Thursday Re-View – My Pilgrimage to ????

[originally posted August 12, 2013]

Assisi, Italy photo: Sacred Destinations

Assisi, Italy
photo: Sacred Destinations

Right now, I should be jet-lagged from Saturday’s return flight from Italy. Unpacking, doing laundry, going through stacks of mail, picking up my cat, Freddie, from my son’s gracious cat-sitting ordeal, watering the flowers, reliving my time on Pilgrimage in Assisi… [see: “My Journey with St. Francis, the Jesuits and Pope Francis – Part I“]

But I’m not…

In a post almost 6 months ago, I wrote of my hopes for this journey, a retreat for health care professionals that promised ‘renewal, respite and reflection’ in Assisi, Italy. St. Francis’ birthplace. Up close and personal to my daily prayer of “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”

My pilgrimage that would take me to the same cobblestone streets where St. Francis walked, prayed and healed. Where I could best offer my gratitude for all blessings received (and they are many) in this life, and where I could best humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ― Allen Saunders & John Lennon

My pilgrimage turned into a different journey, to a different place, perhaps even more sacred. A pilgrimage of the ordinary times in a marriage – the unexpected trials – the uncertain, dark and lonely times.

A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphysical journey into someone’s own beliefs. ~ Wikipedia

There are significant benefits to a second marriage when you are older – no time to waste on falseness; you already know what you need in a partnership, and you don’t bother looking for what isn’t healthy or what doesn’t exist. When you get married young, in the thralls of romance and knights in shining armor and dreams through rose-colored glasses, most of us don’t think of the “…in sickness and in health from this day forward until death do us part” portion of the vow. But when you form that union middle-aged, you are clearly aware that those times will undoubtedly be coming sooner rather than later.

And so they did…

I’ve had my share of hospital stays and “GOK” Disease (named by one of my doctors: “God Only Knows” Disease), surgeries and too-quick recoveries in my adult life, but my husband was one of the few who had made it this far in life without a hospital stay.

No longer.

Ten days before we were to depart for our rest and renewal workshop, he became ill – seriously ill – and landed in the hospital.

My pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage: a journey to a place that is connected with someone of something that you admire or respect. ~ Oxford Advanced Dictionary

My journey where I so eloquently hoped to “humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.” Little did I know that when I had those hopes – indeed, had that certainty – for my pilgrimage, it would be directed toward my husband rather than a patient, client, student, stranger, or friend in need.

This time, it was much closer to home.

Pilgrimage: any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage; a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. ~

Certainly this act of devotion, of care-taking, was assumed automatically. The decision to cancel our trip in light of the circumstances was easy. Yes, it was a missed opportunity that I had so looked forward to; yes, it would be inconvenient to have to reschedule the visit (hopefully) sometime in the future. But mostly, there was the disappointment that I was so sure that I would be shown some priceless wisdom while on this retreat. After all, I would be walking and praying where St. Francis walked and prayed. A lightning bolt would strike directly in front of me and all would be revealed.

How could I not be gifted with Divine Wisdom in so sacred a place?

Pilgrimage: the course of life on earth; journey undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or to demonstrate devotion. ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer

My prayers were answered – the Divine Wisdom was there – just not as I expected it (which is usually the case with me). The sacred places were the emergency and waiting rooms, the doctor’s offices that we are still visiting, the computer screen that listed the test results, the iPhone with family texts and conversations, the empty house at night… Not the cobblestone streets of Assisi, but rather the hospital corridors and parking lots and driveways that all leave their indelible mileage on your heart.

My husband is on his way to recovery; his energy level is improving a little day by day; his stubbornness is showing signs of resurfacing (that’s not such a good thing, but in light of the past month, I’ll take it); our conversations are becoming more regular and actually concern something other than mortality and bone marrow and fevers of unknown origin and Family Medical Leave.

Scared ground. All of this – the tears, the despair, the anxiety, the complete disruption of normalcy – is sacred ground.

A pilgrimage of sorts.

About marriage, love and partnership, fear and uncertainty, anger and decisions, devotion and things said or unsaid.

And hope. Always hope.

Hope that things that were once taken for granted and perhaps annoying would actually return (who knew?); that normalcy would once again be a part of our lives. Those ordinary things.

Ordinary, every day, ‘boring’ things that were, and are, in actuality, extraordinary.

This pilgrim is grateful. And humbled. Yet again, caught by surprise at how little I have control over things. Reminded that all will be well, regardless of my attempts to influence, ascertain, direct, determine, assure, limit, organize, out-maneuver whatever the future has in store.

Did I say that I was middle-aged? Chronologically perhaps, but naive none-the-less. Still learning. Still struggling. A work in progress.

A pilgrim on sacred ground.

It’s any place any one of us reaches out in love. It’s everywhere. It’s right beside us. Inside us. And it’s all about love.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light, and
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive –
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

I walked with St. Francis on my pilgrimage. The wings that carried me weren’t part of an airplane…yet my feet never even touched the ground.



Monday Meeting – Caught in a Traffic Jam

There are few experiences on this planet more mind-numbingly frustrating, more head-poundingly excruciating than being stuck in traffic.

It’s also a situation that hundreds of drivers on England’s M5 — a 162-mile motorway in the southwest part of the country — were forced to deal with on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, when a vehicle carrying a half-dozen horses broke down just outside of the small town of Taunton. In the melee, one of the vehicle’s equine occupants even managed to escape, leading to a complete standstill on one of the country’s biggest highways.

Fortunately for a few dozen weary travelers, one of the cars stuck beside them just so happened to be carrying a professionally trained string quartet.

The quartet members, on their way back from a wedding and with little else to do besides twiddle their fingers, decided to liven up the tedious affair by playing a classic tune from their repertoire: Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon and Gigue for three violins and basso continuo” (or Pachelbel’s “Canon” for short).

The motorists nearby surrounded the quartet, whipping out their phones to record the impromptu performance as their anger gave way to euphoria. Helen Delingpole, a motorist from Wales, managed to capture the entire thing on her camera, which she later posted to Facebook.

“This is the best part of the holiday!” cheered one excited spectator.

When the quartet finished, they were met with a raucous applause that had violinist Lu Jeffery at a loss for words. “We have played some of the most incredible concert venues globally, and then one afternoon you play the M5, it all goes crazy,” he said in a follow-up interview with The Telegraph.

Here’s the video:

It just goes to show the profound, mood-altering power that music can have in even the most turbulent of times, especially when combined with a random act of kindness.

Thursday Re-View – An Adolescent’s Christmas

christmas tree
Working with college students is great.

Before anyone gets into that type of work, however, it would be wise to warn you about the college student brain. Studies have shown that “late adolescence” may actually extend until 25 years old. The scientist in me wants to explain that until then, the neural networks that regulate behavior don’t reach full maturity, making the person subject to sensation-seeking and increased risk-taking, as well as more vulnerable to impulses, emotions, and the effects of alcohol and other drugs.

Still want to work with college students??? (You should. It’s energizing!)

When I explain that to the students themselves, in trying to help them understand the developmental changes during their college years, their reactions – after the shock – divide into two different camps. The first group sits up straighter, usually with an affronted look on their face – “Hey, just one minute! We’re adults, not adolescents!” The other group slouches a bit, eyes glazed, wheels turning, and you can hear them thinking, “Sweet! When I get drunk tomorrow night, I’ll have a great excuse. I couldn’t help it; my brain made me do it…”

My point being that it’s hard to transition from high school to college, and a common problem is the “emotional disconnect” that so many young people seem to have with their parents. Communication is not their strong point (one only has to look at the texts and twitter feeds to see that; while I’m on that topic – Rule #1: Never break up by texting or on Facebook! Man-up or woman-up and do it in person.).


Which brings me to Kristy… Together, she and I worked through a nasty break-up with her boyfriend, a charge of plagiarism by a professor, changing her major, feeling left out as a commuter, drinking too much on weekends, and the struggle with going to college and working a part-time job at the same time. All in an average day in the life of an adolescent. (One good thing – students who commute are spared the drama of roommate issues that flare up with alarming frequency).

But – and there’s always a but – no matter how hard she tried, no matter how much role-playing we did together, Kristy could not seem to reach an uneasy peace – or even a truce – with her mother. There was no father in the picture; only Kristy and her Mom. Finances were, of course, a huge issue, and Kristy’s only ticket to a better life was to keep her grades up in order to keep her scholarships and find some middle ground with her mother. Most times, they didn’t even speak to/with each other.

One day right before Christmas break, Kristy came in with shoulders slumped, looking dejected. (Uh oh – probably another incident with Mom.) I asked her what was wrong. Kristy grabbed a tissue (uh oh, uh oh – Kristy never cries) and started to explain what happened the night before.

She and her Mom were in a particularly tight spot with money, and were behind on rent and other bills. It was bleak enough that they couldn’t even afford to put up a Christmas tree. Last week, we had already discussed that not having money for a gift for her Mom didn’t matter; we Moms love a hug or a hand-made card – nothing else needed. But Kristy felt strongly that if she could only get her Mom something wonderful, their relationship, in this season of joy, would suddenly be terrific – wonderful – like everyone else’s (if Kristy only knew…). So what happened, with a child wanting nothing more than to please her hard-working, single mother?

Kristy had noticed in the past that her Mom cherished a statue she kept all alone on a coffee table in their apartment. Kristy wasn’t supposed to touch it, in case it broke. Sometimes, after coming home from her 2nd job, Kristy would see her Mom take off her sneakers, put her feet up and just stare at the statue, lost in thought.

“That has to be so very special to your Mom; what/who is the statue?”

Kristy struggled with this. “Well, it’s a small boy – looks kind of weird with something like a crown on his head, and his hand is held up like he’s agreeing with Mom – stay away.” She sighed. “Oh, and sometimes she dresses it up in clothes that she made herself, when she still had her sewing machine; you know, kind of like I used to do with my Barbie.”

Okay. The picture in my head is taking shape.


“The statue – was there something like a globe in the little boy’s left hand?”

“Yeah – how did you know?”

“My Mom had the same statue. But what happened?”

Kristy explained that the 2 things her Mom loved most were costume jewelry and this statue. So, thinking of surprising her Mom with something even better than an expensive Christmas tree, Kristy got some of Mom’s favorite, chunky jewelry out of her bedroom and draped the statue with it, Mardi-Gras style. “Lots of bling, you know?” When the statue looked blinged out enough, Kristy draped a string of lights around the statue, too, so it blinked in color and blinged at the same time. “I thought it looked good.”

Now I am trying to keep my “listening intently” look, and not show my concern about where this might lead. “What did your Mom do when she saw it?”

Kristy looked down for a long moment. “She didn’t say a word. She just kept looking at the statue, then at me, then the statue…and she started to cry. So I just went up to my room. Why didn’t she like it?”

Okay. So – how to explain. “Well, I know you meant well, and I’m proud of you for wanting to make your Mom happy with her 2 special things, but that statue… that’s the Infant of Prague – the Child Jesus – and the hand He holds up, like He wants you to stay away so you won’t break Him – that’s the Child Jesus blessing you.”

Kristy’s eyes had that “deer in the headlight” look, horrified and scared at the same time.

“Some might think what you did was sacri – (no – skip that word) disrespectful.”

Her eyes got even bigger. But then she got a twinkle in her eye and covered her mouth with her hands. Remember the high emotion and mood swings in the adolescent make-up? We were there. For only the second time in my work as a therapist, I lost it (for the only other time, see my post “The Welcome Angel.”).

Kristy started to laugh, then I started to laugh. She choked out, “I put bling on Jesus? And Christmas lights???” She alternated between being horrified at what she had done and being proud of herself for rendering her Mom speechless. I laughed right along with her, as I pictured the Infant of Prague decked out for the 21st century.

I tried to explain when I quieted. “You know how you don’t know how to feel right now – upset, but a bit of you thinks it’s funny? That’s probably what happened with your Mom; she was upset with having something other than “proper” clothing on the statue, but happy that you tried so very hard to give her something that would mean so much to her, and maybe even put a smile on her face. It’s okay, Kristy; it will all be okay. Your heart was in the right place.”

What do you think? Was the new appearance appropriate? It sure was! Was the Child Jesus angry with Kristy? Absolutely not. In fact, I think He must have smiled while He watched her face, so intent on dressing Him in something special for her Mom; so intent on pleasing her, so intent on trying to show her that deep down, there was love.

Kristy’s intention was pure; her adolescent love – fickle but piercing in its strength – was on display, her heart vulnerable. And what better time than at Christmas, with the birth of Jesus and a Mother’s love. Who knew that something so innocent could be so wondrous?

You did good, Kristy. You saw with the eyes of your heart, and Jesus smiled with love and understanding; He offered His blessings to you and your Mom.

Indeed – you are a blessing to me as well.

There’s a lot to be said for that adolescent brain, isn’t there?

And the heart – don’t forget the heart.

heart III


Monday Meeting — Courthouse Dogs

courthouse dogs I

In 2014, three young children were removed from their Ohio home after suffering unspeakable acts of abuse.

The kids were so traumatized, it took them months to even begin to open up to investigators about what had happened to them. When it came time to go to court, two of them had to testify from a separate room because facing their attackers was just too traumatic.

Sadly, this is all too common.

Research focusing on sexual abuse shows that testifying in court can actually amplify trauma for young victims, yet so many are forced to take the stand regardless.

This is a huge problem. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution gives defendants the right to confront their accusers in court. And it’s a really, really tough thing to reconcile. In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty, and you deserve a fair shake in court.

But at what cost? How can we make sure our trials are fair and justice is served without putting victims through such an awful emotional ordeal?

Ellen O’Neill Stephens and Celeste Walsen think they have the answer: dogs in the courtroom to comfort witnesses.

Ellen, a retired prosecutor, and Celeste, a veterinary doctor, run Courthouse Dogs, an organization that advocates for more dogs in the criminal justice process. And not just in the courtroom, either, but also in child advocacy centers and during prosecutor interviews as well.

If you ask me, more dogs is always a good thing — no matter the situation.

But Ellen and Celeste actually have some excellent evidence behind why we need them in court.

Ellen told Upworthy, “When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place.”

“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal,” she added. “A lot of people come out damaged by it.”

The dogs provide a calming presence, whether they’re curled up on the couch with a child as he or she gets interviewed by a prosecutor or sleeping peacefully at the feet of a witness in the witness box.

Celeste says that because of the longstanding relationship between humans and dogs, “we count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around.” So when we’re in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we’re in a safe place, which can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

These are no ordinary dogs. They undergo years of training, and only the best of the best ever make it to the big show.

Unlike therapy dogs, who are regular dogs who have completed some basic coursework, courtroom facility dogs are raised for this kind of work from the get-go. Trainers start by introducing teeny, tiny bits of stress to the young dogs — like putting them on a cold metal surface — and then picking them up and soothing them with cuddles.

By the time they’re grown, the dogs are practically immune to chaos and high-stress situations.

It takes about two years of this kind of training before the dogs are deployed to a prosecutor’s office or other justice outfit, where they then work full-time defusing tense environments and putting witnesses at ease.

courthouse dogs

Right now, according to Ellen and Celeste, there are about 87 dogs working in some capacity in 28 states, mostly Labradors or golden retrievers, since they look so dang friendly and have calm temperaments. But the program is starting to gain worldwide traction, with dogs now in places like Chile and Canada.

Courtroom dogs can make victims feel safe, but the real purpose of the program is to help us get to the truth.

Ellen and Celeste told us their vision is to one day see these dogs available to anyone who’s been traumatized by crime, old or young, male or female, innocent … or even guilty.

“I used to think, when I went into the courtroom, I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm, uncomfortable, so they’d somehow blurt out the truth,” Ellen said. “But now I’m telling judges, that technique doesn’t work.”

They told me that young victims will often shut down during interviews, especially because their parents often can’t be there. Bring in a dog, though, and they’ll start to pet it and often slowly start to relax and start talking.

Courthouse Dogs wants to have canines in interview rooms and courthouses all over the world so people, even defendants, feel comfortable enough to tell their version of the story.

“I think it’s revolutionizing this process,” Ellen said. “I’m fairly confident this practice is here to stay and it will only grow.”


by Evan Porter at

Thursday Re-View – Dear Theresa…


Dear Theresa – 7th grade:

Hang in there, young lady. It’s not about you; it’s about him.

No it’s not fair, but you’ll learn as you get older that life isn’t fair, but you make the best of it. Who knows why your teacher is doing what he’s doing. It makes absolutely no sense to take away points from your test and paper grades and give them to the other students.

“They need the points more than you do.”

Absurd. You should be recognized for all of the hard work you put into studying. Each afternoon, you come home from school and study until dinner. Then you dry the dishes (someday, you’ll have something called a dishwasher that does all that for you), help your Mom and Dad downstairs in their factory, then study some more until bed time.

And your teacher has the audacity to take away points from your hard-earned As and 100s. No wonder you’re coughing and having trouble sleeping. You can’t figure out why he would do something so unfair. There will come a time when you’re a lot older that his behavior will have a name – bullying – and it will be in the newspapers weekly, in an effort to stop its terrible consequences. It plays with a person’s head, and that’s not right.

But for now, hang in there, young lady.

You’ll learn what good teachers are during all your years of education. (In fact, do you know that you will actually go through almost 12 years of schooling after you graduate from high school? I know, I know – hard to believe, but you’ll always need to be learning something new, or you’ll get bored…) And you’ll realize that not all men are threatened by women of a certain intelligence. In fact, someday you’ll not only marry a man who is challenged by them, you’ll raise a son who respects them as well.

But back to your teachers…

Like Mr. Altemose in 10th grade, who’ll teach you to always look at both sides of a story, and to search for the reasons why people act the way they do.

And Mr. DeHaven in your Senior year, who will tell you that it won’t be easy to get all As once you’re in college, but to always do your best, and that will be good enough.

Or Dr. Markowicz, your English professor in undergrad. He’ll be the toughest prof in the department, and you’ll respect him so much that you’ll welcome all his criticisms in order to become a better writer. You’ll like him so much, that after a year of English Composition, you’ll take him for Latin for two more semesters. The other students will tell you that you’re crazy, but you’ll listen to your Self, and learn more from him than anyone else in college. Pretty strange, since you’ll be a Biology major/Chem minor. He’ll even come to your Open House when you start your optometry practice (what – you didn’t know that you’ll be a Doctor someday???), in order to wish you well.

And Dr. Deglin, the retinal specialist? You’ll follow him like a puppy in order to soak up his knowledge, and he’ll never put you down or disrespect you. In fact, he’ll be glad for someone so eager to learn, and he’ll show you enough retinal diseases that you’ll know them like the back of your hand.

There’s Dr. Ciarrocchi, too, in grad school. You’ll beg him to allow you into a Ph.D. class while you’re in the Master’s Program. When he finally relents, its Cognitive Behavioral Therapy slant will become the foundation of your clinical practice as a psychotherapist. Thoughts matter. They become actions that display your character.

Which brings us back to your (nameless) 7th grade teacher.

Don’t worry about him. He’s a small man, doing small things to you. For whatever reason, and there are no doubt many, all having to do with his insecurities, he has chosen you to pick on. He is abusing his position of authority, and debasing the sacred vocation of teaching. Although it doesn’t feel like it now, he will not be able to stop you from succeeding. You will storm through whatever he tries to do to you and will rise above his actions with your own perseverance.

And you’ll be the better for it.

When there’s an obstacle in your way, go through it or around it or over it or under it. Don’t let it stop you from your dreams.

You are a child of the universe.
No less than the trees and the stars,
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

With my blessings and love,

Theresa, Middle-aged