Thursday Re-View — “Dancing with Chopin”

Occasionally, I will post “Thursday Re-View,” a post from when I first started my blog that you may have missed. Enjoy!

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Dancing with Chopin

Classical music? I was never a devoted fan, but one of my patients changed all that, enough so that whenever I hear Chopin, she is all around me.

Victoria was a middle-aged woman, petite, cultured, attractive – a lady in the truest sense of the word. She was devoted to her husband, her adult children, and Chopin. When I met her, she had suffered with ovarian cancer for 3 years (a feat in itself), and after exhausting traditional and alternative medicine treatment regimens, her only hope lay in getting included in a clinical trial, which was by no means certain.

She came to her first session wearing a designer suit, heels, a perfect manicure and a beautifully coiffed wig. She exuded poise and sophistication. Victoria chatted for a bit in a conversational manner, almost like she was at a social event. Suddenly, she stopped, then took a deep breath. Her words came out in a rush. “I never thought about dying.”

I sat, silent. She paused, struggled for breath and begged, “Don’t make me say that again.” She dug into her purse, found a small bottle and asked my permission to sip. The dark blue liquid, a derivative of the potent narcotic morphine, helped settle her labored breathing. She sat, her eyes filled with quiet fear. It seemed as if those words had been torn from her against her will, and now, she wanted nothing more than to take them back.

I assured her we did not have to “go there,” and we moved to safer ground.

At Victoria’s next visit, she chatted only briefly before the quiet fear returned. Her eyes welled up with tears, and as she dabbed them with a lace handkerchief, she apologized. I quietly remarked that whatever feelings she had were okay. She looked at me in disbelief, her voice quivering. “You mean I can cry?”

Pain pierced my heart and I could only nod. With that, Victoria covered her face with her hands, leaned into her lap and sobbed, her body rocking back and forth, wracked with grief. I wanted nothing more than to reach across the space between us and hold her, comfort her; the depth of her emotional pain was palpable. Instead, I visualized holding her as she cried. I could literally feel someone else’s arms (…wings?…) on top of mine, holding us in a Circle of Grace.

In this shared moment, we dwelt on sacred ground. No interventions other than love, compassion and presence were needed. It was enough to simply be with Victoria.

The following week, Victoria came into the room with renewed energy, a huge smile and a torrent of words. It was as if a dam had broken somewhere in the deepest part of her, and everything that had been buried, was now free. She announced that she was no longer afraid to die, and went on to describe a recent dream. In it, God introduced Victoria to her soul. She described it as a whirling, white mass of energy that spun round and round so quickly that it emitted shooting, golden sparks. Her eyes shone with excitement and her smile seemed even bigger. Victoria seemed almost childlike with the wonder of meeting her soul. “Best of all,” she confided, “my soul danced.”

My excitement mirrored hers. I recalled the woman of last week, who cried because with her tumors, she could no longer remember how to play Chopin on her piano. I had to ask. “Your soul; was it dancing to Chopin?”

“Yes,” she answered quietly, her eyes meeting mine, filled with a new-found peace. “Yes.”

I pictured her dancing effortlessly, joyous and cancer free, as the chords of Chopin echoed all around us.

fanpop.com

fanpop.com

Not quite 2 weeks later, when Victoria missed her appointment, I sought out her oncologist for an update. Victoria had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and was in the hospice unit on another floor. Almost as an afterthought, the doctor added that she only had a few days left. I went directly to her room, where her husband and adult children were keeping vigil around her bed. When I hesitated, her husband told Victoria that I was there, and she motioned me toward her side. She had lost more weight, and every movement seemed a huge effort.

I took her hand and looked at her, unable to speak for the tears. Her eyes met mine with a wisdom and peace that suited her, a mantle she wore comfortably and with her usual elegance.

She gently pulled me closer and whispered, “I love you.”

I just shook my head, still unable to say a word. With all the strength I could muster, I squeezed her hand. “Chopin – you will be dancing to Chopin…”

Victoria smiled as she nodded her assent, then closed her eyes. Even this small exchange left her spent.

I leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Thank you for the gift of you, Victoria. Our time together has been a privilege, and I keep you in my heart,” I said quietly. Having said my good-bye, I turned and left.

Be well, Victoria, and move on with my gratitude, blessings and love. Your soul graced this earth with beauty and brightness. You will be missed. You will be remembered.

Dance with abandon.

And thank you for introducing me to Chopin…

Sacred ground. So many moments in our lives, unaware, we dwell on sacred ground.

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O Spirit of Light

O Spirit of Light
Who art both infinite and eternal,
Illumine our lives
And the lives of those
We love and have loved
With the healing power
Of thy divine radiance.

In this dark night of the soul
Be present with us in our suffering.
Help us to find solace in nature’s constancy.
Help us to learn from our fear.
Help us to seek and rest in thy truth.

May our suffering enable
Our souls to grow
Until we live in the light
At one
And at peace
With all.

~ Kate Strasburg ~

Light Bearer

Light Bearer
~ Joyce Rupp ~

Eternal Lamp of Love,
remind me often of how much radiance
comes from the glow of
one small candle flame.

When my spiritual window
is heavily clouded,
your abiding love seems far from me.
Restore my belief
in your vibrant presence.

When I doubt my ability
 to be a bearer of your light,
shine your truth and wisdom
into my faltering spirit.

Radiant star in my heart,
in every generation
you pass into holy souls.

Thank you for the illuminated beings
who have touched my life
with their goodness.

Your light shining through them
has inspired me and filled me
with spiritual energy.

Assure me that I can also be
a Light-bearer for others,
a clear window of your eternal star light.

Stir and whirl your dynamic presence
in my being.
Stream your loving-kindness
through me.

I will open my mind and heart
to your presence
as you greet me
in the unexpected and challenging.

I, too, can make a difference in my world
because of your radiant light
shining through me.

I am ready to pay the price
for transparency.
 May my desire for deeper union with you
be realized.

A Blessing of Angels

A Blessing of Angels
by John O’Donohue

May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
May they turn toward you streams of blessing.

May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
to come alive to the eternal within you,
to all the invitations that quietly surround you.

May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds into sources of refreshment.

May the Angel of the Imagination enable you to stand on the true thresholds,
at ease with your ambivalence and drawn in new directions
through the glow of your contradictions.

May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes to the unseen suffering around you.

May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
 where your life is domesticated and safe,
take you to the territories of true otherness
where all that is awkward in you can fall into its own rhythm.

May the Angel of Eros introduce you to the beauty of your senses
to celebrate your inheritance as a temple of the holy spirit.

May the Angel of Justice disturb you to take the side of the poor and the wronged.

May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you in worth and self-respect,
that you may live with the dignity that presides in your soul.

May the Angel of Death arrive only when your life is complete
and you have brought every given gift to the threshold where its infinity can shine.

May all the Angels be your sheltering and joyful guardians.

Promise Me That You Will…

Be kind to yourself.
Look in the mirror and see that you are beautiful.
Make three wishes.
Be strong.
Nurture your soul.
Continue your prayers.
Let go of any pain.
Banish any anger.
Take one moment at a time.
Hear music.
Make music.
Seek inspiration.
Learn.
Believe in fairy tales and in the magic of your dreams.
Find that dreams do come true.
Hug yourself.
Feel the sun shine.
Believe again.
Smile.
Seek laughter.
Always remember that you have a guardian angel watching over you.
Find hope.
Find your true love.

Promise me these things.

~ Linda Ann McConnell ~

A Blessing of Solitude

A Blessing of Solitude
by John O’Donohue

May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone,
that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you
intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique,
that you have a special destiny here,
that behind the facade of your life there is something
beautiful, good, and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride,
and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

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Today’s Quote

The Halo

~ Rumi

“My soul gave me good counsel, teaching me to love.
Love was for me a delicate thread stretched between two adjacent pegs,
but now it has been transformed into a halo;
its first is its last, and its last is its first.
It encompasses every being, slowly expanding to embrace all that ever will be.”

We 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.

 

 

 

A Blessing

A Blessing
by John O’Donohue

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight, But the Leopard Doesn’t (Part II)

Africa 2011 064

Part I of this post was detail-oriented about my experiences on safari in Tanzania, but I also wanted to explain something else of what I experienced on an emotional level.

I have been fortunate enough in my life to travel to many different places; you have my parents to blame when they took me on my first plane ride (to Florida) when I was 16 years old. I was bitten by the travel bug, and I’ve been taking trips ever since.

Even the planning of them is fun – I research the destination, its history, the people and go from there. I’ve always believed that crossing borders helps to break down borders, and that visiting other countries helps us to learn tolerance and respect of other cultures, as well as offering discoveries not only of other places but also ourselves.

“The essence of living is discovering.” ~ Vijay Krishna, Indian Scholar

When I return from a trip, I am usually glad to be home, even though it isn’t long before I am envisioning my next adventure far, far away. But Tanzania was different.

I didn’t want to come home. Really – I didn’t want to come home.

In all of my travels, in all of my adult life, I never felt more at home than when I was in Tanzania. I was home.

The peace I felt in Tanzania, the quiet, the rightness of it is hard to describe. It was nature as it should be, without the technology or infrastructure or constant noise or smog or fast food or overcrowding. Just the animals ruling their kingdom, and a small number of humans trying to honor them in their habitat, without leaving too many footprints. We were the guests.

On the day of our departure, each time we made a stop in our small plane, heading closer and closer to “civilization,” something in me would protest. My heart left a piece of itself imprinted on the land.

Why return to my fast-paced life when I could retain this simplicity – this authenticity – and be part of this more genuine-feeling “Circle of Life?”

Back at my American home, I wouldn’t think of sleeping with the doors unlocked or only a wall of screens between me and my neighbors. In Tanzania, out in the bush, on safari, surrounded by thousands of predators, I felt safe and at peace. I belonged there.

Come to think of it, I probably do.

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to take part in the National Geographic Genographic Project ( https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com ), which, with the DNA of participants all over the world, historical patterns in the collected DNA would be analyzed to learn about each person’s “deep ancestry,” or the migration paths of our ancient ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago.

What were the results of my ancestral make-up, my “ground zero?” East Africa. Which includes Tanzania, the place that felt like home. Where I belonged.

My ancestors then migrated to West Africa, to Northern Africa (Egypt), then the Sinai Peninsula, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, to the Western Mediterranean. This route, from Eastern Africa to the Western Mediterranean, coincides with my paternal and maternal grandparents all emigrating to the USA (through Ellis Island) from Italy and Hungary in the early 1900s.

In Tanzania, my soul recognized that I was home. My cellular makeup affirmed where it all began. It was as if the land and the animals sang a song to my soul, and I answered its familiar refrain from so very long ago.

I walked in the desert but had no thirst. I sat with the animals but had no fear. I watched the Maasai dance, and the rhythym of their drums was already a part of me. Its melody sang and my soul rejoiced.

I will return to you, Tanzania. To your land, your people, your essence. I promised my soul it would once again dance in your sunset and be at peace.

Asante!

She Who Hears the Cries of the World

Kuan YinShe occupies a space on my mantle, so that every time I sit in our family room, I can be reminded of one of the ways I see myself as a counselor.

Kuan Yin. In Buddhism, the Goddess of Mercy. The Bodhisattva (Being of Enlightenment) of Compassion. She who hears the cries of the world.

Originally, as an intern at Loyola University Maryland for their Pastoral Counseling Program, I earned hours toward my Master’s Degree at a loss and bereavement center. That meant working will terminally ill people to help prepare them for death, as well as being available to their family members after the loss of their loved ones. We saw people in their homes, in an oncology center, in nursing homes and/or in our offices.

One day at lunchtime, a female chaplain noticed that I was subdued and asked what was wrong. I didn’t even realize I looked any different. I told her that going into the nursing homes was particularly difficult for me, as so many of the people housed there, although alive, appeared to have already died, their beings diminished. In fact, the nurses would tell me that some nursing home guests had not had visitors in more than 10 years (yes – you read that right – 10 years). The musty smells, their feathery moans, the pleading for help, the anguished cries, the gloomy atmosphere – all left a weighty hopelessness in me long after I ended each visit.

The chaplain, understanding in her eyes, offered this: “Theresa, when you are in the nursing home, for the residents…you are their light.” She paused to make sure I heard. “You might be the only “outside” person they’ve seen in far too long. For them, in a day that’s no different than any other, you are their light.”

I’ve never forgotten that. You Are Their Light.

I’ve learned that many of us don’t look toward the light until we’re alone in the darkness. That light brings us hope, warmth, a reason to get up and move forward. It’s a beacon, a guide, a flame, a spark, an illumination.

Then a funny thing happens. A quote I keep on my desk reminds me that with each act of giving, there is always something good in return. “You cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening your own.”

Smiling, being their light, helped me to shed light into my own dark and broken places.

Thank you, Chaplain Susan, for your wisdom and insight so long ago. I remember. In remembering, I, too am transformed.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

So I seek to bring light. To be a messenger. To be present. To be a co-journeyer. To hear their cries.

Kuan Yin. She Who Hears the Cries of the World.

Dancing with Chopin

Classical music? I was never a devoted fan, but one of my patients changed all that, enough so that whenever I hear Chopin, she is all around me.

Victoria was a middle-aged woman, petite, cultured, attractive – a lady in the truest sense of the word. She was devoted to her husband, her adult children, and Chopin. When I met her, she had suffered with ovarian cancer for 3 years (a feat in itself), and after exhausting traditional and alternative medicine treatment regimens, her only hope lay in getting included in a clinical trial, which was by no means certain.

She came to her first session wearing a designer suit, heels, a perfect manicure and a beautifully coiffed wig. She exuded poise and sophistication. Victoria chatted for a bit in a conversational manner, almost like she was at a social event. Suddenly, she stopped, then took a deep breath. Her words came out in a rush. “I never thought about dying.”

I sat, silent. She paused, struggled for breath and begged, “Don’t make me say that again.” She dug into her purse, found a small bottle and asked my permission to sip. The dark blue liquid, a derivative of the potent narcotic morphine, helped settle her labored breathing. She sat, her eyes filled with quiet fear. It seemed as if those words had been torn from her against her will, and now, she wanted nothing more than to take them back.

I assured her we did not have to “go there,” and we moved to safer ground.

At Victoria’s next visit, she chatted only briefly before the quiet fear returned. Her eyes welled up with tears, and as she dabbed them with a lace handkerchief, she apologized. I quietly remarked that whatever feelings she had were okay. She looked at me in disbelief, her voice quivering. “You mean I can cry?”

Pain pierced my heart and I could only nod. With that, Victoria covered her face with her hands, leaned into her lap and sobbed, her body rocking back and forth, wracked with grief. I wanted nothing more than to reach across the space between us and hold her, comfort her; the depth of her emotional pain was palpable. Instead, I visualized holding her as she cried. I could literally feel someone else’s arms (…wings?…) on top of mine, holding us in a Circle of Grace.

In this shared moment, we dwelt on sacred ground. No interventions other than love, compassion and presence were needed. It was enough to simply be with Victoria.

The following week, Victoria came into the room with renewed energy, a huge smile and a torrent of words. It was as if a dam had broken somewhere in the deepest part of her, and everything that had been buried, was now free. She announced that she was no longer afraid to die, and went on to describe a recent dream. In it, God introduced Victoria to her soul. She described it as a whirling, white mass of energy that spun round and round so quickly that it emitted shooting, golden sparks. Her eyes shone with excitement and her smile seemed even bigger. Victoria seemed almost childlike with the wonder of meeting her soul. “Best of all,” she confided, “my soul danced.”

My excitement mirrored hers. I recalled the woman of last week, who cried because with her tumors, she could no longer remember how to play Chopin on her piano. I had to ask. “Your soul; was it dancing to Chopin?”

“Yes,” she answered quietly, her eyes meeting mine, filled with a new-found peace. “Yes.”

I pictured her dancing effortlessly, joyous and cancer free, as the chords of Chopin echoed all around us.

Not quite 2 weeks later, when Victoria missed her appointment, I sought out her oncologist for an update. Victoria had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and was in the hospice unit on another floor. Almost as an afterthought, the doctor added that she only had a few days left. I went directly to her room, where her husband and adult children were keeping vigil around her bed. When I hesitated, her husband told Victoria that I was there, and she motioned me toward her side. She had lost more weight, and every movement seemed a huge effort.

I took her hand and looked at her, unable to speak for the tears. Her eyes met mine with a wisdom and peace that suited her, a mantle she wore comfortably and with her usual elegance.

She gently pulled me closer and whispered, “I love you.”

I just shook my head, still unable to say a word. With all the strength I could muster, I squeezed her hand. “Chopin – you will be dancing to Chopin…”

Victoria smiled as she nodded her assent, then closed her eyes. Even this small exchange left her spent.

I leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Thank you for the gift of you, Victoria. Our time together has been a privilege, and I keep you in my heart,” I said quietly. Having said my good-bye, I turned and left.

Be well, Victoria, and move on with my gratitude, blessings and love. Your soul graced this earth with beauty and brightness. You will be missed. You will be remembered.

Dance with abandon.

And thank you for introducing me to Chopin…

Sacred ground. So many moments in our lives, unaware, we dwell on sacred ground.

In the Presence of Holiness

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.