“The more we know about another person’s story, the harder it is to hate or harm that person.”
A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer
“The more we know about another person’s story, the harder it is to hate or harm that person.”
A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer
Bernie and I were invited to attend a fundraiser to support a program that a friend is involved in. The program involves work with college students and teenagers, so I had this image of an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner with lots of young people running around in matching t-shirts and plates of pasta for second helpings. I planned to go casual dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.
As it turned out, we were asked by our daughter to keep our seven-year-old granddaughter overnight while her brother had a sleep-over for his 10th birthday. We had no problem with taking Ana along to the fundraiser with us. She likes spaghetti.
When she was dropped off at our house, Ana showed me what she had brought along to wear to the dinner. It was a yellow skirt that I had seen many times on her mom. “It is kind of big for you, Ana,” I said.
“It’s okay, Grandma. I can put a pony in it.” She meant that she could bunch up the waistband and tie a pony tail band around to hold it tighter.
“You will have a big bump under your shirt,” I said.
“That’s okay. I do it all the time.” She was right about that.
“I can make the waistband smaller on my sewing machine,” I said. “But it is your mother’s skirt and if I do that, it won’t fit her.”
“That’s okay. She said I could have it.”
So I cut a slit in the waist band of the skirt, pulled the elastic up shorter, cut off the excess, sewed the ends together and closed the waist band again. It worked perfectly. It was still a little long, dragging on the floor a little bit, but it had an unusual jagged hem that would be ruined if I shortened it. So I left it long. Ana had a black long-sleeved shirt to wear with it and she topped it off with a necklace with a small sparkly heart. I pulled her blond hair back in a pony tail and used a curling iron to create sweet little loops around her face.
She looked stunning and I looked dumpy. “I don’t think I can wear jeans and a sweatshirt sitting next to you,” I said. I changed to slacks, a turtleneck sweater, and a nice scarf. Bernie already looked pretty good in his maroon shirt and slacks, but no tie (he hasn’t worn one since he retired five years ago). Off we went to our night out.
When we arrived at the fundraiser, I was stunned to find it an elegant affair. Ana was the only child in attendance. We sat at a table with friends and they were all attentive as could be to her. The waitress was especially attentive, treating her like a princess. And the more she did this, the more Ana acted like a princess. She ate every bit of her roll, breaking small pieces off at a time. She ate her whole salad, holding her fork just so. She said “thankyou” and “no thankyou” at all the right times. She sat with total patience and dignity during a series of presentations designed to initiate financial support for the program.
There was a silent auction and I bid on and won a basket of items hand made by artisans from Central America. There were two purses made of woven materials from the area. I let Ana pick one of these for herself. She fell asleep in the car on the way home. We were proud to have her with us.
I am still grateful to her for inspiring me to wear something other than jeans and a sweatshirt to such an elegant affair. As for the skirt, when I told my daughter what I had done to it, the look on her face told me that Ana’s perception that her mother had given her the skirt was pretty much in her own little blond head.
“Strut Your Stuff” is the name a friend and I came up with three years ago when we started planning a fundraising event for our local Boys & Girls Club. We chose the title because the band that was to play for the event is called the Roosters. I think of roosters as cocky male featherlings struttin’ their stuff around the barnyard for the ditsy hens. It turned into a theme pretty easy to work with: haybales, bib overalls, etc.
I was assigned, by default, the job of collecting items for the silent auction, a big part of the event. I have never really been in the role of asking donations for anything, so this felt really intimidating for me. But I plunged in that first year knowing it had to be done and it might as well be done by me. It was amazing. I actually liked walking into stores and speaking to merchants about this new program for kids that had just come to town. With few exceptions, merchants were eager to help and we accumulated lots of stuff to put out on tables for auction.
The project turned out to be huge, consuming pretty much all of my free time for about three months. Second year, things went a little better. This year I found a helper to visit the businesses and Bernie has really stepped up to the plate to help.
Strut Your Stuff will be this Friday night. Our house is packed with stuff that will have to be transported to the town ballroom on Thursday. Volunteers will come to help us set up for the dinner and the auction. More volunteers will come on Friday night to will help us conduct the auction and dinner and then re-set up for the dance that follows. It will be a big night. My feet will hurt.
What I look forward to is the day after, when I can straigten up my house, throw out all the little pieces of paper reminding us to do this or that, pack up the money boxes and poster paper and tape and put these in storage for next year’s event. We will also take time to figure out how much money was made for the club. No matter how grumpy we might have gotten during the process, making money to keep the club in operation makes it all worthwhile.
When I have an appointment in the larger town to our south, I usually try to pile up errands and squeeze in a lunch with a friend to make the miles worth it. A couple of weeks ago I called a friend to meet me for lunch. “Where do you want to meet?” She asked
“I like either Panera Bread or Meeting Grounds,” I said. We decided on Meeting Grounds because it was closer to her place of employment.
I was running a few minutes late when I arrived at the restaurant and had to park half a block away because the parking lot was full. I was surprised she wasn’t there already, but that was fine. I stood in line and proceeded to study the menu while I waited. When my turn came up, I let the person behind me go ahead. “It’s okay,” I said. “I am waiting for someone.”
I decided on soup and half a flatbread sandwich. Then I remembered that Panera always gives you bread with your soup whether you get a sandwich or not. So I’d just do the soup. My friend hadn’t come even though I let two more people pass me in line.
“Oh no!” My heart suddenly skipped a beat. “We decided on Meeting Grounds!” I ran out to the car, already ten minutes late. I didn’t have my friend’s cell phone number with me…big mistake.
Meeting Grounds was about three miles away. There were several lights on the way and I knew these could really be my enemies. Sure enough, I was stopped by a light turning red just one block from Panera. “This is crazy,” I thought.
Finally, it turned green. I could see the green light four blocks and hoped I would make it. But it turned red and I had to stop again. “Practice meditation,” I said to myself. So I breathed in and out slowly and tried to think kind thoughts about the other drivers around me. When the light turned green, I sped ahead only to be stopped by a third red light at a juncture where I would be turning left. “Am I supposed to be learning a lesson in patience?” I wondered. I remembered being told never to pray for patience. God’s teaching methods can really be annoying. “I am already a patient person,” I told God. “This is a waste of your time.”
Finally, the little green arrow signaled me to turn and I headed up the cross street perfectly aware that there were two more signal lights between me and Meeting Grounds. Another red. “This isn’t fair,” I said. I struggled to figure out what the lesson was here. “Control. I need to learn that I am not always in control. Not my will by but thine be done and all that.” I was hoping I was getting closer to the truth. For some reason, I thought if I could get the point of this torment, everything would start working in my favor. It worked for Job.
Of course, I did not have a green at the next light. I sat, trying not to get mad. I am not a road rage person. No rage for me, nosirree. “I am just going to keep cool. If my friend leaves, we will meet another time,” I told myself. “I am okay with this. I am really okay with this.” The light changed and I pulled forward. I could see the next light ahead. My phone rang. That’s her,” I thought. But it was another person telling me that she wanted to donate a basket for a fundraiser that I was working on. More self-talk: “Is this why I am late? So I will be in my car long enough to get this phone call?” I started to argue my case: “But I don’t think it is a good reason, God,” I explained. “My friend is waiting for me. She is being punished unnecessarily.”
The next and last light was red and I had to wait again. I would still have to find a parking place and walk to the restaurant. I started to laugh. I think I was laughing because of what was running through my mind. “Conspiracy!” I thought. I couldn’t imagine God weaving a conspiracy plot. But my dead relatives! Maybe they were plotting to teach me a lesson.
My friend was still in the restaurant when I got there. Typically not judgmental, she asked, “Are you okay?”
“It’s all good,” I said. “Let’s eat. I’ll explain over a pastrami sandwich.” Lesson learned? I still don’t have a clue.
The book I am reading is A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer. It is a book about inner peace and creating a community of support for the soul. I am reading the last chapter which, like many books of this type, reflects on the relationship between our inner work and the work of creating a more peaceful world.
He makes two statements that reflect my belief about this inner/outer dance that we do as peacemakers:
* We can be peacemakers in our small part of the world only when we are at peace within ourselves.
* Violence of every shape and form has its roots in the divided life, in that fault line within us that cracks open and becomes a divide between us.
The first statement I have read over and over again in books about inner peace. It suggests that when we find inner peace, we bring that peace into the world and make changes that we may never realize. The second suggests that the same is true of our brokenness. Whether we speak our anger and our fears, by living in them, we alter the world in some way we that we cannot see.
Palmer also talks in this final chapter about the tension of a true pacifist. The usual response to fear, he suggest is “fight or flight”. He suggests waiting for the “third way” to emerger, which may not at first be obvious. This is a value of the Quaker community, where Palmer finds his spiritual sustainance.
I think this morning about Syria and the suffering of its people. It feels horrible to watch the nations of the world refrain from charging in with weapons to save the people. Yet this choice to respond to violence with more violence seems only to perpetuate the horror. It is the way we, the United States especially, have always responded. But where has it gotten us? Where has it gotten the world? Standing by and watching the massachre of the people feels awful, too. It feels like we are contributing to the horror by doing nothing.
I don’t know if we are doing nothing. World leaders, including the president, say we aren’t. But this morning, I am thinking about what Parker Palmer is suggesting. He talks about a “tragic gap – a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be.” He says, “If we want to live nonvilent lives, we must learn to live in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility in hopes of being opened to a third way.”
Palmer comments on the difficulty of such a position: “We often find the tension too hard to hold – so we let go of one pole and collapse into the other. Sometimes we resign ourselves to things as they are and sink into cynical disengagement. Sometimes we cling to escape fantasies and float above the fray.”
He suggests that we are “profoundly impatient with tension of any sort and we want to resolve every one of them as quickly as possible.” Nevertheless, he suggests waiting for this third way to emerge.
It feels painful, like labor, to me. But birth only comes with labor. It is a metaphor that holds me up this morning and feeds my hope.
A friend gave me this poem the other day. It came from a Dear Abby column, written by Jeanne Phillips:
Decide to forgive
for resentment is negative,
resentment diminishes and devours the self.
Be the first to forgive,
to smile and to take the first step
and you will see happiness bloom
on the face of your human brother or sister.
Be always the first
Do not wait for others to forgive
for by forgiving
You become the master of fate,
the fashioner of life,
the doer of miracles.
To forgive is the highest,
most beautiful form of love.
In return you will receive
untold peace and happiness.
And here is the program for achieving
a truly forgiving heart:
SUNDAY: Forgive yourself.
MONDAY: Forgive your family.
TUESDAY: Forgive your friends and associates.
WEDNESDAY: Forgive across economic lines within your nation.
THURSDAY: Forgive across cultural lines within your nation.
FRIDAY: Forgive across political lines within you own nation.
SATURDAY: Forgive other nations.
Only the brave know how to forgive. A coward never forgives. It is not in his nature.
I took my first outdoor walk of the year yesterday. At 68 degrees, it was an unseasonably warm day and sunny. I started out to get the mail and when I hit the end of the driveway, I just kept walking up the road. The neighbor’s cows were not out. I wonder why. There was a big old crow sitting on a branch yakkin’ away at me. Lots of road kill. I noticed the trash in the ditches and vowed that this year, I WILL bring a bag with me when I walk and do some cleaning up. I sang songs from “South Pacific.”
When I was a mile and a half up the road, Bernie was coming back from town and he stopped to pick me up.
Today promises to be even warmer. I don’t know what God is up to these days, but I think, when I finish enjoying my day, I will leave him a tip.