On Being Present & Embracing Enough (Could it Change Your Life)?
At prayer-time at L’Arche this Thursday, we passed a candle around the table, as is our custom. The reflection question was posed to us was: “How are you feeling?”
Such a simple, ordinary question. Yet in that moment, I saw how powerful that simple inquiry could be.
To check in with myself, asking, “How am I really feeling? What is really true for me, inside?” To check in with others, asking, “How are you?” and really listening to the answer…these are acts of love.
At L’Arche, we keep our meditations simple. That said, what arises from those simple questions is astonishing. It’s “simplicity on the far side of complexity,” in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
And people share from their hearts. Yes, we are only human; we hold some things to ourselves. But I am amazed by how we let one another in. This kind of trust cannot be demanded; it must be earned.
When I am at a loss for words, I can hold the candle for a moment of quiet before passing it along. There are hurts and joys too deep for words, and when I have felt them I have simply held the light…which I believe is, in itself, a form of prayer.
Leo*, seated across the table, looks over at me before he prays. He’s had a rough couple of weeks. Assistants he treasured have moved, and Gene, his housemate and friend of more than twenty years has passed away. And yet when Leo looks up at me, I can see that healing has begun, and, miraculously, that I am a part of that healing.
“Well,” Leo begins. “I’m…well, I’m doin’ all right. Before…but right now…I’m all right.”
He meets my eyes again as he says his last words, and I can feel gratitude rising within me. Somehow, I can tell that my presence is a part of his being ‘all right’. And there is wisdom in his focus: the sufficiency of the present moment.
I pray to be wise enough to share that focus; it’s a constant effort. Fears and anxieties about the future too often crowd my thoughts; all I know is to gracefully bring myself back to what is present.
After supper, Leo and I head upstairs to read together. We’ve been reading the same book for over two years, an 860+ page biography of Stephen A. Douglas. We are currently on page 680, and I have begun to believe that we may actually finish it.
Moreover, I have come to believe that our time matters to Leo; that the regular reading is more than listening to historical facts. I have come to believe that it is listening to reassurance; to the fact that I want to spend time with him; to the fact that he is my friend.
As I rose to leave Leo’s room, I glimpsed an image of Gene. Leo had tucked Gene’s memorial card into the wallet he wears around his neck. And I thought of how, on the day Gene died, I came to sit with Leo. There was no need to ask how Leo was feeling; anger and anxiety were writ large across his face.
He told me over and over, “I’m not upset about Eugene. I’m upset about something else.” Deep down, of course, I knew that he was upset about Gene, more upset than he was willing to admit.
That day was difficult. I wanted so badly to comfort Leo, and yet I knew that he was not at a place to receive words of comfort. He seemed like a stranger, lost in hurt. So I spoke little, and simply let myself be present to his pain.
As I left I said, “Leo, I’m here. If you need someone to listen, I’m always here.” He just nodded, but before I left, he let me hug him.
On Thursday night, after our reading, Leo showed me his new cell phone. He’s inherited Gene’s phone, with a new number, and Leo made sure I copied it down. And when I opened his phone to enter my number, I realized that, thanks to Gene, it was already there. Already on speed dial, in fact.
It brought tears to my eyes, how someone who has died can stay alive; how someone who loved you can keep giving you gifts even after they’ve gone. Though there’s still sadness at Gene’s passing, there’s sufficiency in the present moment.
That’s the image of grace I’m carrying with me this week.
Grace: getting ready to add your name and make your mark, and realizing that you’ve already made it…on the hearts of those who love you.
What does grace look like for you this week? Tell me in the comments!
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*Names have been changed.
About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.