You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.
~ Indira Gandhi ~
It’s taken me more than 6 months, but I finally reached what I suppose is a seminal point for a new blogger.
328 people who actually have agreed to see an e-mail from me every day in what must be already overloaded e-mail accounts.
With views from 59 different countries. Amazing!
I am grateful, to say the least.
When I first started this blog, it was because I had to take a time-out from work because of health issues, and I wanted to reach out to people from my home, since I was no longer doing it in an office.
My goal was simple – to inspire people, to offer hope, to let them know that they were not alone. To give them the chance to get to know some extraordinary people I’ve met along the way, either through my work, my volunteering, my reading, or my travels. Or to share a daily quotation that at some point in my life, may have spoken to me for a brief moment.
Or comforted me. Or inspired. Or challenged. Or teased. Or humbled.
And guess what? I was inspired.
I don’t know if I achieved my goal for others, but I was certainly inspired by those I’ve met in the blogging world. And the blogging world is simply a microcosm of the real world.
Where else can I speak to or read about or cry with people from other countries and other cultures without ever having met them?
Where else can I view photos (and very, very good ones, at that!) of hills and meadows, festivals and country markets, colorful flowers and exotic animals, mountain peaks and crashing oceans?
Where else can I read about feeding hyenas in Ethiopia or visit a fashion house in Paris or a tiny market on the streets of Pakistan?
Or see the purple flowers against the gray stone of a chapel in Ireland or experience the Northern Lights in Norway or read about the politics of Croatia or the struggle for freedom in Egypt as they happen?
Or get tips on how to take care of elderly pets or teach a cat how to walk on a leash or get a recipe for soup from Singapore or discuss photography with a retiree in Hong Kong or take notes on the latest fashion from a Latvian teen-aged boy?
I’ve offered prayers to people struggling with cancer, sobriety, paralysis, depression and all kinds of loss; exchanged hopeful thoughts in the quiet early morning hours when sleep was elusive; read poetry by young adults in India, Spain and Romania (thank goodness for Google Translate!) who feel the same things as the rest of us, no matter our age or geographic location; read about different faith traditions practiced in so many parts of the world; and shared my own thoughts about people, with people and for people across the globe.
Ask me about how Mumbai’s skyline glitters at night or how the mountains surrounding Islamabad look draped in mist or how the colors of a New Zealand autumn blaze and pop or how the light falls in sacred shadows across an abandoned church in Scotland or how it looks to skydive over Palm Island in Dubai, UAE or how vividly green the terrace farming is in Yemen or how the architecture sings at night in Barcelona.
Or how cheetah hunt or elephants grieve or eagles mate or dolphins swim or butterflies migrate.
Or how people the world over hate war, how they cry for the same reasons, laugh at silly jokes, help those in need, share food and water when they have little, offer hope when others have none, speak volumes without words in their photographs, allow us to visit inside their homes and hearts, show us their children and plans for the future.
We are different; we are the same.
We share stories; we share ourselves.
We reach out; we touch hearts and hands.
We speak in different languages; we speak the same.
We harbor faith not confined by religion.
We believe and we dream.
We inspire and we offer hope.
We are present and never alone.
We are connected.
We are One.
We shall bring peace.
So, in celebration, I would like to propose “The 300 Peace Accord.”
A grass roots movement that starts with the 328 loyal followers of this humble blog, Soul Gatherings.
We’ve already shown that we have more in common than different.
We agree – we disagree – – we communicate – we listen – we share – we learn – we care.
Let all of us decide the fate of World Peace.
One person – one post – one follower – one blog – at a time.
We can do this. I can feel it. I can hear our voices, united.
The 300 Peace Accord.
Are you in?
by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
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.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be;
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
~ Blessed Mother Teresa ~
“Compassion is not a religious business,
it is human business.
It is not luxury.
It is essential for our own peace
and mental stability.
It is essential for human survival.”
~ His Holiness the 14th Dali Lama
I arrived at the nursing home too late.
My position with hospice was in Loss & Bereavement; that is, to help terminally ill patients prepare for their death and to be available to the families before, during and after the loss of their loved one.
When anyone would ask what type of work I did, and I would answer “hospice,” the reaction was almost always the same – “Oh – I don’t know how you do it – I would never be able to…” With that, they would look down, words trailing off, sometimes physically stepping away from me. I understood.
But for me, being with someone approaching death is sacred ground. No filter, no mask, no falseness. Just that person stripped of everything the world deems important, yet at that moment, more genuine. More authentic. Unpretentious. Beautiful.
When I met Walt, he was a resident in a nursing home. Patti, his aid, brought me to his private room to introduce me. He was in his mid-70s, thin gray hair in wisps around his almost bald head, eyes rimmed with dark circles, face sunken and pale. His wheelchair, placed close to a window, bathed him in sunshine. The photograph on his bureau showed a strikingly handsome man, tall and thin, with blonde hair, casually holding a golf club, looking off to the horizon, smiling.
Now, his body was bent and misshapen, knees drawn up, fingers curled into fists held tight against his chest. His head was angled toward his right shoulder, his whole body ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis. He showed no awareness when Patti introduced me and his eyes – a clear, bright blue that belied his age – never left a picture on the far wall.
“That’s his wife. She died a long time ago. They never had children.”
She was quite pretty, dressed in a uniform that a flight attendant might wear in the early years of commercial flying – perhaps Pan Am or TWA. The only other item on the wall was a handwritten 8×10 sheet with words to the song “You Are My Sunshine” written on it.
“That was their favorite song. They used to sing it to each other,” Patti explained. “He can’t speak because of his stroke, but if he gets agitated, we sing it to him; it seems to calm him down.”
So began my relationship with Walt. I would visit him twice a week – him in his red cardigan sweater, slumped in his wheelchair parked in the sunshine, me seated next to him. I would read to him, talk to him, sometimes just sit with him, while he would look at his wife’s picture. Once, when I hummed “You Are My Sunshine” and gently held his hand, I thought I saw the briefest of smiles, but then it vanished. It was probably just wishful thinking on my part. There never seemed to be any change in Walt’s disposition.
One week, our hospice team was particularly busy with new patient admissions and I was unable to make my Tuesday visit with Walt. On Thursday afternoon, I stopped at the nurse’s station to sign in. As I rounded the corner and headed to Walt’s room, I saw Patti coming toward me, her face drawn and tired.
“Walt took a turn for the worse this morning,” she said softly. “He died, not more than five minutes ago.” She stepped aside so I could enter the room.
I stopped. Walt’s wheelchair was by the window, empty. I’d never seen him anywhere but in his wheelchair. I looked around, searching for something – anything – familiar. My eyes finally found Walt, lying on his twin bed, facing the wall.
I stood at the foot of his bed and said a prayer, but it didn’t feel like enough. I moved the foot of the bed away from the wall and knelt where I could see Walt’s face. His eyes were closed, his wrinkles smoothed out; he looked like he was peacefully at sleep. I reached out and clasped his hand, my fingers gently intertwined in his.
My eyes were drawn to the photo of Walt on the golf course and the one of his lovely wife when she was a flight attendant. I closed my eyes. As if watching a movie, I saw Walt – young, handsome, smiling – get up easily from the bed and walk towards a beautiful young woman dressed in blue. They stood facing each other, holding hands. Staring at each other. Smiling at each other. Loving each other.
With carefree laughter and beaming smiles, they turned and walked away, hand in hand, bathed in golden light. They were together again, as one.
As I looked down at our hands and smiled through my tears, I began to sing.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Good-bye, Walt. Thank you for the privilege of spending time with you. Go, now – happy, whole, healthy – and rest in peace.
A Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
“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.”
Habemus Papam Franciscum
We have Pope Francis.
As I watched the breaking news, I put my head down and smiled, tracing the bracelet on my wrist. I wear the Möbius bracelet, engraved with the Prayer of St. Francis, to remind myself of my purpose.
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
The Poor Man of Assisi became a living prayer. St. Francis, who by embracing the poor and the marginalized of the world, affirms the light that is within each of us.
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
Those marginalized human beings who I journey with as a counselor or as a volunteer – the lonely, the poor, the dying, the mentally ill, the abused, the ostracized, the forgotten. Seeing with the eyes of the heart. Where I look, in a sense, my heart sees unconditional acceptance and positive regard. Difficult? Sometimes. Necessary? Always.
Remember one of my previous posts, “She Who Hears the Cries of the World?” St. Francis knew of that light within each of us. Chaplain Susan knew. And with St. Francis’ help, so will I.
“Where there is darkness, light.”
Rev. Murray Bodo, O.F.M., in his book, “The Threefold Way of St. Francis,” (Paulist Press, 2000) reminds us, “The world’s greatest lovers have not been Don Juans and Casanovas, but Schweitzers, Gandhis, Helen Kellers and such saints as Francis of Assisi… True love…is free from jealousy, boastfulness, arrogance and rudeness; that it can bear all things, hope, and endure.” (p. 7)
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
When we embrace the poor and the rejected with compassion, we are actually ‘suffering with’ that person and in community with all human beings. And when we embrace them (…wings?…), we are, together, a living prayer. ‘I am one, but I am many.’
Later this year, I am blessed to take part in a week-long healthcare renewal retreat called “The Art of Presence.” It promises ‘renewal, respite and reflection’ as I am reminded of the sacredness of my calling in the giving of compassionate presence as a counselor. I so need this discernment for the next part of my journey, and I have no doubt that it will be shown to me.
Especially since the retreat will be held in a place called Assisi. Assisi, Italy. St. Francis’ birthplace. St. Francis’ place of burial, in the crypt of the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
My journey that will take me onto the same cobblestone streets where St. Francis walked, prayed and healed. Where I can best offer my gratitude for all blessings received (and they are many) in this life, and where I can best humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.
This wayfarer – this pilgrim – this journeyer – seeks the essence of St. Francis in the place where his sacred work began. Even though I carry St. Francis inside my soul, my heart wants to see his birthplace. Perhaps it will be my birthplace as well.
“Make me an instrument of Your peace…”
Pax vobiscum. May peace be with you.