The person born with a talent they are meant to use
will find their greatest happiness in using it.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ~
“I don’t know Who – or what – put the question,
I don’t know when it was put.
I don’t even remember answering.
But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone
– or Something –
and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that,
therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
~ Dag Hammarskjold ~
Each person comes into this world with a specific destiny–
he has something to fulfill,
some message has to be delivered,
some work has to be completed.
You are not here accidentally–
you are here meaningfully.
There is a purpose behind you.
The whole intends to do something through you.
~ Osho ~
It’s in the in-between
that the real magic happens.
The seeds are planted,
the roots take hold…
and we blossom into who
we were meant to be.
~ Kristen Jongen
I’m not good at this in-between time. That’s where I am at the moment. Since a health scare prompted me to take a “time out” from working as Director of a Counseling Center in a small, private college in late December, I’ve been on hold as far as contributing to the Gross National Product.
And since patience never was one of my strong suits, I’m none too happy with not getting up at 6:30 every morning, coming home at 6:30 at night, having done my part to save the world.
Some of you who follow me know that I expected big things from my health care professional retreat to Assisi, Italy this month (“My Pilgrimage to ????”).
While there, I expected nothing less in the town of St. Francis’ birth than for the heavens to open and rain wisdom down upon my thirsty soul, giving me detailed instructions on where/what/when/how I would be doing for the rest of my life. Give me my Divine Missive and I will obediently carry it out to the letter, and beyond.
I want a lightning bolt to strike the ground directly in front of me with the answer to my impatient question of, “Now what?????”
My therapist has respectfully suggested that perhaps my imagery of a lightning bolt striking directly in front of me might need to be modified.
Let me explain.
Since my husband’s illness prevented us from going on retreat, my pilgrimage was one of hospitals and doctor’s offices and bedside vigils. Now that he is slowly recovering…I’m ready for the lightning bolt.
I can still hear my therapist, Dr. G, saying, “Theresa, I don’t like that image – the lightning bolt.” He’s trying to be polite and professional. That works for awhile. “That’s too much like a defibrillator!!! You need to use something more calming for the imagery – like a sunset, or a sunrise.”
My feet came off the floor as I burst out laughing. He and I have been through a lot together (…bless him…), ever since I first met him and, barely having sat down, informed him, “You have 6 months for me to get through this ‘whatever.'”
He tried to be polite and professional back then as well. “Theresa, perhaps putting a time limit on the therapy might add more stressors to your life?”
Don’t you just hate it when people are right???
Perhaps putting a time limit on my in-between time will also add more stressors to my life. And stressors are what sidelined me in the first place.
So now I have to let go of one of my all-time favorite symbols – my lightning bolt – and attach myself to something (unlike the defibrillator paddles) more soothing, more peaceful, less shocking, less startling.
Something without a sense of urgency or that won’t be seen as an intrusion; something that will simply allow answers and inspiration to come forward slowly, in their own time, bringing me to a “new and stronger Theresa.”
[Whew! Is this the kind of stuff I tell my patients/clients/students?]
So naturally, I start thinking.
[That’s another thing my therapist has observed; when he presents an idea, I “run with it like a German Shepherd, dragging my owner behind me.” I’m not sure if that was praise or censure, but I’m still going to run with it.]
And in thinking, I recall my time working in the trauma bays of a near-by hospital (“Of Hospitals, Loss and Love” and “Wounded Hearts” ), when a man was brought in with extensive burns from electrocution. The palm of one of his hands was the exit point of the bolt of electricity, and it had blown open a hole where you could see blackened skin, tendons, muscle and blood.
Burned. Charred. Unrecognizable.
This is what I was praying for? Asking for? A lightning bolt?
Maybe not such a good idea.
So here I am in the in-between time,
impatiently waiting for a lightning bolt beautiful sunset to remind me that all good things come to those who wait. To have patient trust in whatever has been written for me, even before I was born.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Do I return to a college campus, where students struggle to carve out an identity (“An Adolescent’s Christmas with the Infant of Prague“)?
Do I open a private psychotherapy practice?
Do I volunteer in an international setting?
Do I venture forth as a motivational speaker?
Do I continue my blog?
Do I finally write the book I’ve always wanted to, something to uplift and inspire and offer hope?
Or do I simply continue as is, taking care of my family and myself, working my way through the grief of the vast losses that took hold of my life in the past 14 months (“Remembrance II” and “Who Will Remember?”)?
What is enough? What is too much? Where do I belong?
I’m not good at the in-between time.
The time between who I was and who I am yet to be.
The time between chapters…between birth and rebirth…between death and resurrection…
But above all, I am a listener. A co-journeyer.
The seeds have been planted, the roots have taken hold, and I have only to blossom in another setting, with another offering of my self.
I will wait in the quiet. I will listen for the whispers. I will keep watch for the soft glow of the banked embers that is the fire in my soul.
I will open and stretch to the golds and oranges of the welcoming sunrises. I will rest, bathed in the muted purples and pinks of the sunsets.
I will be still and know that I am.
And that will be enough.
Come. Who will journey with me?
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 ( http://www.treescompany.org ) 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.
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.
While I attended optometry school in Philadelphia, students worked on cadavers for our Head & Neck Anatomy class. I was apprehensive about how I would react to this new experience, but intrigued at the same time. My group was assigned to an 80-year old woman who was covered by a thin white sheet.
As I stood at her left side, I noticed her uncovered hand. It looked exactly like my grandmother’s hand – shriveled, marked by age spots, calloused and worn. In that instant, I saw her differently. She was no longer a cadaver, but someone’s mother, wife, sister, grandmother, daughter. She had loved and lost, hoped and dreamed, laughed and cried. A part of the human community, she mattered.
With a respectful air, I drew down the sheet and started the dissection. When I cut through the layers of muscle to the blood vessels, I paused. The branches of the arteries and veins were quite delicate and beautiful, laid out with a precise purpose in anything but a random, haphazard way. In that moment, I knew that I was in the Presence of God, and that all of Creation lay before me.
I was in the presence of holiness. In the most unexpected and humble of places, I experienced the interconnectedness of the human race.
I will be forever grateful for the gift that the nameless woman offered to those of us in the class.
I named her Grace. Circles of Grace.