Is Love Alive?

candle2After hearing about the school shootings in Connecticut, I tried to fight the lump in my throat, but it threatened to choke me if I didn’t release the sadness welling up inside.  I’ve never cried so hard for someone I didn’t know.

As a rule, I avoid news-viewing of this sort.  But this day I am fixated like the proverbial moth to a flame.  And I am singed, feeling the sting of another’s horror.

This blog post will not pretend it has answers.  Nor will it join in the cacophony of anger towards guns or politics or school systems or even God.  As it likes to do, this blog will remind us to pause long enough amidst the chaos – even if only for the blink of an eye – to glimpse a spec of clarity.

At the funeral of an eight-year old that I attended years ago, the priest offered a metaphor that has influenced every challenge I’ve faced thereafter.  He said that life, at times of tragedy, is like a pot of boiling water.  When we are plunged into it, two very different things can happen.  If we are like an egg, we will harden.  Our shell remains unharmed to the naked eye, but inside we react to the heat with hardening in the form of bitterness and anger.  In contrast, the same boiling water, to a carrot, has the opposite effect.  The carrot becomes soft, allowing itself to be stripped of its rigidity as it gives way to a new form.

Therein lies our only choice.  For we cannot escape the pot.  Not one of us will coast through life without taking our turn with loss.  Which will we be, egg or carrot?

When I lost a baby to the treacherous business of childbearing, I cracked, like the egg that couldn’t stand the heat.  At first I raged against life.  Then I abandoned it.  Time became irrelevant; joy non-existent.

One morning I lay awake in a familiar state of numbness and noticed that the darkness of the room and that of my soul blended together.   The void that was me was so vast, it had no boundaries.  All that had once defined me was gone.

Vaguely, I was aware of my curled form, head down, no more than a lump on the ground.  Out of nowhere, a voice commanded me, “Look up!”  When I did, I heard one more instruction, “Remember who you are.”  With that, rapid screen shots of my life flickered before me – distant, fleeting reminders of purpose.

This was the day I began my healing.   Like the lame man in the Bible who was told to get up and walk, God had reached down from Heaven and picked me up by the scruff of my neck like a cub.  ‘Enough,’ He seemed to say, and sent me on my way with a gentle nudge.

This is how I learned about grace.  When I began to examine the depths of my experience, I became privy to the great life lessons that seem to be reserved for the experience of tragedy.

I saw the courage and loyalty of friends who refused to let fear withhold their extension of love, even when it meant doing nothing but be present.  I saw the tears in their eyes and the heard the sadness in their voices as a reflective measure of my own sadness and it comforted me.

I learned the value of family – the ultimate crutch.  The ones I can curse to or curse at and still expect their love.  The ones who pick up the pieces long after most people think the puzzle is back together.

And I saw the resiliency in myself.  No matter how far I had fallen, I could always rise again.

In the face of loss, I found these reasons to have hope.  When I allowed myself to experience sadness for all its potential, it led me back to love.

This is what I know to be true:  that grace exists for all people.  That we are never abandoned.  That healing is always possible.

We, friends and strangers alike, will gather around this enormous loss trying desperately to fill the gaping wound in humanity.  We will pray and think and do, yet still the wound may refuse to close.  Life has its own plan, its own clock.  Sometimes all we can do is wait for grace to arrive.

This is my winter song.

December never felt so wrong,

Cause you’re not here where you belong;

Inside my arms.

Is love alive?

I’ll be your harvester of it

And send it out tonight

So we can start again

Is love alive?

-Sara Bareilles/Ingrid Michaelson


ThankYouNoteThere is a house.  In the house lives an elderly man.  He is all alone with no one to care for.  So he cares for his house.

This is how our story goes.  The one my children and I have concocted from our observations.  Every day for years we’ve taken notice of this particular plot which sits on the corner near my children’s school.  It’s a simple house, probably as old as the man himself when he bought it to raise a family in.

The elderly man is, by all appearances, fastidious.  Mr. “F” we’ll call him.  His lawn is manicured, his wood pile impeccably stacked, even his  trash cans are arranged with great care.  I can’t explain why, but we adore this man we’ve never met.  Secretly, we offer blessings as we drive by.  ‘Have a peaceful day, friend.  Keep up the good work!’

Sometimes, the man’s comings and goings prompt us to add snippets to our story about him.  Like the day we saw a middle-aged man on the stoop accompanied by a police officer.  We allowed our imaginations to run wild with horror.  Surely, Mr. F had died and this was his son who discovered the body!  A moment of silence passed before we shared our mutual feelings on the matter – he never knew how we appreciated him!  Regret and sadness filled the car as we offered prayers for our secret friend and his family.

Exactly one month later, fully expecting a ‘For Sale’ sign to pop up on the man’s lawn, we saw him.  Yes, him!  Mr. F was alive and well and tending to his garden.  A shout of joy went up, followed by a bit of shame for our mistaken assumptions.  Our relief at Mr. F’s reappearance prompted my teen daughter’s suggestion, “We should thank him.  You know, for making us happy.  We could give him a compliment card.”

She is recalling a family practice that began when she was seven years old and was inspired by her own enthusiasm for the  holiday season.  So enamored was she of lights adorning homes at Christmas time, she would beg every night to drive around after dark to take in the glamour that is unique to the season.  Witnessing the joy it brought her, we felt compelled to thank the people who decorated their homes.

We decided to write anonymous thank you notes.  Armed with a simple notepad and pen, we’d drive around rating our favorite displays.  Then we’d scribble a note of appreciation, pull over, turn off the headlights, and sneak up to the mailbox to deposit our compliment card.  We’d giggle at our sneakiness, satisfied that we had made someone’s day.   Who doesn’t love a secret admirer?

In an attempt to resurrect the joy of spreading good will, we pulled over to Mr. F’s house and wrote this note:

“We love how you care for your yard.

 It makes us happy to see you.  Thank you! 

Love, A Neighboring Family”

We imagine that maybe Mr. F walks a little taller, bolstered by pride in his work.  And we, too, walk taller.  Not from pride, but from the natural boost that heartful giving generates.

I love spreading love.  It’s free.  It’s easy.  Everyone can do it.  Which has me thinking….wouldn’t it be something if this little blog, inspired by one little girl’s joy, inspired lots of other people to adopt the covert compliment card practice?  What if it created a….love-olution?!  What do you say?  Are you in?

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