A Tale Of Two Teardrops – Part I

child tears

“A giver’s hands are born open and so is their heart.” Frances Burnett

Tears are funny things. We shed them when we’re happy and when we’re sad; when we reach milestones and when we fall short of them; when a child is born and when they die; when we are basking in our victories and when we’re wallowing in our defeats; when we’re on the receiving end of a real and much needed hug and when we’re not; when we find true love and when we lose it; when we’re overcome with the fullness of our lives and when we feel empty and alone; when we’re struck by the beauty life has to offer and when we’re stricken by its seeming unfairness; when we greet an old friend and when we say goodbye to them. Often the source of our tears is that obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes tears appear out of nowhere and at the most inopportune/inappropriate times (i.e., at work, in a crowded movie theater, at a school function or sporting event, in a restaurant, etc.). I know because I’ve shed and dried more than my share of them through the years. But, obvious or not, the fact is every teardrop contains a story – a story worth telling and, as importantly, worth listening to.

I suppose I’ve always known that, but, several months ago, I was twice reminded of it by two remarkable women at a medical conference I very nearly didn’t attend. In fact, had a friend not insisted I go those tears likely never would’ve fallen at all, let alone onto a heart that desperately needed to hear the story each had to tell. I was with that friend when the first one fell. It was shortly after lunch on the first day of the conference. I was eager to introduce my friend to the keynote speaker for the afternoon session, a woman who is a giant in the field of eating disorder treatment and recovery and who I’m privileged to call a friend. My eagerness stemmed from my desire to enable my friend to share a ground-breaking online support program that she and a colleague have created coupled with my belief that the speaker could help my friend take her idea to the next level. When the moment finally arrived, I was encouraged by the smile that crept across the face of the speaker as she graciously listened to and warmly embraced my friend’s enthusiastic introduction to her program.

But, what happened next caught my friend and me by complete surprise. As my friend reached out to hand the speaker a booklet that further explained her idea, a tear slipped silently, almost imperceptibly from the corner of the speaker’s eye. “I think it best that you give that to a member of my staff,” she said softly, almost apologetically. “If you give it to me, I’m not certain it will receive the attention it deserves right now – in fact, I know it won’t.” Unsure what to do with the silence that followed or the awkwardness of the moment, my friend and I thanked the speaker for her time and hurriedly exited the still empty auditorium. At day’s end, we met up at a local Cantina to compare notes over a few too many baskets of chips and a couple of frozen margaritas. Not surprisingly, our lunchtime encounter in the auditorium was at the forefront of both of our minds. “I wonder what the story is behind that tear,” my friend began, thinking that maybe I knew. “It seemed strangely out of character for a woman, who, on the outside, is so strong, so in control – so successful.”

I paused for a moment, surprised by the well-spring of emotion that accompanied my response. “She has a giver’s heart,” I said, knowingly. “A heart that fears it’s on the verge of giving all it has to give; a heart that, even when exhausted, wants to give more and regrets that it can’t; a heart that wonders if its giving is making a difference and if it’s giving enough; a heart that’s borne more than its share of suffering through the years, but longs only to protect others from pain; a heart that’s expert in showering those in need with love and compassion, but inexplicably ill-equipped to accept it in return and, thus, is never fully replenished; a heart that doesn’t really know the meaning of rest, that can’t lay itself bare too often, especially if it means offering hope to a soul in despair.” “Is that how you feel too?” my friend asked. “Do you wonder sometimes if what you’re doing is making a difference, if you’re doing enough?” I suppose my silence said it all. “You are doing enough,” she kindly, but insistently responded. “Even if you don’t see it, even if you can’t see it – you’re doing enough. Trust me.”

Looking back, it’s almost as if she knew what the following day held in store . . .

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“You’ve Seen My Descent – Now Watch My Rising!”

path

There are few roads more difficult to navigate, more fraught with peril or more emotionally and psychologically challenging than the one leading out of the bottom of the chasm left behind by a life-interrupted. The interesting thing is: it really doesn’t matter how you found yourself at the bottom. Maybe it was the death of a loved one, the unexpected loss, by a sole breadwinner, of a job, a battle with an acute or chronic illness or addiction, a financial crisis or the break-up of a relationship, partnership or marriage. Whatever the cause, the emotions left in the wake of such life-altering events are almost always the same: grief, anger, discouragement, frustration, guilt, shame and, in some cases, a sense of hopelessness. In fact, if you ask anyone who’s “been there” most would tell you that the struggle to get back on the proverbial horse is just as, if not more challenging and painful than the “falling off” was.

Such certainly was the case with Hassan Whiteside, a 7 foot tall center from Marshall University, who had been selected 33rd overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 2010 NBA draft. At the time, many believed Whiteside’s potential was limitless, given that, in his first and only season at Marshall, Whiteside had broken a national record for most blocked shots by a freshman in a single season (182) that had stood for nearly 20 years! However, after knee surgery sidelined him for much of his rookie season, Whiteside spent the better part of the next 4½ years bouncing around the NBA equivalent of the minor leagues, including stints on the Reno Bighorns, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Iowa Energy – hardly household names to even the most ardent of NBA fans. He also played overseas for Al Mouttahed Tripoli and the Amchit Club and (in Lebanon) and the Sichuan Blue Whales (in China).

Just how complete was Whiteside’s slide into the abyss? Well, as recently as three months ago, Whiteside was working out and playing in pick-up games with friends at a YMCA in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina – all the while hoping that someday the phone would ring and he would find his way back to the NBA. To say that each step taken during those 4½ years likely was a humbling if not, at times, humiliating experience would be a considerable understatement. But Whiteside kept believing, kept fighting, kept moving forward , even if, on occasion, moving forward meant taking a few steps backwards or to the side first. And then one day in late November, 2014 the phone did ring – and Pat Riley, the General Manager and President of Basketball Operations for the World Champion Miami Heat signed Whiteside to a 10-day contract – the NBA equivalent of a second chance.

Less than 3 weeks later, in a nationally-televised game against the Chicago Bulls, Whiteside recorded an unconventional triple-double, with a Heat team-record and career-high 12 blocks to go along with 14 points and 13 rebounds. After the game, the media asked Whiteside to reflect on his journey from the Charlotte YMCA to the Miami Heat’s all-time record book. “It’s a blessing,” Whiteside offered humbly. “Like I told my teammates, you can’t believe how things work out in life. Three months ago I was at the downtown Y just chilling, working on my game. I couldn’t get a team to even pick up the phone – and now this.” Now this, indeed! In just ½ a game (24 minutes) and after having missed 2 games with a sprained right ankle, Whiteside blocked more shots than any Heat player in history, including such greats as Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal. How do you explain that? How is that even possible?

It’s possible because, consciously or subconsciously, Whiteside stumbled upon 3 keys that I believe are essential to not only “finding” but successfully navigating the road back. First, he didn’t allow his perspective to be defined by what he had missed in the years he was relegated to the role of NBA spectator. Instead, he adopted a mindset committed to showing the world (and the NBA) what they had missed in his absence! Second, rather than further burden himself (and his heart) with the weight of bitterness on an already difficult journey, Whiteside nurtured an adventurous and expectant heart – one open to the possibility that at any moment the phone could ring and provide the open door he was longing for. Finally, but as importantly, Whiteside robed himself in gratitude – for his Life, for the gifts with which he has been richly blessed and for those who never stopped believing in him.

I’m the last one to suggest that any of this is easy. Far from it. It’s one of the most difficult things a human being will ever be asked to do. But as the Rumi quote that titles this post suggests and as Hassan Whiteside’s and so many other overcomers’ stories confirm, it not only is doable, the doing of it is spectacularly rewarding, affirming and enriching. A few weeks back, Glennon Doyle Melton, a woman I respect and admire greatly, who herself is no stranger to brokenness and a life-interrupted, received the following letter from one of her many social media followers & offered a response that I think beautifully captures the essence of this road map out of the abyss:

Dear G,

My husband left me. I live in a small town, everyone knows. I started drinking again, everyone knows. I’m at rock bottom, everyone knows. They ask me how I’m doing. What do I say? What do I tell them?

A

Dear A,

You’re ready to begin. I can tell. So tomorrow morning, get out of bed. Take a shower. Dress up nice. Then walk out of the house and, with your head held high, tell them this: You’ve seen my descent. Now watch my rising!

Love you. G

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