The weekly meeting started, as always, with the person who had the most authority. He stated his issues in the same way as usual. People were looking at their calendars or writing another item on their “to do” list. Routine, ordinary, predictable. The evening before this meeting, a newsman described the financial situation with calmness as a screen flashed with a red jagged line which started in the upper left quadrant and bled to the lower right corner. Authority figures in our government walked into the picture and said they had a better idea. Other men nodded silently in the background. A woman at our staff meeting had red eyes, of anger perhaps, or of fear. She said we really needed to help others during this dangerous time. Her kleenex seemed to be full of her own need for help. Everyone looked away and stopped their writing. All nodded but nobody said anything. The man in charge went to the next item on the agenda.
Another day while tutoring children, one of our African American teenagers said she loved John McCain and she hated black people. We inquired further but she remained silent and then grabbed a snack and left. One of the four-year olds ran down the hall and jumped into my arms. No words.
When do we remain silent? When do we take action? When do we stop everything and turn to the other person and ask with an open heart “say more”. How do we remain balanced, vital and healthy in the midst of it all?
We had a scholarship program at our company for children-at-risk and we found out that a woman who received the funding was not using the money appropriately. After many phone calls, we finally met for breakfast so she could explain the situation. She came to the table already talking before she sat down about the troubles in her life. She was a new single mom. Her children were not adjusting to the separation, and they were doing poorly in school. She had migraine headaches. She said she “fully intended” to do what she promised in the grant, but at a later time—when she got her life in order. Then she burst into tears and said that she could not sleep at night. She finally blurted out that she was sorry for taking and spending the money on herself and not the children in her program. She had talked for fifteen minutes straight—first justifying her actions, and then confessing her guilt. I told her I suspected she would sleep better if she would simply take responsibility for her actions. We set up a plan for her to send a check directly to me each month for two years. If she was late once, we would have to press charges. Her checks came with hand-written notes each month for two years. She was sleeping better even though her kids were “up and down” and, in the last note, she thanked us and said her life was settling down. We all need second chances. How might we both give and receive second chances—so we can all sleep better?
Last week I heard tragic news. A middle-aged man committed suicide and his elderly relatives were stunned. I know the man’s mother. We were in a class that met each week for two years. I wanted to send her a note or do something for her. I found myself wondering: “What is appropriate? What if they only want immediate family to attend the funeral? What are the right words?” I even considered doing nothing as she is well known and certainly would get support. Do nothing? Go to her house? Send flowers? Write a note? Often, in the midst of a hurried schedule and a sad situation, the default position becomes “do nothing.” The fear of “inappropriate” or uncertainty stops action and creates isolation and separation. Doing something moves us in a new direction. Often this is in the heart’s direction—which inevitably leads to connection. What do you do with tragic news? Whatever you do, or not do, does this lead you to isolation or connection?
Yesterday was a challenging day at Partnership Village—an after school program some of us created for children who are in great need in our community. The children were wild. We volunteers glanced at each other and tried our usual tricks to calm them down. Nothing worked. We flicked the lights off and on. We separated them into smaller groups and finally just started our play—Little Red Riding Hood. Sometimes this is challenging duty for the volunteers and yet we know harder still for the children. “We can do hard,” we tell the children and each other as we play and tutor together. But do any of us really believe that? Secretly we all seem to want “easy” and we want it now (loose 10 lbs in a week; write a novel over the weekend; get the children up to grade level in a month). What might happen if, instead of complaining or expecting instant or easy, we embraced “we can do hard”?