“Good Morning, Beautiful”

Good-Morning-Beautiful-Mug-By-Milk-Honey01

Dear Cyndy,

I wonder how many letters I penned to you in that dark, cold, lonely room in the tenement house on North Lafayette Street in 1978. It was a lot.  My goal was to write one a day – and at least a couple of poems a week.  That was ambitious, some might say a bit on the obsessive side, even for someone as fond of writing as I was, but here’s the thing – I was obsessed . . . with you.  I was always looking for new ways to describe my vision of you, how beautiful I thought you were (thus, the telltale introduction), and the way my heart felt in the few times a year we got to see each other and during the too much of the year we spent apart.  I hoped that my words, like these, could somehow keep “me” in front of you across the miles, present in a permanent sort of way so that I would not be forgotten. I even fantasized about them stirring your own heart (and other parts of you as well if I’m to be honest!).

I remember balling up page after page of yellow legal paper and tossing the trash on the floor around my dimly lit writer’s desk in front of the window overlooking St. Joe’s Hospital, as I desperately and, at times, frustratingly searched for “right” words. It was the height of my perfectionism.  Everything about those words, the way they were strung together, the quality of the penmanship, their preciseness, their cadence, had to be just right or I started over.  I started over a lot!  I would spend hours a night, sometimes into the early morning – often at the expense of my studies (don’t tell my dad!) to make certain that when I headed out the door for the long walk to campus around 5 a.m. I had a letter or a poem or both in hand ready to drop in the campus post office for its long trip across the country.  Each time, I would hold my breath waiting to hear that it arrived – and hoping it hit the mark . . . your heart.

I’m not sure I ever knew your heart where those letters and poems were concerned. Whether they were something you valued or became more of an annoyance, a ritual that you would have just as soon I give up or at least suspend to give your heart some breathing room.  In the end, that never really mattered to me.  What mattered to me was that every day (or at least every other day) an envelope greeted you at your mailbox and let you know that somewhere in the world, there was an aspiring writer, a hopeless romantic of sorts, who thought you were beautiful, who longed for you to believe that, and who was hell bent on loving you whether you were ready to accept it or not.  I’m not sure when or why I stopped making it a habit to tell you you’re beautiful.  It certainly wasn’t because you stopped being beautiful. You didn’t! In fact, you’re more beautiful today than the day we met and fell in love. The writer just got careless or misappreciated the importance of those words, or both.

And he’s sorry – very sorry.

Love,

Don

On Forgiveness (an excerpt from “The Little Soul and the Sun” by Neale Donald Walsch)*

Forgiveness

A few weeks ago, I was reminded that some of life’s most profound and important “truths” are found nestled in the pages of innocent looking children’s books . . .

“I know what I want to be,” the Little Soul announced to God with great excitement. “I want to be the part of special called ‘forgiving’. Isn’t it special to be forgiving?”

“Oh, yes,” God assured the Little Soul. “That is very special.”

“Okay,” said the Little Soul. “That’s what I want to be. I want to be forgiving. I want to experience myself as that.”

“Good,” said God, “but there’s one thing you should know.”

The Little Soul was becoming a bit impatient now. It always seemed as though there were some complication.

“What is it?” the Little Soul sighed.

“There is no one to forgive.”

“No one?” the Little Soul could hardly believe what had been said.

“No one!” God repeated. “Everything I have made is perfect. There is not a single soul in all creation less perfect than you. Look around you.”

It was then that the Little Soul realized a large crowd had gathered. Souls had come from far and wide ~ from all over the Kingdom ~ for the word had gone forth that the Little Soul was having this extraordinary conversation with God, and everyone wanted to hear what they were saying. Looking at the countless other souls gathered there, the Little Soul had to agree. None appeared less wonderful, less magnificent, or less perfect than the Little Soul itself. Such was the wonder of the souls gathered around, and so bright was their Light, that the Little Soul could scarcely gaze upon them.

“Who, then, to forgive?” asked God.

“Boy, this is going to be no fun at all!” grumbled the Little Soul. “I wanted to experience myself as One Who Forgives. I wanted to know what that part of special felt like.”

And the Little Soul learned what it must feel like to be sad. But just then a Friendly Soul stepped forward from the crowd.

“Not to worry, Little Soul,” the Friendly Soul said, “I will help you.”

“You will?” the Little Soul brightened. “But what can you do?”

“Why, I can give you someone to forgive!”

“You can?”

“Certainly!” chirped the Friendly Soul. “I can come into your next lifetime and do something for you to forgive.”

“But why? Why would you do that?” the Little Soul asked. “You, who are a Being of such utter perfection! You, who vibrate with such a speed that it creates a Light so bright that I can hardly gaze upon you! What could cause you to want to slow down your vibration to such a speed that your bright Light would become dark and dense? What could cause you ~ who are so light that you dance upon the stars and move through the Kingdom with the speed of your thought–to come into my life and make yourself so heavy that you could do this bad thing?”

“Simple,” the Friendly Soul said. “I would do it because I love you.”

The Little Soul seemed surprised at the answer.

“Don’t be so amazed,” said the Friendly Soul, “you have done the same thing for me. Don’t you remember? Oh, we have danced together, you and I, many times. Through the eons and across all the ages have we danced. Across all time and in many places have we played together. You just don’t remember.”

“We have both been All Of It. We have been the Up and the Down of it, the Left and the Right of it. We have been the Here and the There of it, the Now and the Then of it. We have been the male and the female, the good and the bad; we have both been the victim and the villain of it.”

“Thus have we come together, you and I, many times before; each bringing to the other the exact and perfect opportunity to Express and to Experience Who We Really Are. And so,” the Friendly Soul explained further, “I will come into your next lifetime and be the ‘bad one’ this time. I will do something really terrible, and then you can experience yourself as the One Who Forgives.

“But what will you do?” the Little Soul asked, just a little nervously, “that will be so terrible?”

“Oh,” replied the Friendly Soul with a twinkle, “we’ll think of something.”

Then the Friendly Soul seemed to turn serious, and said in a quiet voice, “You are right about one thing, you know.”

“What is that?” the Little Soul wanted to know.

“I will have to slow down my vibration and become very heavy to do this not-so-nice thing. I will have to pretend to be something very unlike myself. And so, I have but one favor to ask of you in return.”

“Oh, anything, anything!” cried the Little Soul, and began to dance and sing, “I get to be forgiving, I get to be forgiving!”

Then the Little Soul saw that the Friendly Soul was remaining very quiet.

“What is it?” the Little Soul asked. “What can I do for you? You are such an angel to be willing to do this for me!”

“Of course this Friendly Soul is an angel!” God interrupted. “Everyone is! Always remember: I have sent you nothing but angels.”

And so the Little Soul wanted more than ever to grant the Friendly Soul’s request. “What can I do for you?” the Little Soul asked again.

“In the moment that I strike you and smite you,” the Friendly Soul replied, “in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could possibly imagine ~ in that very moment . . .”

“Yes?” the Little Soul interrupted, “yes . . . ?”

“Remember Who I Really Am,” said the Friendly Soul.

“Oh, I will!” cried the Little Soul, “I promise! I will always remember you as I see you right here, right now!”

“Good,” said the Friendly Soul, “because, you see, I will have been pretending so hard, I will have forgotten myself. And if you do not remember me as I really am, I may not be able to remember for a very long time. And if I forget Who I Am, you may even forget Who You Are, and we will both be lost. Then we will need another soul to come along and remind us both of Who We Are.”

“No, we won’t!” the Little Soul promised again. “I will remember you! And I will thank you for bringing me this gift ~ the chance to experience myself as Who I Am.

“And so, the agreement was made. And the Little Soul went forth into a new lifetime, excited to be the Light, which was very special, and excited to be that part of special called Forgiveness.

And the Little Soul waited anxiously to be able to experience itself as Forgiveness, and to thank whatever other soul made it possible. And at all the moments in that new lifetime, whenever a new soul appeared on the scene, whether that new soul brought joy or sadness–and especially if it brought sadness–the Little Soul thought of what God had said.

“Always remember,” God had smiled, “I have sent you nothing but angels.”

*photo credit: onyxtruth.com

12:01 p.m.

submergedheart

I’m not a political person.  I’m a heart person.

That’s not to say that I’m uninformed about politics.  I’m not.  To the contrary, I make it a point to be as informed as I reasonably can be on politics and I do it using a variety of sources, including the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, CNN and the Fox News Network, so as to ensure that I am exposed to a broad spectrum of viewpoints, especially those I may disagree with. Thanks to various social media platforms, I’m also connected to thousands of people with highly divergent points of view, many of whom (thankfully) are not at all bashful about sharing their own hearts and political preferences, both publicly and privately. Over the past several months, many of those sources have expressed outrage over the results of the recent presidential election and a deep sense of sadness, fear, disgust, betrayal, and hopelessness around what until yesterday was the impending inauguration of You Know Who.  In recent weeks, the emotions that infused news commentaries, social media posts, and water cooler conversations reached a fever pitch to the point that I was all but convinced that, when the clock struck 12:01 p.m., a black cloud would actually descend across our great nation and stay there for a long, long time. The thing is that didn’t happen – at least not for me.  In fact, nothing about the heartfelt conversation I was having with a writer friend over lunch at 11:59 a.m. was any different at 12:01 p.m., nor I suspect were the conversations being had at the table next to us, in the restaurants across the street, in the lunchroom back at the office, or at the dining room tables in most homes across the country.

Some will likely say that my “white privilege” affords me the luxury of espousing the point of view that prompts me to write this post.  Others will argue that I would feel very differently if I were a woman, a member of the LBGT community, an African-American or other economically or socially disadvantaged or oppressed minority, an illegal or improperly-documented immigrant, or a Muslim – to name only a few – and all would be correct. I am white and I’m none of the others, which is one of the many reasons I not only respect the entitlement of all who have the feelings referenced above to harbor them, I’ve made it a point to be as supportive and encouraging as someone living outside of their skin can be. I want people to feel it all.  I like people who feel it all.  And I really like people who feel it all and share, which brings me to the point of all of this – a point that I hope will engender the same respect and thoughtfulness: Nothing that happened at 12:01 p.m. yesterday changed the hearts of the people in our lives, in our country, and in the world who are committed to making a difference and are making a difference.  It didn’t change the hearts of Glennon Doyle Melton or Rachel Macy Stafford or Brene Brown, who regularly and profoundly touch more lives in 24 hours than You Know Who will touch in the next 4 years.  It also didn’t change the hearts of Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis, who is committed to inspiring and empowering young girls, or of those who have selflessly dedicated their personal and professional lives to holding the light and hope for others (Beth McGilley, Margo Maine, Angie Viets, Johanna Kandel, Carolyn Costin, Jen Nardozzi, Keesha Broome, Michael Berrett, and Tara Hedman – to name only a few).  If anything, 12:01 p.m. prompted each of them to double-down!

As importantly, it didn’t change my son or daughter-in-law’s love for their little boy, Jake, nor, I suspect, the love you have for your children (or grandchildren), spouse, friend, partner, co-worker, parishioners, neighbors, relatives, etc. – and they for you. It also didn’t change the hearts or alter the conviction and tireless commitment that so many out-spoken advocates and recovery warriors have for those who have lost or temporarily misplaced their voices or are battling addictions and other demons.  I’m thinking specifically about people like Joanna Kay, Laura Porter, Nikki DuBose, Alison Smela, Kirsten Haglund, Jessica Raymond, Shannon Kopp, Allison Kreiger Walsh, Jenni Schaefer, Amanda Magee, Claire Mysko, Brian Cuban – and too many others to mention (Apologies in advance to those I’m leaving out.  I know none of you, including those mentioned, have any interest in being in the spotlight anyway). Finally, 12:01 p.m. didn’t change my heart and it won’t. I’m going to keep being “that guy”.  The guy who one friend recently described as having “feminist tendencies”!  The guy who feels it all and always has a minute (okay, an hour!).  The guy whose needy heart bore him a gift for spotting hearts in need a mile away and who refuses to walk by them without making some effort to lighten their load, ease their pain – or simply offer the gift of noticing.  The guy who leaves his phone on when he goes to bed in case of another’s late night struggle and the accompanying need for a word of comfort or encouragement. And I would urge all within ear shot of this post to make the same commitment.  Not to all that stuff I just mentioned. That’s not for everyone. Believe me.  Just the part about staying true to who you are and realizing that who may be in the White House will never matter nearly as much as what you have to give to those who are in your house, in your neighbor’s house and those who have no house at all.  The gift of you – of your heart poured out.

Dylan was right, “the times they are a changin’”.  The good news? The hearts, they ain’t.  March on!

http://tinyurl.com/zzg8w3o

A Few Thoughts About Misplaced Hearts

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A few days before Christmas, I sent the following break-of-dawn email to all of the lawyers in our firm’s Miami office with young children:

“Good morning!  Just wanted to let those on the “To” line know that they will arrive to find Santa Don’s 2016 Holiday Gift, “Heart Talks” on their chair.  When you read the Instruction Sheet inside the box, you may surmise that it’s a family exercise and ask yourself, “Why would Don give it to me, when he knows my kids either are too young to talk or just beginning to talk and, therefore, too young to play?!?” And you would be wrong. You see, “Heart Talks” aren’t just for kids anymore!  Adults (especially spouses) can benefit from them too. In fact, it will be good to get in some practice before the kids are old enough to play!  Hopefully, by the time they’re able to join in mom and dad already will have discovered the art and benefits of speaking the truth AT dinner, rather than having it FOR dinner.  Enjoy!  Don”

I think most of the recipients were rather intrigued by the concept and the gift, which had, as its centerpiece, a shiny glass heart similar to the one pictured above.  But, it was a thank you note I received from the mom of one of the youngest, 5 year-old Briella that inspired this post.  The note read simply:

“Thanks for this, Don.  It was very sweet of you to think of us.  Briella loved the heart.  In fact, she’s hidden it in a very special place (so special that she can no longer remember where she put it).  Good times!”

That’s cute, I thought as I headed out for my morning walk; and certainly something all of us can relate to – the putting of special things (e.g., photographs, keepsakes, love letters, etc.) in secret places and the frustration of later forgetting where we put them. But, after 6 miles of walking, it occurred to me that misplaced hearts are another matter altogether:

Dear Briella,

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret:

At one time or another, everyone (even your mom and dad!) has misplaced their heart.

Some do it by choice – by entrusting their heart to others who don’t deserve it, fail to care for and nurture it, don’t value its unique beauty, use and abuse it, badly bruise it with unwarranted guilt and shame, ignore or abandon it, and, in the process, violate that trust.

Others decide as a result of subtle or not-so-subtle messages they receive at an early age that their heart is unworthy of being seen, that it’s not only not beautiful, it’s ugly (imagine that) – and they hide it far away from the world, where even they have trouble finding it.

Still others, who once proudly displayed their hearts for all the world to see, one day decide theirs isn’t pretty enough, funny enough, engaging enough, desirable enough – and they bury it beneath layers and layers of what they perceive to be what the world values.

And then there are those whose hearts are being held hostage (under lock and chain, in seemingly impenetrable fortresses) by insidious diseases, alcohol and drug addiction, anxiety, depression, the venomous and unrelenting voice of an Inner Bully, or loneliness.

But, here’s the thing:

While they may have been misplaced for days or months or even years – and have the scars to prove it – nothing about these hearts is lost.  To the contrary, when they’re eventually found, their owners discover that their essence hasn’t changed at all – that their hearts are as uniquely beautiful today as yours is – and theirs was when they were five.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that, let alone to find your way back to that heart and allow yourself a second (or third) chance to more fully explore and experience just how beautiful it is, especially when you get older and you start to forget the way it “looked” the last time you saw it clearly – unadorned by all that other stuff.

With that in mind, maybe today you (or your mom) could jot down a few of the things that make your heart smile and tuck the note away just in case your heart too goes missing someday and you need to be reminded where to find it.  In the meantime, please accept this “second chance” heart from me to you as a symbol of this important truth.

Your friend,

Don

P.S. I love your name!

http://tinyurl.com/gtjgvox

“What Does She See?” #ABirdTale

birdsnest

Maybe if you walk long enough, often enough, with eyes and heart wide open, and in the right places, it just happens. You see some remarkable things. And I have: a young girl learning to ride a bike for the first time and celebrating the accomplishment with her dad; a weekend duffer finding the sweet spot and watching in disbelief as his perfectly struck iron shot soars through the air and settles within inches of the cup; the special bond between an old man and his dog; a pair of 80+ year-old lovers still holding hands; a child taking their first steps; a little boy with skinned and bleeding knees mustering the courage to get back on his two-wheeler and try again; breathtaking sunrises, sunsets and rainbows; a father hugging his teenage son with intention and compassion;  the magic of a game-winning goal; a single mom teaching her son how to throw a football; a friend drying another friend’s tears; orchids in bloom; the kindness of strangers; Santa Claus riding on the back of a firetruck; and (only in South Florida!) rain falling on one side of the street, but not the other; to name only a few.

But, it’s the things I sometimes see in the ordinary, in images I’m certain I’ve seen a thousand times before, but, thanks to insights gleaned from my daughter, I now see differently (perhaps as they were always meant to be seen) – that inspire me, resonate most deeply in my soul, and often stop me in my tracks.  And so it was last Saturday morning, as I came across a young bird picking up a tattered piece of fabric on the sidewalk and carrying it to a perch in a nearby tree, where she quite obviously was in the early stages of building a nest.  I really hadn’t planned to give the moment a second thought and didn’t, until several steps later when I felt that now familiar stir inside of me.  Uncertain of its source, I continued on, making the nearly 2 mile circle back and then I saw her again, this time sifting, with the determination and enthusiasm of a holiday shopper, through a small pile of brown leaves at the base of a tree.  It was then that tears started trickling down the sides of my face and I hurried home to put them on paper:

What does she see . . .

in the tattered piece of cloth torn from a since discarded blanket?

in the fragile twig convinced it lacks the strength to survive, let alone contribute?

in the delicate feather left behind by a recently departed friend?

in the scrap of paper torn in anger from another letter of rejection?

in the fallen brown leaves certain that their life was over?

in the tender reed bruised and buffeted by one too many storms?

in the straw, the piece of string, the remnants of an old cotton ball, the low hanging moss?

What does she see . . .

in the brokenness?

in the discarded?

in the misshapen?

in the ill-fitting?

in the left for dead?

What does she see . . .

that we can’t or refuse to see – that we walk by, dismiss, disregard, trample upon?

She sees beyond.

She sees missing and essential pieces.

She sees the blueprint of a home.

A home that is uniquely hers,

that woven together with tenderness, patience and care will one day provide her and those she loves with warmth, comfort, security and shelter,

that is beautiful –

and she is (rightfully) proud.

Maybe today, in this first day of a new year, we can resolve (dare I say commit?) to stealing a page from my new feathered friend’s songbook.  Maybe today we can honor her by allowing ourselves to look beyond what may, on their face, appear to be the mistakes, the brokenness, the missteps, the ill-fitting pieces of our past (or our present).  Maybe we can see them through her eyes for what they are: pieces of something bigger, something stronger, something more life-supporting, something that woven together, tenderly, patiently, lovingly, with all the good is our “home”, what makes us uniquely beautiful.  Maybe in the process we can replace the shame and guilt that we have associated with them with rightful pride for having survived them, for overcoming.  Maybe, for just a minute, we can entertain the possibility that those who love us most and know us best have been right all along:  We are all of that – the beautiful and the broken – and still loved and worthy of love.

Happy New Year!

http://tinyurl.com/gophnjv

“I’ll Have The Spaghetti And Goosebumps, Please!”

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My travel woes have become legendary.  I get that, once in a while, everyone who travels with any degree of frequency has experienced a hiccup or two – an unexpected mechanical or weather-related delay, a carry-on bag you were certain would fit in the overhead compartment above seat 42B that wouldn’t cooperate, a three year-old in the seat behind you with titanium vocal cords capable of screaming for an entire cross country flight – even an occasional cancellation or lost piece of luggage when you could least afford it.  But, I take travel issues to a whole new level and somehow manage to “elevate my game” seemingly with each new trip.  A few examples should suffice to illustrate the point.  I once arrived for and boarded a 5:30 a.m. flight only to learn that the overnight crew had “forgotten” to fuel the aircraft for our trip to LA! Then there was the time when, needing to make a tight connection, I and my fellow travelers on what was to be the originating flight were advised by gate agents that the jetway being used to deplane the aircraft we were to board had jammed 3 feet short of the exit door, making it impossible for those on board to get off!  Or the time when, moments before we were to push back from a gate, the pilot embarrassingly announced that the caterers had mistakenly taken all the food and drinks off the aircraft and were nowhere to be found!  Still not convinced that I’m the Joe Btfsplk of travel?  Imagine being at a nice resort and having the desk clerk accidently grant you early check-in privileges to a room that already was occupied! Fortunately, the 5″ stiletto heels and lingerie strewn across the room that greeted me when I opened the door immediately alerted me to the error in time to make a hasty exit before its occupant(s) got out of the shower. Suffice it to say, friends, family, and business colleagues demand to know my travel itinerary well in advance of trips so they can be certain to make alternate arrangements.

Last week, however, I outdid myself.  I was covering a deposition for my partner, who had a last minute scheduling conflict.  The deposition was being held at a hotel in a VERY remote part of Florida and was supposed to last the entire week.  In fact, my office had reserved a room at the deposition site with a Friday checkout anticipating that schedule.  But late Wednesday, the group I was with expressed certainty that we would finish a day early (i.e., on Thursday).  So, in an effort to avoid a bill for an unused extra night, I checked out of the hotel early that morning only to discover several hours later that the deposition would not conclude until Friday after all, due to an unexpected shift in the witness’ health. “Well, that’s inconvenient, but no big deal,” I thought to myself, as I headed to the front desk to rebook my room only to learn that, in the intervening four hours, this hotel – located in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE – was SOLD OUT for the night! After several emails, my assistant advised that she had found a hotel 18 miles away that had a room. What neither of us realized at the time was that it was located in an area that was EVEN MORE REMOTE than its predecessor. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have minded a change of scenery, but after four long, contentious days on the road, I was hoping for a much shorter commute and a good meal. You can then imagine my surprise (and frustration) to be told by the front desk at check-in that, aside from a Waffle House less than a block away, the nearest restaurants with any name recognition were those found near the hotel I’d just left – 18 miles away. Disheartened, I headed to my room to unload my stuff and make a quick call to my office to get caught up on the day’s events – convinced that, when I was done, I’d be heading back to restaurants I’d already eaten at the three nights before and whose food and service I’d found less than inspiring.

It was then that I remembered seeing a roadside billboard for a local Italian place about 5 miles down the road, a place I’d passed a short while later, but dismissed as a possibility based on its side-street location and appearance.  When I shared my day with my legal assistant, she was adamant that I give the Italian spot a try, “You’ve got nothing to lose,” she insisted, “and, who knows, you might just run into some friendly people.”  I took her advice and headed out.  She was right!  As I walked through the door of the quaint, beautifully Christmas-decorated neighborhood restaurant, I was greeted by the friendliest hostess you’d ever want to meet as if I was a longtime favorite customer.  She escorted me to a seat at the small bar just steps away from a large manger scene that illuminated the front of the restaurant and introduced me to one of two bartenders, who, it would turn out, couldn’t possibly have been any nicer, more attentive or more engaging. I went with my go-to dish – spaghetti and meatballs – which just happened to be the “Thursday Night Special” and the three of us spent the next hour and a half exchanging stories.  I told them about the series of events that had brought me to their doorstep and had to smile when one of them, a spunky young woman, whose effortless sense of humor and engaging personality reminded me of my daughter, cast her gaze to the manger and with a wry smile asked rhetorically, “Oh, so you’re here because there was no room at the inn?!?” They, in turn, shared stories about the restaurant – how it had burned to the ground a few years earlier and only recently re-opened after the owner had generously taken financial care of the entire staff during the rebuilding – and pieces of themselves.  One is a working mom of three, including a recently born little girl – the other, aptly described above, was playful and a bit on the eccentric side. The food was amazing, but it was the connection made between three complete strangers, under the most unlikely of circumstances and in the most unlikely of places that took me by complete surprise and warmed my heart. Still, it was what happened next that took my breath away.

Moments after the check arrived, I shared that, while I was a lawyer, writing is my real passion. “I wrote a book,” I blurted out – not entirely sure why. “I don’t know if I have a copy in the car, but if I do I’d like to give it to you as a gift for being so kind.  I set the check down with my credit card and headed to the car.  Buried in the back of the trunk, I found a copy of “Dear Ashley” I didn’t think I had, hurried back to the restaurant, and presented it to the mother of three.  Soon my other new friend and several curious servers gathered to look on. One by one, they smiled broadly at the cover photo and commented on how “priceless” the picture is. Then, with the exception of mom, they all returned to work.  “It’s not just for people who have daughters,” I volunteered as I focused on signing the check and, at her request, the title page of the book. “It’s also for people who are daughters.” “Oh, and one more thing,” I continued, sliding the signed check in her direction.  “It’s not really a light-hearted read.  You see, several years ago, our daughter nearly died battling an eating disorder.  Her courage is what inspired me to write it.”  Suddenly, her eyes became soft.  She leaned in, reached across the bar, placed her hand on mine, and said quietly so as not to be overheard, “Don, God brought you here tonight. This book is going to save the life of someone in this restaurant. Thank you.” And with those words still hanging in the air, she turned, put the book in a safe place next to the register, and walked away.  I paused for a moment reflecting on just how many things had to go “wrong” at the same time to create a moment so “right”.  As I, too, turned to leave, with goosebumps racing up my arms and tears welling up in my eyes, I passed the manger and smiled – suddenly grateful for another day of deposition, a random rebooking, a billboard, my legal assistant’s insistence, a buried copy of my book – and that “inexplicably” there was no room at the inn.

“Oh, We’re Not Doing THAT Here . . .”

heart

Recently, one of my favorite people on the planet, Glennon Doyle Melton appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” to promote her new (and might I add exceptional) book, Love Warrior.  During the interview, Glennon recalls showing up at a play group shortly after the birth of her third child and being asked by one of the other moms, “How does it feel to be a stay-at-home mom of three kids?” Glennon remembers thinking, “Awesome, we’re actually going to talk about how we feel” and then proceeding to enthusiastically share a metaphor she’d been developing to describe the experience. “You know how there are two kinds of volcanos,” she exclaimed. “The first is an active volcano and the second is a dormant one. The dormant one looks calm on the outside, but on the inside it’s bubbling with boiling hot lava that at any moment could just explode and kill everything in the vicinity! That’s how I feel as a stay-at-home mom – ALL DAY!” “It was a perfect metaphor,” Glennon recalls. But suddenly there was complete silence in the room and wide-eyed stares of disbelief among her fellow moms and she thought to herself, “Oh, we’re not doing THAT here.” So she immediately said, “What I really meant is that I love every minute of it! I hate it when they sleep. I just stare at them. And, I think if there is one word that would describe how I feel as a stay-at-home mom it would be ‘fulfilled’.  And then we ended the moment and I thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to be honest at play dates. That’s a shame’.”

It is a shame and yet, as the humor of Glennon’s story-telling wore off, I realized how infrequent it is that any of us are afforded an opportunity to fully and honestly unpack our hearts, that, while we all profess to want others to “be honest with us” – whether we’re the boss in the boardroom, the teacher in the classroom, a lover in the bedroom, the judge in a courtroom, a preacher in the sanctuary, a classmate in the lunchroom, a sibling in a chatroom, or a friend across the table at a local coffee shop – our spoken and unspoken reactions to truth, not unlike the crickets and ashen faces that greeted Glennon’s, tell a very different, often truth-stifling story.  Don’t get me wrong.  None of us struggle to embrace truth when what’s being dispensed is the ego-stroking, joy-producing variety, let alone truth that mirrors our idea of how whatever’s being spoken about (e.g., politics, child-rearing practices, lifestyle choices, relationships, etc.) “should” look. It’s the truth that’s just a little too honest, too real, too thought-provoking – that is soul-bearingly raw, that makes us uncomfortable, challenges our beliefs, casts a light on things about us that we’d rather not spend too much (okay, any!) time dwelling on – that makes most of us want to run and hide.  I know, because I’m no stranger to wanting to stay on the platform when that line of the Truth Train is pulling out of the station.

But, why is that?  Why are we so afraid to be honest with one another?  Why can’t we accept the fact that others’ truth (and the feelings attached to it) are just as real as our own – and not only provide a safe space for it to be spoken, but validated?  Why, instead, are we so quick to take another’s truth, especially when it pertains to the way our behaviors or words have affected them, so personally?  Why in the face of such truths do so many adults react like the moms in Glennon’s play group or, worse yet, like children who’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t be?  Why do we grow angry, rush to disavow responsibility, slam things, storm out of the room?  Why, rather than listen with gratitude when entrusted with a glimpse into another’s soul, even one belonging to a loved one, is our first instinct upon hearing their truth to shut down, strike back, become defensive or, even more hurtfully, seek to prove that the truth-teller is anything but? Why, when confronted with another’s truth, do we often try to shift the focus, if not the blame for the underlying act or omission, by reaching into the past for a truth of our own that we can wield as a both a sword and a shield?  Why do we repeatedly play the shame, guilt or “you’re breaking my heart” card?  Why is it so easy for us to be dismissive of someone else’s truth, while simultaneously insisting that they not only listen to, but embrace ours as their own?

I confess I don’t fully understand the “whys” of it all.  In fact, truth be told, I’ve been as guilty as the next person of engaging in many of the behaviors described above.  But, I’ve also been on the receiving end of them enough times to know that much of the way we deal with the truth (or don’t deal with it as the case may be) is terribly unhealthy and, at times, profoundly hurtful.  I get that truth has weight and because it does it’s sometimes difficult for the recipient to saddle up next to it and share the load.  But, what’s the alternative? To ask wannabe truth-tellers to bear the full weight of their truth alone?  I also get that truth takes time – time to share and time to sit with.  But, is there really a way to better spend our time than searching for or in the presence of the truth? It goes without saying that it’d be a lot easier on all of us if everyone really was as “fine” as they say they are and pretend to be.  But the reality is there are lots of folks who are not fine at all, whose world is falling apart around them, who continue to feast on their truth out of fear that if they speak and stand in it instead they will be judged, shamed, misunderstood, disrespected or, worse yet, met by indifference or rejected.  And so they suffer in silence – and we and the chorus of life of which all of us are meant to be a part suffer for lack of their voice and their truth.

We need to do better and we can, but it will require INTENTION (and patience) on the part of the teller and the listener, because feeling sufficiently “safe” to speak your truth – at any age – is an acquired skill and it takes practice.  I believe the family dinner table is a good place to start and that a dear friend (Carolyn Costin) offers a simple strategy to light the way.  She calls the exercise Heart Talks.  Here’s how it works: Find a heart-shaped piece of glass (like the one pictured above) and place it in the center of the table. When a member of the family wants to share a piece of their truth (big or small), they simply take the heart in hand.  As a sign of respect for the heart-holder and their voice, the others at the table become silent and listen attentively until the speaker finishes what he or she has to say.  The speaker then has the choice to invite others to comment on what they’ve shared or simply thank those present for listening and allowing them to speak their truth (Yes, dads, sometimes they just want you to listen!).  The heart is then returned to the center of the table.  NOTE: There’s no obligation to speak, nor any limits on the number of times or length of time a heart-holder can speak – just a space where truth can be spoken, rather than swallowed as it too often is, and will be respected.   By the way, expect some awkwardness at first, but, over time, the rewards will be great.

And here’s the good news: The heart is portable!  It fits neatly into a purse, shirt pocket, lunchbox, backpack or suitcase and is ideal for road trips, field trips, date nights, coffee outings – yes, even play dates!  Heck, if you really want to live a little, bring it to work! And, oh, be sure to let me know how it goes.  (P.S. There’s a reason it’s made of glass).

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