Thursday Re-View — Americans All

[9/11 Memorial Museum Dedication Week]

She was beautiful.

Dressed in a fashionable ensemble, a dusty rose hijab with black piping covering her hair, she stood hesitant, alone, lost.

I asked how I could help. Her voice quiet, reserved, she told me her son was not quite 19 years old when he was called to the towers on 9/11 as a first responder.

No, this 18-year-old young man did not die that day, at least not in the physical sense. Instead, what he saw that day brought him to a place for the living dead – into the world of addiction. Her son was living and breathing, but for 8 long years, they lost him to the downward spiral that was the world of drugs.

But they never gave up on him.

And now he was on his feet, clean and sober, struggling to view the world with clear and steady eyes. He wasn’t yet ready to view the reality of the museum, so his mother was here in his stead.

If only we could offer easy answers for his difficult questions, but we are not foolish in the aftermath.

She grabbed both of my hands and clutched them tightly.

“You can probably tell I’m Muslim. I almost didn’t come today because I didn’t know how I would be received. I didn’t know if I would be accepted.”

My heart broke.

“We are all Americans here,” I answered softly, squeezing her hand in reassurance. “We’re different, but yet we’re all the same.”

After all, those we lost on 9/11 represented more than 90 countries. And she, in a way, lost her son for 8 long years, but at least got him back.

Three thousand other families could not say the same.

Muslim? Christian? Hindu? Buddhist? Agnostic? Atheist? Something else?

It didn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

We all lost some one, some thing, a part of ourselves that day. Let us stand united.

Hate solves nothing, while love and peace benefit all.

We are One.

9 11 wall


Thursday Re-View — In Memoriam

[ 9/11 Memorial Museum – In Memoriam Exhibit ]

[please see: Collage of the Heart]

He stood alone in his dress FDNY uniform, ribbons aligned perfectly, shoes buffed to a patent leather shine, gloves snowy white.

He walked up to a specific one of the 2,983 pictures on the Wall of Faces, gently placed his gloved hand flat on the portrait, lowered his head, and stood motionless for a full minute.

His prayer done, he moved to another FDNY face in another photograph in another row, placed his gloved hand flat on the portrait, lowered his head, and stood motionless for a full minute.

And then he did it again for another of his FDNY brothers.

And again.

And again.

I lost count. But he didn’t.

He performed the same homage over and over, honoring each of his many fallen comrades.

Too many lost. Gone too soon. Too much heartache.

At last he reached his Captain. He placed his gloved hand flat on the portrait, lowered his head, and stood motionless for a full minute. Then he smartly saluted his superior, his hand steady and strong.

And the tears flowed…



Thursday Re-View — Collage of the Heart

[ 9/11 Memorial Museum – In Memoriam Exhibit ]

The 2,983 photos cover the four walls, this microcosm of humanity. Gone too soon, and far too young, no matter the age.

The Wall of Faces.

Young and old; black, white, red, brown and yellow; smiling and carefree; serious and professional.

Mothers and fathers; brothers and sisters; husbands and wives; sons and daughters; bosses and co-workers; captains and lieutenants; lovers and friends.

People from over 90 countries, but Americans all.

The impact of the sheer number of people lost punches you in the chest, the intake of breath keening out in an anguished, “Oh, my God…,” over and over in a litany of disbelief.

Oh – my – God.

Frozen tears pour out in a scalding torrent.

Here, then, a Captain in the Fire Department of New York, dress uniform shining and starched, dedication in his gaze.

Next to him, a middle-aged woman, motherly, soft around the edges, her eyes rimmed with lines from years of laughter.

Down some rows to the handsome young man in a tuxedo – model handsome – with a smile that can light up a room, along with his wife’s heart.

My eyes move up to the older man, graying at the temples, dignified in his Wall Street clothing, his face a mask of professionalism.

The young woman, so vibrant and full of life, the girl-next-door, prom queen and cheer-leading captain all rolled into one.

The man of indeterminate age, his ebony skin matching his eyes which radiate compassion and a quiet reserve.

The young EMT, eager to help, focused, smiling, full of hope.

I remove my glasses as if to rub the images from my vision and instead visualize a sea of colors, a tapestry, that together unite into one huge photograph of humanity.

Out of many – One.

Oh. My. God.

9 11 wall of faces


Thursday Re-View — This I Promise You…

This I Promise You…

For those who are alone, I will sit with you.
For those who have no voice, I will speak for you.
For those who feel invisible, I will see you.
For those who are afraid, I will protect you.
For those who know hunger, I will feed you.
For those who need help, I will offer aid.
For those who suffer emotionally, I will help ease it.

For those who go unheard, I will listen.
For those who mourn, I will comfort you.
For those who know sickness, I will nurture you.
For those who know hate, I will love you.
For those who are dying, I will help you to live.
For those who crave human touch, I will reach out to you.
For those who are blind, I will see for you.
For those in pain, I will bring relief.
For those who cannot walk, I will journey for you.
For those who are lost, I will find you.
For those in despair, I will hold hope for you.
For those who weep, I will dry your tears.
For those with no place called home, I will shelter you.
For those who are wounded, I will bring healing.
For those who wait in darkness, I will be your Light.

This I Promise You…  ~ Theresa

Angel wings V


Thursday Re-View — To My Son on His Wedding Day

September 13, 2014

The day is finally here. You’re getting married. To a lovely young woman, too. Another milestone in your life. You learned how to walk and talk and use the potty and swim, gave up diapers and bottles and pacifiers, graduated from high school and college, went to prom and got your driver’s license, passed your boards, became a second degree black belt, learned krav maga and so much more… But this milestone is huge. This is being an adult, big-time.

I’ll spare you the “it seems like only yesterday” that I remember so and so or such and such. Well – maybe just one – it seems like yesterday that I held you in the hospital, the baby against the odds…my Alex. Here we are, 29 (lightning) years later.

Now you’re to be someone else’s Alex besides mine. I’d like to impart age-old wisdom about marriage, but if I had all the answers, your Dad and I wouldn’t have gotten divorced. But that had nothing to do with you, only to do with us. None of us gets married expecting to part, and neither should you.

But I have learned some things along the way – important things; vitally important things.

Like the need for trust, respect, honesty, equality and communication in a relationship.

To trust the other person with yourself. To respect the dignity of another human being at all costs. To seek the truth and be honest, always. To recognize your spouse as different, but equal. Above all, to keep the communication channels open, even when you don’t feel like it.

If you remember these things, almost any differences – and there will be plenty of those – can be resolved in a mutually beneficial way.

Marriage is not easy. Sometimes it’s a challenge to remember those vows, even on a day-to-day basis. But it’s worth it. Human beings were made for companionship, to work in partnership, to experience love.

And remember that you can love someone but not always like them. Go easy on yourself; you’re only human. And so is your wife. No one is perfect, and no one has all the answers. Everyone has good days and not-so-good days. But when the two of you work together, you’ll get through just about anything that life puts in front of you.

Remember, too, not to lose yourself in another person. There’s that wonderful part of the two of you that no one else can touch, but it’s so important to allow each other your own identities as well. You’ll be Marissa’s husband, Theresa’s son, Ed’s partner, Poppy and Mimi’s grandson, Aunt Pat’s nephew and godson…but you’ll also always be simply Alex, with your own interests apart from those as a couple. The Alex who never loses himself, yet becomes better because of his partner in life. That’s so important.

There are some rules in fair fighting, and one of the biggest is to let the past rest in the past. Once you have resolved something, don’t keep bringing it up to re-hash it. That’s not fair. Once it’s done, it’s done. End of story. While we’re on rules for fair fighting, here are some more suggestions: no name calling; don’t let the sun go down on your anger; no physical fighting or hitting – ever; no mind-reading; what you say at home stays at home.

Remember, too: don’t keep score; marriage is not a competition. It’s a partnership of equals. And don’t be afraid to ask for your own space…everyone needs to breathe, some times more than others. Also remember that your happiness is not your spouse’s responsibility – you are responsible for your own happiness. As for drama – well, keep that to a minimum. And don’t let friends or in-laws interfere – period.

I wish you happiness and joy, contentment and peace. But most of all, I wish you love. Always love…


The Wedding Song

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubador is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love.

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is love, there is love.

Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there’s love, there is love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain

For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love.

Thursday Re-View — Of Hospitals, Loss & Love

When I worked in the Pastoral Care Department of a hospital that was designated a Level I Trauma Center (See: “We Are Not a Number“), my duties were varied – praying with a patient right before their surgery, comforting a family waiting in the ER for their family member, rushing to any room that was involved in a Code, contacting family members for any patient who was brought in by Medevac Helicopter, or even sitting with anyone alone in the ER, looking scared and in pain. That last description was just about everyone.

In the rare event that I had a chance to try for some rest in the on-call room, I would prop my feet up and close my eyes until the beeping of my pager broke into my reverie. Either that, or the whirring sound of the helicopter blades as the Medevac neared its landing pad on the roof. Then it would be off the bed, out the door, racing to the trauma bays. “ETA – 10 minutes.” Just enough time to arrive at the ER, get suited up, ready for whomever was brought in.

Sometimes it was a motor vehicle accident or an ATV rider without a helmet vs. a tree, a drunk driver crashing into a building, a lineman electrocuted by live wires, a lonely person who jumped from a bridge or took too many pills, someone rescued from a burning house or a factory explosion. All sorts of traumas passed through the doors.

Staff included ER doctors, nurses, chaplains, phlebotomists, x-ray techs, security guards, physician’s assistants – all standing in their appointed spot in the small area that included two fully equipped trauma bays, waiting for the flight nurses or EMTs to arrive with their patient. I never saw anyone or anything that was unprofessional; the focus was always on each arriving patient and doing whatever possible to save their lives. The staff moved as a team with quiet precision.



On a particularly busy night, our latest arrivals were a young mother and her child from a motor vehicle accident; her husband and their second child were taken to another hospital near-by. Thankfully, the child escaped with minor abrasions and a concussion, and was already in a bed in pediatrics. The mother took more time to stabilize with some broken ribs, a fractured wrist, abrasions and contusions. Following our treatment, she was whisked off for a C-T scan.

Business as usual followed each patient – housekeeping cleaned the area, doctors signed off on computers, security locked up valuables and technicians moved aside their portable x-ray machines.

Suddenly the double doors from inside the ER swung open and the young mother was brought back in. Puzzled, we looked to the tech who wheeled her past us into the surgical suite adjacent to the bays. This operating room was normally used for those patients with injuries severe enough that there wasn’t enough time to make it to a regular OR.

Knowing she didn’t need surgery, someone asked what was wrong.

“This seems to be the only private area available. The other hospital notified us that the husband will be okay, but we need to tell her that her other child died.”

The double doors to the OR shut with a quiet whoosh. Through the window I could see the doctor take the mother’s hand as he leaned closer. Two nurses stood at the other side of the bed. With that terrible news delivered in the gentlest and kindest of ways – the kind of news from which you never recover – we heard a cry released from the depths of her being, the OR suite unable to contain the sounds of her grief.

It pierced our ears and our hearts. Then, total silence. Not one sound came from any of us – and there were at least 20 staff present – as we froze in place. For us, nothing else existed but the mother’s agonized cry. It tore into us, demanding our respect and mindful attention.

In that terrible moment, it seemed as if the cries of all parents who ever lost a child (the worst loss) echoed through time…through generations…and reverberated off the walls of this very place.



A doctor stood in his scrubs, head thrown back with eyes closed, fists at his sides. Two nurses held each other in a tight embrace; the woman from housekeeping held her mop in mid stride; a resident’s hand stood motionless above a keyboard, typing stopped in mid-sentence; a security guard turned toward the wall.

My eyes met the doctor’s, whose mirrored the pain. In a single movement, my back slid down the wall and I held my knees in my arms, the tableau frozen with her raw grief.

After what seemed like forever, but could only have been a minute, a voice overhead announcing the ETA of another trauma snapped us out of our absorption. The area became a buzz of activity as we picked up where we had left off, grateful for the respite offered by much-needed focus, occupied with our assigned tasks.

We could push all of this aside, but the mother could not. We could hug our own children that night, or call to remind them of our love, but the mother could only do that with one child, rather than two.

Once again, as medical professionals we were reminded that regardless of our technology or expertise or willingness to switch places in order to keep children from harm, all stories do not have happy endings. Once again, there was no good answer for the question on everyone’s lips – “Why?” It was beyond our human understanding. And it hurt. It hurt terribly.

But for a brief moment, in that hospital, there were no differences in skin color or language, in gender or faith tradition, in economic status or profession, in looks or bank account. We were joined through threads of pain and compassion, of despair and hope…and of love.

We were together. Interconnected.

Although no one moved, you could almost feel our arms reaching out to the young mother in her grief, comforting her, reassuring her. And if you looked closely enough, you could almost see the faint outline of a little girl kissing her mother’s cheek good-bye…



Be well, my child. Play and laugh and sing. Your family loves you and will always remember you. And even though we never met you, all of us with your mother that night love you and remember you as well. In the too-short time you lived, you mattered to so very many of us.

From deep in our hearts, we send you our eternal blessings.

Circles of Grace and Compassion. A Circle of Love.


Thursday Re-View — Wounded Hearts



The young father walked down the hall, each of his daughters holding one of his hands. He looked to be in his thirties and his daughters, perhaps 3 and 5 years old. They were dressed like little princesses – dresses with skirts that puffed out, patent leather shoes and white socks with embroidered flowers and ruffles. Their mood matched their father’s – quiet, determined, serious. It was almost as if his energy flowed into theirs and they became one. You could barely hear their footfalls in the long hallway, the lowered lighting bathing them in softness from behind.

Late at night, a special visitation, they were on the Trauma-Neuro floor of the hospital where I worked. They were on their way to see their wife and mother.

In her thirties, she was in her prime – physically fit from the bicycling that was her passion. Each year, she bicycled several times a year for different charities that were close to her heart. Today’s was for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where they provide care and find cures for sick children at no cost.

Late at night, a special visitation, her husband and two daughters were on their way for a visit.

Earlier that day, as everyone was packing up and leaving the successful Bike-a-Thon fund-raising event, the young mother was struck by a small panel truck that barreled through an intersection without brakes. Med Evac flew her to our trauma center. But it was too late… In spite of all that modern medicine had to offer, massive head injuries left this young wife and mother brain dead. Her family was here to say good-bye before she was removed from life support.

When gathering her things together before her family arrived, I looked at her driver’s license, seeing her smiling eyes and the words “Organ Donor” stamped on its front. She would still be giving of herself after death, and several of her organs were already designated to people across the country.

Late at night, a special visitation, her husband and two daughters were on their way to say good-bye.

As I watched the small family enter her room, I couldn’t help but think of all that she would miss of her daughters’ lives – kindergarten and grammar school, getting their driver’s license and experiencing their first kiss, senior prom, graduation, college and another graduation, their weddings, the births of their own children – gone forever in an instant. A tragedy unfolding in the privacy of her hospital room…

Trauma-Neuro was always quiet at night; those with severe head trauma were often kept in a medically-induced coma while their brain swelling was monitored. I walked toward the only other person near-by – a young resident who had been looking at the wall of monitors behind the nurse’s station. He stood still, staring off into nothingness. Tears welled in his eyes.

I placed my hand over his clenched fist that rested on the counter.

“I shouldn’t be like this,” he ground out without even looking at me, wiping a stray tear from his cheek with his free hand.

“How can you not be?” I offered quietly. “You’re exactly the kind of doctor this family needs right now.” I hesitated. “You’re exactly the kind of doctor medicine needs.”

As he dropped his chin to his chest, I felt his fist relax, as we stood together, both hearts weeping.

I heard a muffled “thank you” and looked up to see the young family standing just past the nurse’s station. The man’s eyes filled with tears, he slowly turned and walked away, his back stiff as he held his girls’ hands. As they walked down the hallway, passing through the shadows, a soft light bathed them in a familiar shape – wings??? – before they exited through the door.

Angel wings VI

Sacred ground.

Time stopped. A mother who bicycled for charity, breathing with life support until her family said good-bye and her organs were harvested; two little girls in ruffles and bows, their lips quivering with an unnamed fear; a young husband and father walking toward an unthinkable future in agonized disbelief; and, a physician who now understood that not all stories have a happy ending and that sometimes the simple one word question – “Why?” – is so terribly vast and complex that any acceptable answer defies human comprehension.

At that moment, I heard the soft strains of Brahms’ Lullaby echoing from the hospital’s public address system to announce the birth of a new child in the maternity wing.

As one life ends, another begins in the eternal cycle. An ending to be mourned and a beginning to be celebrated. Second chances made possible by the gift of life from a selfless woman.

I celebrate all of you for coming into my life – the mother and father, their daughters, the doctor…and yes, even the new baby. I keep you in my heart awash with blessings.

Interconnected. Circles of Compassion. Circles of Grace.


Thursday Re-View — Rebirth

“I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”
~ Michelangelo ~


Unfinished Sculpture
by Michelangelo


I cry out to the Sculptor but he does not hear me from within the stone.
This tomb is cold and dark and heavy.
My words echo endlessly, repeating, repeating, growing quieter with each pass.
My feet cannot move, my hands are paralyzed, my lungs crushed against the weight.
My eyes are permanently open, yet see nothing but darkness.

I wait. Within the stone. Alone.

I was born once, and lived.
I was born once, and loved.
I was born once, and lost.

Now I wait to be found.
Now I wait to be birthed.
Now I wait to be heard.
Now I wait to be free.

He chips away steadily, with purpose,
until my feet are created upon a well-muscled pair of legs.

With each chip, something drops from me.
Grief litters the base mixing with the liquid of old tears.
Loss piles up as my legs break free.
Identity. Health. Title. Marriage. Jobs. Pets. Dreams.

The Sculptor gently blows away the dust of the ages,
and the motes sparkle in the sunlight as they lift from the heavy stone.

I wriggle my toes, happy for the sturdy foundation upon which I stand.
My feet remember sand squishing between my toes as I ran along a beach,
blades of grass tickling my soles while running through a field.
They itch at the thought of such freedom.

My arms and hands are next.
The muscles and tendons within my fingers protest as I stretch them for the first time.
No longer imprisoned in the stone, they let go of what they have grasped for far too long.
Blame, intolerance, despair, hopelessness break free and drift into nothingness
as my hands lift in supplication and thanks for another chance, another life.

Regrets disappear as The Sculptor blows away more dust,
His fingers running over the curves in a knowing caress.

He carves both ears, and as the waxy stone is removed,
a symphony of Divine beauty courses through the tunnels as my fingers shake in awe.
The notes echo through to my toes.

My eyes – yes, please – my eyes.

He chips away what seems like forever, then chips away some more.
What is wrong? Why can’t I see? There is only darkness where there should be light.

The Sculptor replaces his chisel with a sharper one,
and delicately crafts the blood vessels and membranes of sight.
Suddenly, like a dawn of ages past,
the light rises in colors more brilliant than I remember,
dazzling in its rainbow display.
Tears drip onto my frozen cheeks as I remember
the breathtaking beauty of things forgotten.

Focused, the work continues as He chisels and shapes and carves,
every detail from the flowing hair to the perfect, gleaming teeth a work of art.

Finished. At last, but for one last thing.
He walks to the Tabernacle and carefully opens its door, reaching in for His Precious Gift.
A heart, shimmering, pulsating, rests in His hands.
He walks toward me, and with eyes filled with love
and a voice barely more than a whisper,
gently pushes it into my chest.

“I give you My heart.”

A flood of compassion swirls through my body,
and I take a deep breath with my new lungs.
I breathe out warmth and love and contentment.
How can I feel weightless when carved from marble?
How can eyes see when chiseled from stone?

But I do. And I can.

All that weighed me down is no more.
I am no longer a prisoner of my own making;
I am blessedly, wonderfully free.

Free to take part in a further journey.

But this time, I will love more and take less.

This time, I will see with the Eyes of His Heart.

This time, I choose to remain free.


Angel by Michelangelo

Angel by Michelangelo


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.



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


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


Thursday Re-View – Theresa Equals Crying???


It’s said that everyone has a gift to share with the world.

My husband and son would offer that mine is the ability to make someone cry within minutes of meeting me.

Whether or not that’s a “gift” is yet to be determined; none-the-less, I seem to have a knack for it.

The waitress at the local restaurant, the girl at the supermarket register, the 6’4″ gang member with tattoos all over his body (including his face), the stalwart doctor in the ER, the friendly neighborhood priest…the list goes on. And on.

No one seems to be exempt. And I haven’t even mentioned my clients, patients, students, etc. They’re included in that list, too.

My husband seems to think it’s some uncanny ability of mine to cut through the small stuff and get right to the meat of the matter. Others have told me that when I look at them, they feel like I know something about them that even they don’t know about themselves.

I like to think that people trust me, see me as non-threatening and recognize that the darkest parts of their souls are safe with me. I will sit with them in the darkness, weep with them in my heart, then help them to dry their tears to face another tomorrow. I will be their light until their own spark is blazing brightly once again.

And to help them to see – men and women, young and old alike – that crying is healthy. Often necessary. Can serve as a catharsis. Shows strength rather than weakness. Is liberating.

So what has happened with my blogging adventure?

The same thing.

That’s right – crying.

If you take the time to read the comments that some of my followers and/or readers make, you’ll see that the material on Soul Gatherings (start reading the category “Thursday Re-View” from August 2013 to the present for some examples) is not for the faint of heart. Often times, people say how much they cried while reading a post. How they can barely see to type for the tears. Or how they get out a box of tissues before getting started. Or how they might delay reading a post until they are ‘ready’ for it.

And this without people ever meeting me in person, face-to-face, where I might look at them like I know something they don’t.

So my question to everyone out there is this:

What is it about my posts that might make you tear up? Get a lump in your throat? Cry? Sob uncontrollably?

Really – I’d like to know. Any of your comments would be appreciated. I, for one, am grateful that you feel something that strongly when reading some of my posts, and I can honestly say that I never once sat down and intentionally tried to get someone to cry. Never.

So help me out here, please. Explanations will be welcomed. Maybe that will placate my husband and son, since now I seem to have a small audience who reacts in the same way as those who meet me in person.

But please don’t take too long. I’m working on my next post and I don’t want to depress anyone.

And guess what – you just made it to the end of one of my posts without crying.

So there! It is possible…


Thursday Re-View – You Are Not a Number

Holocaust Tattoo II

While looking for a full-time job after switching careers, I worked per diem in the Pastoral Care Department of a hospital that was designated a Level I Trauma Center. My duties were varied – praying with a patient right before their surgery, comforting a family waiting in the ER for their family member, rushing to any room that was involved in a Code, contacting family members for any patient who was brought in by MedEvac, or even sitting with anyone alone in the ER, looking scared and in pain. That last description was just about everyone.

One night, during a double weekend shift, I approached a group of medical personnel outside of an end room in the ER and asked if I could be of any help. As the attending physician finished signing some paperwork in the chart, one of the nurses asked me if I could notify the woman’s family or pastor that she had expired (hospital-speak for “died”). I took the record, knowing how challenging these in-the-middle-of-the-night phone calls could be.

As I paged through her chart for contact information, I saw that Esther was a widow in her 80s with no children. The name of a Rabbi was listed as her emergency contact, which meant that any siblings were probably gone as well.

She was alone. Totally alone.

I used the phone at the nurse’s station and reached her Rabbi, who said he would be at the hospital within 30 minutes. I went into her room and saw two aides silently cleaning up the evidence of the ER staff’s attempts to save her life – the crash cart, gloves, torn gauze wrappers and the like. As I looked down at the bed, I saw a petite woman with white hair and a delicately contoured face. She must have been quite a beauty when she was younger. Eyes closed, she looked to be at peace.

I watched as the aides straightened the sheet that covered Esther, carefully moving her arms so that they were comfortably placed at her sides. One of the young women stopped when she saw something on the inside of Esther’s forearm – some kind of ink. She reached for a near-by washcloth.

“Wait.” I stepped closer and saw the row of numbers tattooed on Esther’s forearm. “Do you know what this is, what it means?” I asked as I murmured a silent prayer. Both shook their head “no.” I quietly explained: “The numbers mean that Esther was a prisoner in one of the German concentration camps during World War II.”

They looked confused and I realized that maybe they were too young to be familiar with the Holocaust? Hard to believe, but possible. But now was not the time or place for a history lesson. “If you want, I can explain more after her Rabbi gets here. In the meantime, thank you. I’ll stay with Esther.”

As the door closed, I bowed my head. I was in the presence of someone who had faced evil and survived. Esther was one of the more than 400,000 prisoners at one of the 3 Auschwitz concentration camps who had been assigned a serial number for identification. Pictures of the emaciated prisoners when the camps were liberated flashed in my mind, and I wondered how many (if any) of Esther’s family members had been killed in the camps. What Esther had seen and experienced in her time there was beyond my comprehension.

My thoughts became prayers for Esther. This woman had survived the nearly 6 million people who were Jewish victims of the Holocaust. I cringed at the thought of the possibility that she couldn’t have children because of the experiments that had been performed on some of the female prisoners.

Had Esther ever lost hope? Had she ever given up? What helped her survive each day in a hell of mankind’s making? Did faith give her courage and strength and determination? I would never know.

The door opened and a nurse said I was needed in another room. I told her I would contact the chaplain-on-call, as I preferred to stay with Esther.

“Who’s coming to pick up the body?”

“Her Rabbi.”

“Okay, then come with me. No one will disturb her.”

I reached for my pager. “I’ll call the chaplain, and he’ll help you. I’m obligated to stay with Esther.”

The nurse, her face a cross between annoyed and confused, left.

When a Jewish person dies, out of respect, they are not to be left alone. By staying, I would offer Esther’s soul comfort until her Rabbi came. She had been alone enough. She had seen and experienced horrific death and destruction; perhaps now, I could offer her one small kindness.


I prayed Psalm 23 aloud.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

As I slowly covered Esther’s face, I smiled at its inherent dignity.

Thank you, Esther, for the essence that is you. I am deeply sorry for the tears you’ve shed during your life and for all the pain. May your death be a threshold to all that is good. In the “world-to-come,” may you have love, happiness, joy, community and kindness. No more darkness, only light. May you be wrapped in Circles of Grace. May God command His angels to guard you in all your ways.

I turned as the door opened. “Rabbi Levine?”

“Yes, and you must be Theresa?” We shook hands as I offered him my condolences.

“Thank you for staying,” the Rabbi offered quietly. “Esther has been alone for a long time.”

“No thanks are needed, Rabbi. It is a privilege and an honor.” I walked toward the door, my time here done. I took one last look at the bed. Rest in Peace.

Sacred Ground. Honoring the strength of the human spirit.

At the same time, remembering man’s inhumanity to man and pledging as an individual to never forget. To never allow history to repeat it. Ever. Esther – this I promise you.

“I am only one; but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
I will not refuse to do something I can do.”

― Helen Keller

Esther – May your soul shine with everlasting light.



Thursday Re-View – And the Pilgrims Came…

This was written while on retreat in Assisi, Italy.

And the Pilgrims Came…

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

Faces wreathed in wonder at your tomb, prayerful, reverential, respectful.
The young girl’s smile widened, the older woman’s face smoothed, the man’s countenance glowed.

To that Holy Place, that Sacred Ground, that Place of Silent Wonder.
A communion of souls, a self-made gentling of our armor, a slowing of our racing lives.

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

The hiss of lighted candles, the crack of knees bent in homage, the murmurs of prayer.
A gathering, a fellowship, a commonality of simplicity.

The Prayer of St. Francis. Canticle of the Creatures.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon and the stars. Lady Poverty.

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

One small man, bleeding the wounds of Christ, staunching our bruised souls with your love.
One small voice, deep in the wooded forest, ringing across the world to humanity.

A patched, threadbare tunic, a hair shirt, leg coverings for your stigmata,
worn sandals that flapped against the ground, mapping your mission for all to hear.

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

The bells, calling us to prayer, to weep, to rejoice, to reflect.
Their echoes tolling for the souls of the lost, and for those who are found.

And the Pilgrims came…



Thursday Re-View – Hurricane Katrina: Houma, Louisiana, Part II


Cast of Characters:

Katrina: hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 causing more than $100 billion in damage and taking almost 2,000 lives
Luc: evacuee at Houma Terrebonne Civic Center, Houma, Louisiana
Theresa: Luc’s deceased Godmother
Teresa: volunteer social worker
St. Therese: “Little Flower”
Theresa: me

On September 11, 2005, I flew into Baton Rouge, Louisiana for my first Red Cross volunteer deployment as a mental health professional. Those of us who offered to go were given 48 hours notice prior to our departure and were warned that this location would present “hardships” to the volunteers. After having watched the television coverage of Katrina and what looked like a third world country, I was certain that no hardship I experienced could touch that of the people in the ravaged Gulf Coast.

I was assigned to the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center in Houma, Louisiana (slightly south-west of New Orleans), where 3 mental health volunteers (a social worker, a marriage & family therapist, and I) provided services to the fluctuating 800-1,200 Katrina victims who were housed there. We three were also responsible for the mental health of all the Red Cross workers in the staff shelter where we stayed (160 of us), along with the National Guard unit stationed at the Civic Center.

The evacuees at the Civic Center were primarily from the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, those folks who didn’t have the money or transportation needed to evacuate. Many of them somehow got through the water that flooded the Lower 9th Ward when the levies broke, got onto the overpass, waited in the Superdome, then were brought to Houma. These were the poorest of the poor. They ranged in age from 1 month old to around 95 years old, with perhaps 20 Caucasian, 6 Asian, the rest African-American.

The Houma Terrebonne Civic Center, normally home to cultural and athletic events, graduations, trade shows, and concerts, now housed the evacuees
in an area of 37,000 square feet of open floor space (Hall A & Hall B, below right). It was a sea of cots, blankets, pillows, clothing and people with very little room to move around. Houma Terrebonne Civic Center

Although hard to imagine, when volunteering for two weeks for this many evacuees as one of three mental health professionals, you got to know the names of a lot of the people who were staying there. I circulated around Halls A & B all day, talking with people, getting them clothing, answering questions, hearing their stories and doing my best to keep them calm. It was common to hear “Miss Theresa” as I walked through, always polite, always scared. The hours spent and the subsequent emotional rollercoaster took their toll on even the most seasoned of volunteers.

One day, one of the women from the Southern Baptist Convention responsible for meals took me by the arm and brought me to the loading dock, put a heaping plate of food on top of the cases of canned corn and said firmly, “You need to eat something, and take a rest.” I sat on another pile of canned goods and thankfully ate, my mind blank. It wasn’t long before I heard a quiet “Miss Theresa.” I turned to see one of the evacuees standing near-by.

“There’s a man who sleeps next to me that I’m worried about. He cries an awful lot and last night was mumbling about not having a reason to live.”

I stood up. “Where is he? Take me to him.”

We walked through the arena to the far right corner, where a man was seated on the floor, looking down. I thanked the young man and introduced myself to Luc and asked if I could join him. His dark eyes met mine, intelligent and filled with pain, as he nodded his assent.

“Tell me how I can help.”

With that, Luc’s words poured out. In the mass exodus from New Orleans, Luc had been separated from his two brothers. He spent a few days in the Superdome, where the situation had steadily deteriorated with no electricity, suffocating heat, gangs running around in packs, women giving birth on the floor. Tears ran down Luc’s face as he described the primitive conditions, which he finally escaped by leaving.

From a list kept on a legal pad by an unknown official, he was told his brothers had gone to Texas. Luc took one of the same busses outside the Superdome that took Louisiana evacuees to Texas, only to be told that his brothers had been seen in the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center. So, he turned around and came back to Louisiana. The Civic Center, struggling to keep track of the comings and goings of all people who streamed through, had no record of his brothers having been here. Exhausted (only sleeping a few hours in the past few days), having failed to find his brothers – the only family he had left – and having lost all of his belongings, Luc was ready to give up. He was not only thinking about suicide, he already had a plan and the means to carry it out. It was simply a matter of doing it.

Concerned about Luc’s safety, I asked if he would consider spending the night in our “medical wing,” which was actually a narrow hallway outside the arena event area. It housed 2 rows of beds with people who were being monitored by volunteer medical people who staffed our makeshift infirmary and pharmacy. He agreed.

As we walked out, I noticed how tall and muscled Luc was, his gait almost panther-like. A handsome face, even with his two front teeth missing. A boxer? Construction worker? Tracker? Prisoner? I had no idea, only that he was a man in deep emotional pain who was all out of hope.

Luc was assigned to a bed at the far end of the hall and given something to help him sleep. As he settled in for the night, having promised that he would not take any action of self-harm, Luc looked up at me, his eyelids already drooping from the medication.

“My Godmother’s name was Theresa. I think she must be looking out for me, by sending you here.” I smiled. “Will you be here in the morning when I wake up?” he asked quietly, so fragile a feeling in so strong a body.

“Yes, Luc, I promise,” already trying to figure out the logistics in my head.

Early the next morning found me seated on a stool next to Luc’s bed in the medical hallway, its 10 beds slowly coming to life. I heard a woman’s soft Southern drawl from behind me.

“Look up, Miss Theresa. You look so sad. Always remember to look up; God is there.” Tamika, staying with her father-in-law whose high blood pressure was almost under control, smiled and pointed up. Support from someone I was supposed to help, coming from the most unlikely of places. I smiled and nodded at her reminder that all would be well with Luc, if I only had faith.

Later that day, I told Brother Seraphim, one of the Franciscans who provided pastoral care at the Civic Center, about Luc’s despair and hopelessness and asked him for his prayers. Hands joined with Luc and me, Brother Seraphim prayed that St. Therese, the Little Flower, help Luc to find his brothers. Head bowed, thinking of St. Therese, Luc’s godmother Theresa and myself, I couldn’t help but feel goosebumps – or “God bumps,” as I call them, trusting in the knowledge that our prayers would be answered.

St. Therese of Lisieux

St. Therese of Lisieux

Throughout that day and evening, Luc’s mood improved as he interacted with others in the medical hall. He even found a ride to a near-by Wal Mart that re-opened. Sleep, prayer, support and good food all brought him comfort and hope.

When saying my good-nights, the medical hall was always last in my routine before I left for the evening. When I came to Luc, he was smiling, one hand behind his back. “I have something for you,” he said shyly. In his hand, he held a small box labeled, New: Red Velvet Mini Cake. “You can’t come to Louisiana and not try our Red Velvet Cake. My Godmother always made it for me; it’s my favorite.”

I smiled as I accepted Luc’s gift, unable to speak for the tears in my eyes. This man, with nothing but the clothes on his back, in the midst of his despair and loneliness, thought of someone else and found a way to say thank you. He touched my heart with a gift straight from his heart.

A man with nothing, yet who had everything.

The next morning, I was met at the back entrance by a volunteer social worker from Illinois named Teresa (what else?), jumping up and down with excitement. Having heard about Luc yesterday, she contacted some friends at a central office with computer capability and asked them to track down any information on Lucs’ brothers. Overnight, they located them in another shelter. Lucs’ brothers were alive and well in Alabama!

Teresa and I waited impatiently outside the men’s shower room for Luc to finish. Word spread rapidly through the small staff, and we couldn’t wait to tell Luc the good news. When he came out, we were smiling ear-to-ear as we told him we had a surprise. We walked into the infirmary, which was one of only three places in the entire building that had a semi-private phone. In the last few days, phone service had improved, and the medical staff was able to call in medication orders, supplies, etc. That line to the outside world was a lifesaver.

Teresa led Luc to the phone and told him to call the number written on the paper and identify himself. Dazed, Luc sat down and followed her directions. The entire infirmary staff – doctor, nurse, pharmacist, techs, Brother Seraphim, Teresa, the other 2 mental health volunteers and myself -stood silent and unobtrusive as we watched Luc speak softly into the phone. We couldn’t hear him, but his expressions told the story. Dazed – polite – patient – confused – a hesitant smile – a big smile – disbelief – sobs that shook his big shoulders – and at last, tears of joy. Luc sat, head in his hand, phone pressed against his ear, crying and talking to each of his brothers.

The only other sound in the infirmary was the rest of us quietly crying and blowing our noses.

In the midst of widespread death, destruction and crime, in the midst of hopelessness, helplessness and loss, came love and community and joy. Strangers who became extended family, interconnected in that moment in a way that could neither have been imagined nor predicted nor explained.

Katrina, Luc, Brother Seraphim, St. Therese, Godmother Theresa, Teresa and another Theresa; from Pennsylvania and Illinois to Texas, Alabama and Louisiana.

Circles of Grace.

Thank you, God, for this privilege. Thank you, Luc, for the gifts of you and my Red Velvet Cake; I still have the box that it came in.

I wish you blessings, good health, happiness, love and family all the days of your life. I hope one day – somewhere, somehow – to meet again.

Sacred Ground. Holiness and Angels Unaware.



Thursday Re-View – Hurricane Katrina: Houma, Louisiana, Part I


“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,

ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.”
Mt 25:31-46

In September 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I spent 2 weeks in Louisiana volunteering as a mental health professional with the American Red Cross, followed by another 2 weeks in December. I was assigned to the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center, one of 3 counselors to provide services to the 1,000 Katrina victims who were housed there, along with offering emotional support to the other Red Cross workers, the Southern Baptist Convention folks who provided meals, the Civic Center workers, and the visiting National Guard.

The people were primarily from the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, the poorest of the poor, without the means to evacuate the city when mandated to do so. I met so many wonderful people: resilient, strong of faith, kind-hearted – people who had nothing, yet who had everything, and were filled with gratitude. Their words echo still:

• A young man, his leg amputated after waiting 5 days for his rescue: “They made me leave my dog, Yogi, but I left him enough food for a week. I never should have left him.

• A young woman who nursed her invalid father-in-law, who had served at Iwo Jima, long after his son had left the marriage: “Miss Theresa – always remember to look up, toward the Lord. He will make all things right.”

• The Southern Baptist cooks: “Miss Theresa – sit down and eat; you look exhausted.”

• An articulate man in his 30s, dressed in ill-fitting, donated clothing: “Miss Theresa – are they going to shoot us?” [referring to the National Guard, ever-present with their weapons]

• A man on the brink of suicide, with nothing to live for: “That was my godmother’s name – Theresa – maybe she’s been watching over me and will help me to find my brothers.” [They were found in Alabama.]

• An elderly, barefoot woman in a walker, while I fitted her with shoes: “Get up; you shouldn’t be on the floor. They don’t have to fit that good. ” [It is a privilege; her calloused and twisted feet told the story of her life.]

• A veteran of Somalia and the First Gulf War: “I don’t need a peacekeeper, Miss Theresa. I just need the National Guard to apologize [for an unfounded accusation]. I’m a human being, just like them.”

• An uprooted shrimper, who lost his boat and only means of support: “When you go North, be a voice for us poor in New Orleans; we are still valuable and good people.” [I kept my promise to you, Eddie. Even now.]

When my deployment was finished, I made the rounds to say good-bye to my new friends, the people from whom I had learned so much. When I reached Booker T and Betty Lou, a couple in their 80s, displaced with their 7 children and some of their 43 grandchildren, they were packing, hoping to head to Texas to start a new life. Betty Lou grabbed hold of me, closed her eyes, and sang a Negro spiritual, hugging me tightly and brushing at my shoulders.

One gnarled black hand, where every crevice had been earned, gently grasping one younger, smoother white one, both baptized with our tears. Booker T took both of my hands in his and sang hymns of praise, thanking God for sending me to him in the depths of his despair, when he most needed a friend, in answer to his prayers.

I think Booker T got it wrong. Standing in the midst of 1,000 people, as Booker T and Betty Lou held me in their arms (wings?), my prayers had been answered, and I felt at home.

Circles of Grace – sacred ground – a community of the heart. Home.

A drawing given to me by Eddie, an evacuee who stayed at the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center where I volunteered.

A drawing given to me by Eddie, an evacuee who stayed at the Houma Terrebonne Civic Center where I volunteered.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,

ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.”
Mt 25:31-46


Thursday Re-View — Louisiana Heart & Soul 2005

In less than a month in the waning days of a sultry Louisiana summer in 2005, the state was hit by two Category 3 hurricanes: Katrina on August 29th (2000 deaths and $100 billion in damages) and Rita on September 24th (120 deaths and $12 billion in damages). Rita’s storm surge worsened the affects of Katrina by inundating low-lying communities near the southwest coast of Louisiana. When I volunteered for a month after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, my second 2 week deployment was in a town directly in the path of Rita’s destruction.

This is a story from that time.


The heat and humidity were almost unbearable in this small town that had been hit by both hurricanes. Katrina had made landfall 3 months ago and Rita 2 months, but the land was still littered with the debris of the storms that played havoc with Louisiana. Telephone poles were broken like match sticks, cars were on top of flattened buildings, tanker trucks lay on their sides next to overturned shrimping boats, and a school lay open to the elements. Seaweed and sand were piled where there had been streets, hundreds of yards from the water’s edge.

The silence was eerie – not even the birds had returned – as the three of us drove past the destruction to an area further inland. My fellow volunteers stopped to take pictures, but I stayed in the air-conditioned rental car for comfort. Besides, it seemed almost sacrilegious to take pictures of someone else’s loss and suffering. The scenes of such vast and complete destruction were better left in my imagination than in print.

We had a list of homeowners who had applied to the Red Cross for financial relief, and it was our job to visit these folks and activate credit cards with much-needed funds. Two of the volunteers represented financial aid, while I was along as a mental health professional to offer emotional comfort and support. Two of us tried our best to navigate for the driver – try finding addresses where streets were impassable and signs didn’t exist. A challenge, to say the least.

We had one more family to visit and our 12-hour day would be done. Today had been particularly difficult, as government relief had been either painfully slow or non-existent to these folks, and tempers were easily ruffled by the tiniest perceived slight. The conditions we visited reminded us, however, of how blessed we were to be able to return to a church that night and have hot food and a shower before sleeping on our cots.

We found the last family’s trailer and gingerly picked our way through the debris field that must have been their front yard. If we weren’t picking our way through boards with nails sticking up, we were side-stepping mini-ponds filled with water at least 6 inches deep. No matter how much we tried to avoid it, our shoes remained soaking wet and covered with mud.


Our knock was answered almost immediately by a young woman named Emeline holding a baby about 4 months old. The woman’s hair was damp from the heat, and the huge dark circles under her eyes gave some indication of her weariness, but her smile was welcoming. She warned us to be careful, as there were some holes in the living room floor where you could see to the muddy ground outside. Katrina had caused minor damage to the trailer, but Rita left holes in the roof and a foot of water inside. They still had no electricity or running water and were waiting to hear from FEMA in order to get a temporary trailer to set up beside this one. Their home was all they had, and there were no relatives close enough for them to stay with.

She introduced her husband, Jean-Pierre, who looked as determined and protective of his family as she looked weary. In fact, with his jet black hair and dark eyes, he reminded me of the pirate drawings in children’s books. Stereotypical, but true. He led us through the small trailer into the back bedroom, where mold covered the entire back wall up to the ceiling. The room used as the baby’s nursery was even worse – mold on all the walls – and I could feel my lungs struggling to breathe even though I had only been there less than 5 minutes. Jean-Pierre lifted new plywood from the nursery floor, showing us the torn up floor that opened to the outside. He told us not to worry – he had killed the four snakes that had made the trailer their home along with the foot of water.

Now I felt myself struggling for breath, but for an entirely different reason. Four snakes? In Belle’s nursery? Along with the mold covering the walls? And these nice folks still lived here, patiently waiting for aid.

If they were complaining about being forgotten, they didn’t do it with us. As the other two volunteers explained the now activated credit card that would provide them some immediate relief, I held Belle in my arms. She slept soundly, oblivious to the goings-on around her. Even without running water, I could smell Johnson’s Baby Shampoo in her downy hair and Ivory soap on her clean clothing. That she was loved and well taken care of was evident.

When Emeline was handed the credit card, she couldn’t speak for the tears in her eyes. While saying he didn’t know how to thank us, Jean-Pierre suddenly got a twinkle in his eyes and asked us to stay where we were as he rushed to the back of the trailer. He returned carrying a small accordion, his smile huge.

“Maybe I can thank you with some Zydeco.”

He explained that Zydeco’s rural beginnings and the economic conditions in Louisiana at its inception heavily influenced the style of music. It was a synthesis of traditional Creole music, some Cajun influence, and African-American traditions.

With a flourish, Jean-Pierre tapped his foot on the plywood, fingered the accordion and broke into a song that sounded like jazz, blues, gospel and R&B, with maybe some funk and hip-hop thrown in. Though unfamiliar, the tune was catchy and you just couldn’t sit still. Emeline took Belle so I could tap my feet in time with the music that Jean-Pierre so seamlessly wove into something unlike anything I ever heard before. By the third song of our impromptu concert, I was standing swaying to the music, hoping I didn’t fall through the weakened floor onto the muddy ground below.

Here – in Southwestern Louisiana, seated in a trailer filled with mold, holes in the floor, no running water or electricity, and humidity like a steam bath – I pushed away thoughts of snakes and asthma and lost myself to the music. There was nothing else but this man who wanted to thank us somehow; a man who, looking around at his home, had nothing. But looking around at his loving wife and daughter, had everything. There was hope here.

The smiles in that room were blinding. At that moment, there was no place in the world I would rather be.

If these were the people of Louisiana, I wasn’t worried. They would survive. And even beyond that, they would thrive in the coming years of difficult recovery. Because they had heart and soul. And they had love…


Thursday Re-View — Remembrance II (2012)


June 29, 2012: Remembrance of Dad

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.

The same hand that had once changed my diapers, given me a bottle, taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car, that fed me my first (and last) piece of liver, that cut my hair into a pixie, that held onto me when I crossed a road, that gave me away in marriage, that slipped me money at the beginning of every month, that signed the checks for oh-so-many years of education, that taught me the importance of giving…

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell. In disbelief.

That Friday morning, ready to leave for work, the phone rang. Dad probably couldn’t wait until my Bluetooth call while I was on my way to work; he must have had something important to tell me that happened on this date, from the calendar he kept with all family events (big and little) catalogued.

Something very important. My sister’s voice – hysterical, sobbing – “Dad’s dead.”

I calmly called Michael, who told me to wait until he got home from the office; he didn’t trust me to drive. On our way there – on our way “home” – I knew it would take at least an hour – I prayed that you would still be there when I got to the house.

How could I have prayed for what I saw when I arrived? The State Trooper was just leaving as I flew out of the passenger seat and ran across the lawn – the same lawn that you mowed on your John Deere, a special handle screwed into its casing so you could drive your grandsons around with you 30 years ago – to the figure half-hidden by the hedge, covered with a thin white blanket.

I heard someone wail in anguish and didn’t know it was me – your baby of 58 years.

Where was the dignity in this? Dad – my father – a World War II veteran – lying in his driveway, in the sunshine. (Thank goodness for your being covered; lupus doesn’t like sunshine, remember?)

I held your hand in the driveway.

It was right where I had seen Mom standing at your side, oh-so-many years ago after she died, as Steve, Alex and I pulled out of your driveway; by the flowering tree Mom loved that nestled the bird feeders you kept filled for the songbirds and squirrels.

The diamonds in Mom’s ring sparkled in the sunshine as my fingers entwined with yours, your strong hands, nails neatly trimmed, relaxed…at peace. My tears fell onto our hands, a baptism, a cleansing of our relationship, joined with Mom in a bond not unlike diamonds that would only strengthen with the weight of time passed.

There was a dignity in this, of a sort…a communion, a joining, rather than a separation… A quietness…a birth…an arrival upon the heels of a departure.

You were already being greeted by the God whom you so loved, along with Grammie and Grandpop, who sang the words of Matthew 3:17: “This is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

A trembling voice echoed off the walls of my broken heart: “This is my Father, in Whom I am well pleased.”


Related Post: Remembrance


Thursday Re-View — The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

When working with students, many times on their first visit to my office, they remark about how relaxing it seems. The colorful prints, inspirational wall words, plaques with favorite sayings, bubbling fountain and the hint of aromatherapy are a calculated effort on my part to not only relax the students, but myself. I also use some of these items as therapy aids when appropriate.

One of my favorite pieces is a unique wire sculpture that I found years ago at a flower show. It is a windblown tree made of twisted wire in a sienna brown finish. Its solid roots are thick and gnarled, leading into a sturdy trunk, filled with branches that are leaning in one direction, as if buffeted by a strong wind.

by Rob Hagarty

To me, that sculpture is indeed the “tree of life” we hear so much about in philosophical readings. The image represents the triumph of the human spirit that I see so often when working with clients in the often difficult therapeutic process.

The roots are our foundation – our family background, our experiences, our heritage – the basis of who we are and where we come from.

The trunk is our self, determined, always reaching up toward the light as we continue to grow, to heal, to seek.

The branches are our life journey, each twist and turn a major decision, whether good or not-so-good, that takes us off in another direction. Some branches are shorter than others, some more twisted, some joining or grafting together to lend strength, others growing in a convoluted route that seems impossible to follow, without a clear beginning or defined end.

It sounds like life, doesn’t it?

Whenever I offer my interpretation of its symbolism, people usually groan when I mention the branches being a map of their decisions. They’re probably remembering the ones that still loom as regrets; the ones, in hindsight, they wish they’d never made at all. But without those questionable decisions, our tree wouldn’t be as full, as beautiful or as complete.

That fullness affords us with hard-earned wisdom that we can pass on to others in need. That fullness gives us the power and stamina needed to withstand what ever life hands us – the gale force winds, the torrential rains, the searing sunshine and drought, the changing of the seasons. Yet that same fullness is flexible enough to lean with the forces of nature, yet not be uprooted.

Each season brings its own joy. Spring, with its beautiful blossoms that burst forth from tiny buds. Summer, with its sunshine and warmth. Autumn, with its colorful palette of bronze and gold, orange and scarlet. Winter, with the gentle touch of drifting snowflakes and a veneer of ice that glimmers like diamonds when brushed by the sun, its starkness a beautiful simplicity.

At any one time, the same tree might provide beauty, shade, food, heat, light, exercise, furniture.

A nesting place, a perch, a house, a climb, a landmark, a place to lean on or hide.

A groundedness, a permanence, a sense of time passing and history.

A quiet purpose, a meaning, a truth.

We can count on the tree, just like we can count on ourselves.

We are the tree, still standing, still growing, still providing, still seeking.

We are beautiful, we are natural, we are a gift.

A Tree of Life.

Angel Oak John Island, SC

Angel Oak
John Island, SC


Thursday Re-View — My Vacation Within

Royal Clipper
The itinerary of the 7-day cruise says I visited Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts, Iles des Saintes and Martinique.

I say I visited the bow netting on the clipper ship, the empty deck at night and the inside of myself. My own brand of vacation in the beautiful islands of the Caribbean. Into the islands of my Self.

This trip was not to sight see or interact with lots of people. This was to rejuvenate.


The quarter moon barely lights the sky as the midnight hour approaches.
The stars, bearers of sparkling light, are thrown across the velvet blanket above.
The waves, dark as the darkest night, pound against the steel hull,
crashing in caps of white froth over and over again.

I sit alone, wind whipping hair across my face as the spray moistens my skin.
A baptism, of sorts, in this, my communion with the sea.

The ship pounds into the swells, up and down, then side to side
as the canvas sails slap and the rigging creaks and moans.
The ocean’s power reminds me of my insignificance as we surge across the wine-dark dark sea.
The ship upon the waves is but a small thing, and I am smaller still.

I sit alone, wind whipping hair across my face as the spray moistens my skin.
A baptism, of sorts, in this, my communion with the sea.

I am not thinking, only feeling.
Total peace and contentment, all alone in the night.
Nothing else exists in these elemental moments;
’tis but woman and the sea.


In the busyness of those ordinary days, I close my eyes and imagine my Self back on deck.

I sit alone, wind whipping hair across my face as the spray moistens my skin.

The ordinary is now extraordinary. I am at peace. I am free.