Thursday, September 13, 2018

Loss and Transformation

A peace filled morning to you! I hope that wherever you are this week, you remain safe from powerful Hurricane Florence.

On Tuesday I was reading a blog post by Patti Digh. She was reflecting on September 11, 2001 and where we are now as a nation. The post included a list of all the names of the people who died in the attacks in the United States that day. She reads them aloud every year on September 11. I started to read them to myself last night. After an hour I wasn’t even half way through. I've been slowly reading through them all week. It was incredibly moving to read each name, not to skim over them, but to take my time and really hear each name in my head, to take the time to figure out pronunciation where I needed to. I didn’t want to rush. It felt sacred to witness each name. I thought about how many lives each of those people touched. Then I thought about the reach of the grief from the loss of those lives, the number of funerals in such a short period of time. What if you were working from home that day and lost all your officemates? The ripples reaching out from that day are unimaginable.

I remember clearly what that day was like for me, and how confused I felt by how blue the sky was. It was a gorgeous September day with a sky so blue that it hurt your eyes. I couldn’t make sense of that, of how beautiful it was on such a dark day. I was so grateful that I hadn’t driven to DC that morning. I had planned to. My path would have taken me right past the Pentagon right around the time the plane crashed there. I don’t even remember why I decided not to go, I’m just eternally grateful that I didn’t.

I didn’t lose anyone I knew personally that day. Yet the ripples were still felt in my own life. The loss I felt that day and for so many days afterward was great, and in the end transformative. For me the collective grief was palpable. I felt like I was breathing it in every single day. I remember going to New York at the beginning of October that year, and when I came up out of the subway during my visit I knew which direction to go based on where the still rising smoke was. 

One day I reached a point when I just couldn’t cry anymore. So I ignored that feeling of loss, I set it aside and chose not to look at it for a long time. Of course that wasn’t a wise choice. Those feelings just built up behind the dam I had created until the pressure was too much and the dam gave way. What flowed over the dam were words. They flowed forth in a way I had never experienced before. They flowed forth in poetry, in prose, in torrents. That flood of words transformed my life. One day I wasn’t a writer, and the next day I was. It was a gift of immense proportions for me. I discovered such joy, release, discovery, wisdom, and wonder in the process of writing, which for me is really the process of listening. Yet, I was frustrated by how something so beautiful could flow from something so terrible, because I truly could draw a line directly from September 11, 2001 to the day that dam burst.

So when I read all those names last night, I felt sadness and gratitude mixed together. I was grateful for the ripples those lives made in my life even though we never knew each other. The love that the people they knew felt for them, and so the grief they felt at their loss touched my heart, and it was transformed. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel anything even near gratitude in the face of such tragedy. Yet, in a way, their loss gave me new life, and I will always feel that, in a small way, I honor them through the sharing of the words that move through me. Their lives continue to make ripples through me. I hope that wherever they are now, they feel my gratitude and smile at the ripples as they continue to move ever outward.

Now I’m grateful to Patti as well, for an opportunity to reflect on both the loss, and the transformation it gave birth to.

May the remainder of your week be illuminated by gratitude, and may you be safe from the impact of Florence.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Backwards Henry

This is a story I wrote in 2010 after I had been exploring the idea of Grace for a number of years. It was a concept that was a mystery to me. I didn't connect with any of the definitions of Grace that I had heard over the years, so I went searching for my own. The conclusion I came to for myself was that Grace is about connecting with your heart and the love that lives there, and in that moment of connection setting that love free to move into the world. In other words, Grace is love in motion, love in action. That was the definition of Grace that made the most sense to me.

What didn't make sense to me was the saying, There but for the Grace of God go I. I couldn't understand a God that would grant me Grace, but simply deny it to another. That didn't sound like the God I had come to know. So I took another look at that phrase. Backwards Henry grew out of that process. I wrote it as a children's picture book, but I think it might be for adults just as much. 😀 Enjoy! 

Backwards Henry
By Lynda Allen

            From the world’s point of view Henry often gets things backwards.  He is left handed, which doesn’t seem backwards to him.  He sometimes puts his coat on backwards.  He likes to walk backwards.  He tried to ride his bike backwards once – only once.  He even sometimes spells things bakcwadrs.

            So it was no surprise when one day he was downtown with his father and heard something backwards. 

            It was take your son or daughter to work day and Henry was overjoyed to be going in to work with his Dad.  He had put on his best pants (frontwards) and a tie and had ridden the train with his Dad. 

            Now they were walking down the sidewalk surrounded by giant buildings.  He felt very small. 

            Then he saw someone who he knew felt even smaller than he did.  There was a man sitting on the sidewalk in dirty, tattered, old clothes.  He had a little box lid in front of him with a sign written by hand.  Henry couldn’t read but he had heard about people who didn’t have homes and lived on the streets in the city and he thought this might be one of those people. 

            The man sat near a corner at a stoplight so people were passing him on two sides.  Henry looked around and saw that not many of the people noticed the man.  Henry looked at him though, while he waited for the light to change. 

            The man looked up and Henry thought he saw a light in his eyes.  The stoplight changed and Henry’s Dad tried to walk but Henry was still staring at the man.  His Dad looked down to see what Henry was doing and followed his eyes to the man.  Henry’s Dad was a compassionate man, and he looked from Henry to the man and back to his son again.  He reached in his pocket and took out a dollar bill and gave it to Henry.  Henry looked up at his Dad with wide eyes then took the dollar bill and timidly reached out toward the box top to put it in.  Henry didn’t get that backwards; he placed the bill gently in the box and smiled at the man.  The man smiled back and Henry again saw the flicker of light in his eyes.  He turned and took his father’s hand again.  As they began to walk his father said in a quiet voice, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”  Henry watched the man over his shoulder for as long as he could.

            Henry had such an exciting time at his Dad’s office making copies (a little backwards!) and answering the phone (upside down) and typing on the computer (some deleting), that by the end of the day he had almost forgotten all about the man on the corner. 

            But as they started their trip down the street to the subway station and neared the corner he remembered and began peering around other people on the sidewalk to see if he was still there.  Sure enough when they got to the corner and were waiting for the light, he could see the man was still there across the street.  Except now Henry could see that the man was leaning over against the building fast asleep. 

            The light changed and the crowd walked across the street and as Henry passed the man he looked at him and said in his small voice and in his backward way, “There but for I go the Grace of God.” 

            Several people on the sidewalk heard Henry’s words and stopped in their tracks, including his father.  Squatting down next to his son he asked, “What did you say?”  Having a feeling he had gotten it wrong again Henry repeated, “There but for I go the Grace of God.”  He looked up eagerly at his Dad, “Did I get it wrong Daddy?” 

            A small group was listening now. One woman, who had stopped, looked from Henry to the man asleep on the sidewalk then back to Henry.  She smiled brightly at Henry and said, “I think you got it just exactly right young man.”  She took out her wallet and placed a five dollar bill in the box in front of the man.  Several other people in the crowd did the same. 

            Henry looked surprised and smiled at each of them as they looked back at him.  He turned to his father who was still squatting beside him and saw tears in his eyes.  Suddenly his Dad pulled Henry into his arms and held him tightly. 

            Henry wasn’t really sure what he had done or what had happened but he knew that it was important and that he would always remember that moment and that man. 

            As they walked away Henry thought about the light he had seen in that man’s eyes and wondered about how surprised he would be when he woke up to see all that money in his box.  Henry made a wish right then that it would make the man smile. 

            Then Henry turned around and walked backwards all the way to the train station and his Dad let him.

Copyright 2010 Lynda Allen

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Leaving Our Mark

There was a line in a book I just finished, it was the kind of line that you might easily skim over without really noticing. It wasn’t really relevant to the story directly, but more as part of the arc of the series. It was sort of a side note. It was a reference to two ancestors of the family, two brothers who had hated each other so much that they painted a black line down the middle of the foyer of their ancestral home, so that each would remember to keep to their own wing of the house. They didn’t think of the consequences of the mark they left behind. Generations later, it was a mark that their descendants saw every day. In observing that line years later the young protagonist’s words were, “How sad I thought, their hatred had outlived them.”

A few words simply slipped into the postlude of a story. Yet for me, those were the most powerful words in the whole story. The rest of it fell away and I honestly stopped breathing for moment when I felt the weight of them. It’s not that I feel as though I live a hate filled, nor sadly, a hate free life, but I know that lately I’ve been feeling the weight of all the hatred being tossed around in the world, whether in politics, in the media, or between family, friends and neighbors.

Is that what we collectively want to outlive us? Are we willing to let the hate and animosity be so much louder than the love and kindness? What is the mark we want to leave behind for others who follow us to see? Do we want our descendants to look back at a house divided by the black mark of hatred?

I know there is love in the world, and kindness overflowing. Yet somehow still we are making a choice collectively to focus on the division, the bitterness, and the hatred. I know that to be true because of what I hear and see and read. If we, all of us, demanded a focus on the good, if we only consumed and shared the good, that is what would dominate the airwaves, and the internet, and our hearts. Where we focus our attention is what we will see and create, whether you call it the law of supply and demand, or the law of attraction.

We collectively have chosen to focus elsewhere. I hope that it’s only for a time, a short time in the grand scheme of things, because I, for one, want my love to outlive me. I want my kindness to outlive me. I want my compassion to outlive me. If we each, myself included, could focus even a little more of our attention, and our consumption, and our sharing on love and kindness, rather than fear and division, we could change the world, and change our legacy. We could let the best of us outlive us rather than the worst. Now that’s a mark worth leaving