come to an end someday.

And to build upon this even more, since we’re seekers of the truth…of OUR truth, then the questions are of much greater value and importance than the answers.  The questions that we ask ourselves are signposts which encourage us to learn, grow and transcend, as we go about our daily rounds.  But without a doubt, we are not static and neither is life.  Life is ‘in the meantime’.  WE are ‘in the meantime.’

 I have learned that FEAR can either represent:

Facing things down.

Evaluating the situation.

Assessing how I am able deal with it.

Resolving to stick to my plan of action.

or it can mean:

Fleeing from the truth.

Escaping the situation (to the best of my ability).

Allowing myself to constantly be in denial.                  (...and wait for it…)

RUN!!!!!

The biggest lesson that I have learned is epitomized by, and best expressed through the words of Leo Buscaglia PhD:

Death is a continuous beautiful process of life.  Then when you have seen it, you don’t fear it. Death is a good friend, an awfully good friend, because it tells us we don’t have forever and that to live is now; therefore, you see how precious every minute is.  We read it and say, “oh yes, that’s so true.”  But do we live that way?  How wonderful it is to be with the moment when you see a flower.

When somebody is talking to you, for goodness sake, listen and don’t look over a shoulder at what else is going on.  Cocktail time. There’s no greater insult.  If you don’t want to be with me, don’t be with me!  That’s all right, I can adjust to that.  But if you are going to be with me, will you be with me?  You say, “I am going to look at the ocean.”  Do you look at the ocean?  “Oh, isn’t that a beautiful sunset.”  Do you mean it?  Do you see it?  Do you recognize it will never come again?

Death teaches us – if we want to hear – that the time is now.  The time is now to pick up a telephone and call the person that you love. Death teaches us the joy of the moment.  It teaches us we don’t have forever.  It teaches us that nothing is permanent.  It teaches us to let go, there is nothing you can hang on to.  And it tells us to give up on expectations and let tomorrow tell its own story, because nobody knows if they’ll get home tonight.  To me that’s a tremendous challenge.  Death says, “live NOW!

On Sacred Ground

“This life, therefore,
is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness;
not health, but healing;
not being, but becoming;
not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end, but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified”

~ Martin Luther ~

I have noticed, over the past couple of days that, as my feet have crossed the threshold from one day into the next, so too have I entered into a deeper and deeper place of subdued pause.  Granted, I am also exhausted after having been away on a hectic business trip last week, but in a lot of ways, this very trip is what has opened up the portal that led to where I am finding myself to be right now.

It started with me realising that I was in the same part of the country as someone with whom I had once shared and experienced something profound.  I spent some time reflecting upon our online meeting and how he had offered me the gift of his brokenness and humanity.  Before I realised it, waves of memories and emotions coursed through me, until I found myself in a place of quiet and feeling quite subdued and humbled.  And in case you’re wondering, yes, I was misty-eyed…in fact, I am quite misty-eyed as I sit and put this down in writing, this evening.

Reflecting on (let’s call him) Peter and wondering where he is and how he is doing, has heightened my awareness of the blessings that I have encountered in my life.  Some are treasures that have been lying in wait of discovery up till now, while others have been in my awareness for quite some time.  Nonetheless, I am a deeply and beautifully blessed human being and I have so much to be thankful for.

Taking the time, not to count my blessings, but to actually name them is what has brought me to this place of pause.  I have specifically identified four profoundly meaningful moments in my life, and I have made the decision to share them with you over the coming days, because they deserve to be honoured so that my gratitude may be made complete.

I have experienced this time of introspection while having a voice booming internally, “take off your shoes, because you are standing on sacred ground.”  And indeed, it is sacred!

It reminds me of the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, where God/Yah/Great Spirit/That-Which-Is-Greater-Than-Us said, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  More pause.  More introspection.

Most people have been told that God’s instruction to Moses was based on the creature (Moses) coming into contact with the Creator (God); that it had to with it being a sign of reverence and respect, but that is only partly true.  The sad thing is, as with the rest of the Bible, the human, cultural and practical elements are oftentimes overlooked because of the search for the lofty, yet the lofty and truly awe-inspiring are found in these very elements.

Would you remove your shoes if you were planning to leave somebody’s home?  Or better yet, would you remove your shoes if you had no intention of sticking around?  And I won’t even elaborate on what the consequences would be if one were to remove their shoes and venture out into a cruel terrain that consists of scorching sand, sharp rocks, thorny underbrush and poisonous asps.  If I’m going to walk out there, I want a pair of hiking boots let alone a pair of sandals!

Case in point:  It goes beyond God seeking respect and reverence from Moses.  God seeks Moses’ companionship – God is pretty much asking, “Moses, will you stay a while with me?”

And like Moses, my only response is one of making myself present to the sacred ground upon which I now stand, and removing my shoes in silence.

Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”

~  Rumi  ~

Life: a Series of Consecutive “Nows”

“If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death

 ~ Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet ~

The ebb and flow of my life has gradually led to me coming to a place of quiet.  There are many reasons for this, and I won’t bore you with them, but I think that the biggest is the fact that I come one year closer to the great ‘four-oh’, in just over a week.  Not that I attach any value, good or bad, to me eventually turning forty, but it’s because my birthday always has and most probably will always be the most loaded day in the calendar for me.  Once again, several reasons that I won’t bore you with.

At the risk of my friends slapping themselves on their foreheads because of me constantly saying this, but at times I can’t help but conclude that I should have been a Jewish boy.  The reason being that unbeknownst to me, I have spent most of my adult life ascribing to and valuing elements from Jewish spirituality, even though I was raised in a Catholic household and have therefore had very little knowledge or understanding about Judaism.

As an adult, my birthday has been a time where I’d retreat within myself and have a bit of ‘mountain time’.  Where I’d spend time alone and reflect upon my life journey: where I have been, where I am going and what I would like for my future, while reflecting on various people and experiences that have touched my life in beautiful and meaningful ways.

In the midst of my theological studies, I decided to include Judaica into my curriculum and as I got to better know and understand Judaism, I was surprised to discover that this is pretty much how Jewish folk celebrate their birthdays.  It is a day for reflection on their lives as Jews, they make new resolutions to perform good deeds, and they deepen their commitment to the Torah and the role that it plays in their lives.

This day was redefined about three years ago.  It changed from being my birthday to something that better expressed how I view and approach this day, ‘RE-Birth Day’.  A day of RE-newal, RE-assessment, RE-demption and RE-commitment.  It is a day of looking back in order to move forward, so that I can discover new ways to get to where my spirit is calling me to be.

Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet” captures where I am at, as I quietly embark upon the final leg towards RE-birth Day:

As human beings, our basic concern is being alive.  In the midst of running frantically on a giant hamster wheel that doesn’t seem to slow down (let alone stop), we are single-mindedly fighting for our survival through trying to keep up.  The problem is that in the midst of trying to keep up, it is so easy to not only fall into a trap of being in a mad rush to complete life and achieve various goals, but especially, to allow these things to redefine ourselves and our identities – I am no longer defined by who I am but by what I do or by what I have accomplished.

Allowing myself time to pause could possibly lead to there being a massive silence that may intrude upon the despair of losing track of who I am and what I stand for.  It may lead to me being able to fill the spaces between my frantic activity with moments of self-appreciation and self-celebration.  But until then, I am at risk of suffering from a condition where I am only concerned or afraid of dying without having accomplished everything that I have set out to do, while not fully understanding myself or grasping the things that truly matter to me…things that make me feel alive and make me grateful to be alive!

These thoughts remind me that time is the only commodity in life that cannot be replenished.  Once it is gone, it is truly gone and there is nothing that I can do about it.  I am reminded that every squandered moment is time that will be forever lost to me.  And by virtue of this, best I invest some of my living time in me and my spirit.

And so, my friend, this blog is my reminder and my commitment to offer myself more moments of pause.  To spend more time reflecting upon my journey, past and present.  To nurture myself and celebrate who I am, flawed as I may be.  And to offer you my truth, with the hope that it will encourage you to pause and rediscover yourself, your truth and to remind yourself that you are a human be-ing and not a human do-ing.