Today is the day: our new series, “Spend It Offering Light” (#OfferLight) starts now, with essays from Brooke Adams Law and Abby Norman!
This recent post inspired the idea, and the stories I’ve received have been breathtaking. “Spend It Offering Light” features real people turning their fears into something that helps others, into light.
Coffee & connections, 2012. Photo Credit: Sarah Bayot
You see a person you love after an extended time apart. It’s wonderful to reunite. You feel so fortunate to have this friendship; you’re sure you’ll keep in touch.
And then you go home, back to your everyday life, and you don’t call them for months.
This isn’t something you do on purpose. It’s just that one day you wake up and realize that you’re disconnected, despite your good intentions.
At this point, you have a few options. You can:
A) Shrug off the guilt, saying that you’ll call at an unspecified ‘later’ date. However, you know you won’t call. You feel too bad about not having called already. This a fear-based cop-out.
B) Pretend it doesn’t matter (‘They won’t really care one way or the other’). There’s just one problem: You do care, and most likely they do too. This is another fear-based cop-out.
C) Take a deep breath and pick up the phone (or write the email or set the date). This is the brave choice.
No judgment here; I’ve chosen all three. In fact, I typically move through A and B before C. I let guilt drive me, then I turn to denial, and then I muster up some bravery and do the right thing.
Such was the case when I called my dear friend Leo* to wish him a happy birthday. I’d had the joy of visiting with him in November, but I’d let the intervening time go by without picking up the phone. Though I knew that Leo wouldn’t give me a hard time, I felt bad for not calling sooner, and I had to psych myself up to do so.
But the minute I heard his voice on the line, it was so clear to me: we can’t let fear rule our friendships.
So if you’re doing that ridiculous ‘I can’t call/reach out now; it’s been too long’ dance that we all do, just know this: you only have to push past fear for the time it takes the phone to ring.
Keep your friends close, and your fellow Old McDonald skit participants closer … (2010)
Leo and I spoke about his birthday plans and recapped local news. (A car literally crashed into the McDonald’s where he has coffee every day. Fortunately, Leo wasn’t there, and the driver is recovering.) He told me he liked my birthday gift. I glowed; “like” is high praise from Leo.
Gradually, we came to that pause that signals the end of a conversation. The pause in which you feel the distance between you, but also how you’ve bridged that distance.
“Okay,” I said. The small word held so much. I didn’t have to say, “I miss you,” or, “You’re like family.” It was all right there.
“Okay,” he replied.
“If it’s all right, I’d like to call more,” I said.
“That’d be good,” he said. “See you … no, talk to you … soon.”
I felt such energy and gladness afterward; it felt so good to be done procrastinating that phone call. For the rest of the afternoon, I flew through my work with enthusiasm. And the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek en theos, meaning, God within.
God within when we have brave days, choosing connection … and God within even when we don’t have brave days. Even when we fail to show others how much we care. Even when we feel, so acutely, the distance between who we are and who we want to be. Even then.
Because wherever love is, there is God.
What relationship do you want to rekindle? Join the conversation in the comments!
This is a story about a time when I fell flat on my face. Metaphorically, I mean. And I don’t know about you, but that’s a big fear of mine. Preparing and trying to do my best, and instead…completely blowing it.
When L’Arche DC celebrated its 25th anniversary birthday, I volunteered to give a speech with Leo at the Saturday evening banquet. I was his accompanier, and L’Arche DC’s 25th anniversary was more Leo’s celebration than anyone’s. As the community’s founding member, it was a milestone for him.
Me and Leo, giving the L'Arche DC 25th anniversary speech!
So Leo and I practiced in an interview format, as though I was Barbara Walters and he was a major political figurehead. We rehearsed a series of questions: “Leo, what do you like about L’Arche? What have you learned about yourself in L’Arche? What have you learned about God at L’Arche?” And Leo would respond at length. Yet as the appointed day drew near, someone mentioned Leo’s fear of public speaking, and I felt a quiver of apprehension. But I thought, “Sure, he’s scared to say what’s wrong with him when we go to the doctor, but since he agreed to this, he actually wants to do it.” Right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong. I’d forgotten that Leo’s a people-pleaser. (Perhaps I’d forgotten because I am similarly afflicted.) The person who asked him to do the speech was his first accompanier, and the 25th anniversary was her pet project. How could he say no to her? He couldn’t. That’s how Leo and I ended up on stage, with me introducing us, and him…not speaking. I held the microphone, repeating, “I’m Caroline, and this is…”
He was supposed to chime in with his name, like we’d practiced. But he just stood there shaking his head. A blush was rising on his cheeks. I looked at him pleadingly, my eyes begging, “Say your name, Leo!” and his eyes, when they met mine for an instant, begging right back, “Please don’t make me!” We were standing in front of about 200 people, and I had no Plan B. I looked out over the crowd of expectant faces. You have to do something, I told myself sternly.
Fortunately, a sense that I had to save the day wasn’t all that rushed over me at that moment. In the span of seconds, I saw Leo and I saw myself, both so scared, both trying so hard to get it right. And it was compassion for both of us that led me to say, “Well, this fine man next to me is Leo, the founding member of the L’Arche DC community, and it’s his anniversary too!”
I waited for the applause and laughter to die down, and then I said, “Leo, how about if I share what we’ve talked about together? Would that be all right with you?” He managed a nod. His face was looking better. He still wanted to bolt, I could tell, but it seemed like he might actually make it through the speech if I made it quick.
So I told the crowd about our conversations, and how Leo is the resident historian of our unique community. I shared how he’s learned to speak up for himself; how before he came to L’Arche he let people push him around; how he’s learned that you can be both assertive and kind. Leo started chiming in here and there, correcting a misremembered phrase with his exact words. I didn’t mind being corrected; I was so relieved that he was actually speaking. And when I came to the last point, there was a lump in my throat.
I said, “When I ask Leo about God, he looks at me like he’s a college professor and I’m a kindergartener asking silly questions. He says, ‘God? God is everywhere.’ And I love how Leo opens my eyes. I love being a part of the community he helped to found. I love how I’m starting to see because I’m starting to love.”
I swallowed and said, “Thank you.” Leo said, “Thank you.” I was so proud of him. We took our seats to loud applause. I wanted to reach over and hug Leo, but instead I put my hand on his shoulder. “We did it!” I said, “Well done.” And he nodded, just once, in acquiescence and affirmation.
At my farewell celebration last week, I felt like I felt years ago as I stepped away from that podium with Leo: embarrassed, amazed, and awestruck by how woefully underqualified we all are for the important tasks life has for us. Being a program director, giving a speech, loving one another…who are we to do any of it?
But still, we have said yes. And that yes, that attempt– even if it precedes fumbling and failure– is a beautiful thing to witness.
That speech with Leo was an outtake of sorts, yet it’s a moment I cherish today. Because truly, life isn’t about being flawless. This is a tough realization for an overachiever, who has too often made the mistake of avoiding failure at all costs. From the perspective of years, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not Leo and I gave a polished speech that day. In the same way, it will not matter years from now whether or not I turned in ‘perfect’ quarterly reports as a program director (though I definitely tried to do so)!
It was never about any of that. Life — real life– is about whether or not we show up for one another. It’s about whether or not we try, in the midst of our own frailty, to offer the best of ourselves to one another. Real, lasting success isn’t about not making mistakes. True success is about love. It’s about touching the life of another human being.
It’s the same epiphany I had when I looked across that stage and thought, “You know what? I bet the only reason Leo hasn’t bolted– the only reason he’s still up here at all– is because we care about each other.” And once I had that thought in mind, I held my head up high.
In that spirit, I’d like to share with you this song, which was played during my farewell celebration. It’s called, “We Are Each Other’s Angels”, by Chuck Brodsky. (This would also be a good time to mention Brooke Adams Law, my best friend, who introduced me to this song; she has embodied the lyrics for me many times. If you’re looking for some good reads & gift ideas this holiday season, be sure to visit her at Books Distilled!)
“…we are each other’s angels / And we meet when it is time / We keep each other goin’ / And we show each other signs.”
Who (or what) has kept you going in this season?
Tell me in the comments!
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