BLESSINGS SPRINGING FROM SORROW
Last year was an extraordinary one. I couldn’t have predicted it, and I couldn’t have prepared for it. I never would have expected the blessings that came from such difficulty and sorrow. But, ultimately, what I experienced reinforced for me that God, Creator, Source, The One (whatever name we use) is truly with us at every turn, whether we notice or not. What follows are some of the things I happened to notice. To me, they seem like blessings. There are four, in particular, that I would like to share with you. To be honest though, I have to admit that when it began, this piece of personal history did not seem at all like a blessing – – at least not to me.
In January 2011, my youngest sister, Meg, called me. She sounded strange. She wasn’t talking right. She told me that she had been struggling for several months with a swollen and painful tongue. It was not responding to the antibiotics her primary care physician had prescribed for the “infection.” As she told me about it, I had a sinking feeling that it was cancer and that she didn’t have a lot of time left. I kept it to myself. She was “my baby.” I was 12 when she was born and I helped bring her up, as my mother was very ill.
It wasn’t until April that the doctor took Meg’s problem seriously enough to get a better diagnosis. It was cancer. Thus began my grandest journey with Meg – both literally and figuratively. Perhaps it is only in hindsight that we see how grand an ordinary life really is.
Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.
– Albert Einstein
THE FIRST BLESSING CAME ON THE ROAD
Have you ever done a favor for someone and thought nothing of it? Maybe it was easy for you to do, or you thought to yourself: “Ofcourse I would do it. Anyone would.” I can tell you now that you may have been an angel to someone in need. You never know how much it can mean to someone when you respond to someone’s need – – even if they didn’t know they needed it. The great philosopher, Lao Tse, says in the Tao Te Ching: “The softest thing in the universe overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.
I began driving round trip from central Virginia to western Vermont every week to help take care of Meg on the weekends. My shift was a 12-hour stint from 9:00PM until 9:00 the next morning, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A few times I made the 10-hour drive in one stretch, but it was soon apparent that I could not continue to do that plus stay awake most of the night to perform the duties necessary for Meg’s care.
The first blessing came from two wonderful long-time friends. They generously invited me to spend the night (after driving for about seven hours) for as long as there was a need. One of those friends and her husband had me stay with them every week. My angel-friends kept me safe (no fear of falling asleep at the wheel) and, more importantly, they gave me an inflow of tender loving care to replenish my outflow to Meg. They kept my reservoir of energy full for the entire period of this long journey of love. They also saved me at least one night of hotel expenses every week, sometimes two. When finances were threatening to make the trips impossible, more “angels” appeared. Clients, friends and colleagues made appointments, bought gift cards and sent checks. I received many notes of sympathy and encouragement. These generous acts of kindness and support meant so much to me.
People say there are angels among us in human form, and I know what they mean. I even know who some of them are! I always believed we are all connected, but now I could feel it. It felt as if the people, with their care and support, were soft silk filaments, woven around and through me, that connected me to them and to everyone by virtue of our shared human experience. And I know deeply that Lao Tse was right: the softest thing in the universe – simple kindness, tenderness, and compassion – will overcome the hardest of thing in the universe.
THE SECOND BLESSING CAME IN THE WEE HOURS
The driving was not the only aspect of this venture that was physically demanding. My sister had severe physical disabilities from early childhood that multiplied and worsened into adulthood. Although her mind was sharp, she was unable to perform any physical functions. There was lifting her in and out of bed and the wheelchair, bending down to give her food and meds, cooking and cleaning that had to be done, etc. Somehow I was able to do it all. How did I keep going at this pace for nine months?! It was a miracle that stunned everyone – myself, my siblings, all my friends and my clients, too. Not only was I doing it, but everyone kept telling me that I looked great. Some even said “radiant.” I’m sure it was because I was supposed to be doing it. And, precisely because this was mine to do, it felt right and good. There was never a question whether or not I would continue. There was a very powerful, almost tactile sense that Spirit was carrying me along. I was lifted up. My car was gliding down the road. If my back hurt, it got immediately better. If exhaustion began creeping in, I got revived. Everything was being managed. God/Creator/Spirit was taking care of it – and taking care of me. I felt I was more than myself. I knew I was not alone. I was spilling over with love and gratitude. But words just can’t describe the sensation. You have to experience it. If you have ever had that feeling, then you know what I mean when I say you get a sense of being in the state of grace.
Admittedly, Meg’s personal care was not easy on me
(I am not young anymore!), which made it hard on Meg, too. We had some tense moments, there is no denying it. We had some deep tender moments, too, like holding her on my lap and letting her sob. But the real blessing came in the wee hours of the morning, when we got to experience deep joy tending to Meg’s spiritual needs, which had been neglected for so long.
Meg loved nature, so my training in Native American shamanism served her well. We would sit out on the porch under the stars with the trees around us, and I would take her on traditional shamanic journeys. We went week after week to meet her personal guides and animal totems. We always felt the power and loving embrace of God and Spirit so stunningly – and the insights were profound. Then, sitting in the still-glowing embers of this great love and tender power, we would talk in soft, awed voices about what had just happened, what it might mean, and how blessed we felt. She went for longer periods without pain medication when we did this, and I could stay awake all night without any fatigue. It was extraordinary!
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
– Helen Keller
THE THIRD BLESSING WAS FOR THE FAMILY
On a Friday morning in February of 1974 my divorce became final. Late that afternoon I got a call from my brother saying my mother was nearing the end of her long struggle with cancer and that I should probably come home. I think I went into shock because I started scrubbing my apartment clean on my hands and knees all night long. Then I got into the car and drove home. The following Friday, she passed away. I remained at my family home to take care of Meg and get her through high school. My two brothers and other sister came and stayed as well. My parents had been in the middle of divorcing, and we all felt, strongly, that my father would not be able to take good care of Meg, and that she would be better off with us (that meant me). As the eldest, I had been bred for the role of her surrogate mother and caretaker from her birth because both she and my mother were so challenged with their health. I got custody of Meg. Our main goal was to get her through high school. Once she graduated, we drifted in and out of each other’s lives over the years. I was farthest out of the loop, having moved to Europe. When I returned I moved across the country to Portland, OR. On occasion, I got back for Christmas. More often, many months would pass without calling each other. Except for Meg. Everyone stayed in touch with Meg on a consistent basis.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, we all rallied together again to help her get through her most challenging ordeal. We went to see her regularly and ended up spending days together. In this way, we got to meet each other anew and see each other through our adult eyes. Because Meg’s situation had everyone in a compassionate state of mind, we were able to talk about things that had happened in the family when we were young, and we shared with each other the hurts and traumas of those days. Many long-held perceptions of each other’s shortcomings were dispelled and we began to know who we truly are and to appreciate each other. I have some awesome siblings!
The third blessing was seeing each other’s special qualities and experiencing the love and strength of our family bond, which had eluded us for so many years. I had long abandoned the hope that this would ever happen . . . yet here it was. In many families, such a situation drives them apart. We were, indeed, blessed.
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.”
– Anne Lamott
THE FOURTH BLESSING IS PERSONAL
The fourth blessing is still unfolding. I suspect it will continue to evolve over the remainder of my lifetime. It is what is happening in my heart of hearts, and in my soul of souls, since Meg’s death. But I have to back up a bit. This is one of those blessings that grows slowly over time, like a mountain or a pearl. I’m probably only beginning to see it, but from my current perspective, I would say it began years ago when I felt Spirit nudging me to move back East from the Pacific Northwest.
I didn’t want to leave Portland, so I had been resisting for six years. Finally, in 2003, the moving van came to load and transport everything to Boston. The way I like to tell the story is that, even though I know I am the one who packed the boxes and hired the truck, it felt like Spirit just picked me up by the scruff of the neck and drop-kicked me across the country. It’s not that I ever stopped resisting – – I was just no match for the force of Spirit. I had been studying Cherokee Medicine with Grandmother River, who told me that the reason I had to leave was to make things right with my family. I didn’t understand this because I didn’t think it was possible to change the family dynamic of ignoring the hard stuff and just going along with the good stuff, as if the good stuff was all there really was. As you might imagine, all the hurt and anger was so close to the surface that everyone felt it, anyway. My previous attempts to bring up and sort out the past had failed. Of course, I hadn’t yet become fully aware of my part in it all. That would come later (see the Third Blessing).
I left a lot behind in Portland. It was the place that had become home to me, having moved from state to state after returning from Europe. It was where I had my closest friends, a full and lucrative practice, and a busy and gratifying teaching career. Teaching was my greatest joy. Although I was still teaching while in Boston, when I moved to Charlottesville I knew only one person. I had no clients or students, and no professional or social network. I lost my professional visibility, my high profile in the field, and because I was so work-identified, I began to lose my sense of self. I looked for “my community” but things were different here, and I didn’t really understand it. What had worked for me in the past had no visible effects in this new place. I didn’t know what else to try. I felt as though I had lost my compass and my anchor.
Little by little, things got better, but never to the level I was used to. Meditating and praying did not change my circumstances, but it did changeme. I began to understand that I had to keep surrendering the self-image I held for so long. Naturally, that did come easily so I continued to cling to it as hard as I could. It’s always a shock to realize that the emotions can lag so far behind the aspirations of the mind and spirit! I understood, but I was not yet able to accept. Time continued moving forward to 2011. Meg was in trouble and the family rallied to her side. Having so much regular contact gave all of us the opportunity to finally tell our stories to each other, understand the other’s perspective, sort it all out and begin to heal the past hurts. The reason why I had felt such a strong urge to be back East, and what Grandmother River had forseen, became clear. I had to be near enough to be available for Meg and for this healing.
I now believe that such a well-defined sense of self had to disintegrate in order for me to be open enough to receive the beauty, love and healing that awaited me. During that year of deep caring and sharing with Meg and my siblings, I felt such a sense of purpose. I had a meaningful place to be and meaningful work to do, I was learning about giving and receiving love in a meaningful way – – and it had nothing to do with my profession.
It has to be said that Meg was an extraordinary human being. Everyone who met her was inspired by her. Coming through these past two years of caring for her and grieving her loss, I am re-inspired by her passion for life. I feel re-connected to my own indwelling passion for teaching and healing. I no longer have them confused with “who I am.” They are simply what I mostlove to do and am meant to do. Nothing in the world makes me happier. I feel blessed to have had that sacred time with Meg. And I feel blessed to have this new surge of energy released for the endeavors that bring my heart to joy. I truly look forward to sharing with you all I have learned about inducing healing and kindling joyful inner peace.
May we all have peace.
Life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers that – when you feel it – brings you to your knees.
-Rainer Maria Rilke