Tag Archives: friendship

Where there is injury, pardon

God-vulnerability-forgiveness

My pastor gave me a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis when I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent, and I have been praying it every day since. The words that jump out at me almost every day are: Where there is injury, pardon.

Why those words? I ask God, and what does injury mean?

I usually think of injuries as resulting from accidents—wounds that need stitches, casts or surgeries. But what kind of injuries need pardon? In St. Francis’ day the word probably had a different connotation.

As I pray these words every day, I ponder injuries. I tried replacing the word injury with other words to see if it makes more sense to me—sin, hurt, harm, betrayal, etc.—what would warrant pardon?

And is pardon synonymous with forgiveness?

Perhaps it was this prayer that predisposed me to ponder forgiveness this Lent.

I struggle with forgiveness for several reasons, and perhaps the biggest is my fear of looking foolish. I can hear my father’s voice in my head discouraging me from being taken advantage of and encouraging me to stand my ground. It was important to him not to look weak and he was slow to forgive those who had crossed him. To him, forgiving equaled vulnerability and weakness.

Vulnerability was not something he valued.

It took me a long time—and a fair amount of prodding by God—to consider vulnerability as something valuable, something desirable.

I once befriended a women who had committed a horrific crime. She was vilified and hated in our community. The newspapers and television media portrayed her as a monster.

But God placed her on my heart, and I could not stop thinking about her—and feeling compassion for her. It was as if God was showing me how God saw her—not the monster she was portrayed in the news, but as a person who, no matter what she had done, was still a child of God.

Not many people knew about my visits to her in prison or of our friendship. Sometimes, the things God asks of me seem outrageous even to me.

This particular friendship has been resurfacing this Lent. She was a woman who needed pardon, forgiveness and acceptance.

Perhaps she has been coming to mind because of all the mass shootings in our country. My friend had a history of mental illness and a record of multiple hospitalizations related to her mental illness. Yet she was able to walk into a store and buy a gun. No questions asked. No thought to why she wanted a gun or what she might do with it. No concerns that she would walk into the mall and open fire.

Or perhaps she has been coming to mind because she taught me so much about vulnerability and forgiveness.

I suppose God has been nudging me toward acknowledging my vulnerability for a long time, teaching me that embracing my own vulnerability puts me on the path to pardon.

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God-spirituality-vulnerability

Does it bring you joy?

Does it bring you joy? Someone suggested asking this question when paring down my possessions.

After some pondering, I realized that when considering holding onto or getting rid of some possession, I am more apt to ask myself, would letting it go make me feel guilty?

I have been incredibly blessed by generous people throughout my life, and my house has lots of objects I received as gifts. I imagine if I had bought all of those things, it would be easier to let go of them, but so much of what I own has a story and a memory connected to it.

Is it possible to hold onto the memory and the story—and let go of the object?God-spirituality-joyMany years ago, I read a book about holding onto the gifts of retreat.

Retreats can be sacred moments in life, creating space to step out of daily routines, clear my mind of everyday worries, and focus on God and God’s will for me. Retreats offer the opportunity to get some distance and perspective, to look at how I am living and to consider any needed course corrections.

While on retreat, I often talk with God about what in my life needs to go—usually old fears, insecurities, anxieties and hurts.God-spirituality-joyHolding onto those insights from retreat once I am back in my daily routine can be a challenge. Daily prayer helps. Regular meetings with a spiritual director also help. This book suggested asking these questions about everyday situations:

  • Is this what I really want?
  • Will this matter tomorrow? In ten years? At the end of my life?
  • What do I think? feel? need? want?

The second set of questions has been the easiest for me to answer because I can see how insignificant many everyday occurrences really are. These questions have helped me let go of a great deal of hurt and anger. How much energy am I going to give to something that really has very little long-term significance?

The other questions, though, continue to challenge me. Like the question about what brings me joy, asking what I want or need seems somewhat foreign to me. It must be the way I was raised—spend very little time or thought on my own needs; focus more on the needs of others.  This is also the message I take from the Bible.

Of course, I know that I do have wants and needs, and over the course of my life, I have come to see how much healthier I am when I get in touch with them.

So, what is it that brings me joy? The objects in my home? Or the memories attached to them?

It is definitely the memories that remind me how blessed I have been.

Last year, I committed to writing a “love” letter every day in February—a note to someone who had blessed my life and brought me joy. I called it twenty-eight days of love. I thank I will do that again.God-spirituality-joy

 

God-friends-cancer

I love you more than…

I love you more than you will ever know.

Those were among the final words my friend Ted spoke to me when we were together just before he died from esophageal cancer two years ago.

I told him that I knew how much he loved me, and I believed I had a pretty good idea; we had been good friends for more than thirty years. During his illness, we spoke every day, sometimes two or three times. I knew he loved me.God-friends-cancerMy friend Lisa recently told me of the death of one of her guy friends. She was devastated by this loss and inconsolable in her grief.

Good guy friends are great gifts. They are also not all that common—which makes them even more precious.

My friend Jim used to tell me that he believed I had good friendships with men because I grew up with brothers (one older and one younger). He believed that growing up with brothers taught me to accept both the gangster and the vulnerable sides of a guy.God-friends-cancerI would agree and add, “My brothers taught me to have realistic expectations of men.”

One of the relationships I kept up after I left the FBI was with an agent named Bob Hickey—formally known as Robert J. Hickey, Jr. For ten years after I left the Bureau, Bob and I got together regularly, even though he lived in Washington, D.C., and I was in Philadelphia. Our friendship was important to both of us, and we dedicated time and energy to keeping it alive.

Bob encouraged me in my running, and we often ran the Mall in D.C.  I remember a run on one of his visits to Philadelphia; I wanted to quit, and he kept urging me to go on. The run ended at a bridge over a railroad track, and running up that hill seemed impossible. “It’ll build character,” Bob prodded, which was just the dare I needed to dig deep for the last burst of energy. It is also a line that has inspired me when I have faced other challenges.God-friends-cancerThen I moved to Canada, and Bob married a woman who seemed a tad bit jealous of our friendship. I tried to reassure her that while I loved Bob dearly, I did not want to marry him, and that I was happy for them. But, things were different after he got married.

Bob loved all things Irish—music, dance, literature—and he loved to visit his relatives in Ireland. The last time we spoke, I was planning my trip to Ireland in August. He was happy for me.

Bob died last summer. Since learning of his death, I have been recalling wonderful memories of our friendship, and I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude. Just thinking of him makes me smile. Like Ted, Jim and the other men who have blessed my life, his friendship brought me great joy.

I love you more than you will ever know.God-friends-cancer

 

Woe is me.com

Woe is me.com, my friend Ted dubbed this blog—wicked sense of humor. For Ted’s tastes, my posts are too personal, too revealing. Privacy mattered to Ted.

Ted and I met when I worked at the law school he attended. Our paths diverged a few years later, but our friendship withstood the distance, and for the past thirty-one years, we have been good friends, traveling companions and confidants.

He went on to become a successful lawyer and retired when he was thirty-eight to pursue his passion of owning a bookstore. Ted loved books.

When we both lived in Philadelphia, we regularly had dinner together. When we lived apart, our communication was mostly via the phone, and we chatted at least once a week.

He was a staunch Catholic who had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. He loved his family and put them ahead of everything else. He was smart, loyal and generous.

I learned a lot from Ted—about myself, my faith, family and the world.

We seemed to look at life through different lenses, and in the early years, our differences caused some issues. Over time, though, I saw that our different perspectives helped me to clarify my beliefs and become stronger and more confident. His challenging questions made me a better person.

Ted helped me to see my work in the nonprofit world as giving people an opportunity to be generous, an outlook that has kept me mission-focused. He was one of my biggest champions, and I can trace my leadership skills directly to Ted’s tutelage.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was a favorite of Ted’s, and we once met up in San Francisco to visit the places where it was filmed. We stayed at the York Hotel and connected with the film through stops at all the sites—from Muir Woods to the Golden Gate Park to the Mission San Juan Bautista.

San Juan Bautista

Other trips took us to such places as Orlando, New Orleans and Rome, Italy.

Last summer, we started planning a pilgrimage to the Southern California missions. We had already been to the missions around San Francisco, and Ted wanted to visit the rest. He thought March would be a good time. His bucket list also included the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, and a return trip to Italy.

Ted died last Sunday from esophageal cancer; we buried him on Friday. His four sisters had given him excellent care and his death was on his terms—at home and surrounded by family.

Woe is me. My heart is broken. I am bereft. No more phone calls. No more visits. No more direction or guidance. No more advice or assistance. No more challenging questions.

After so many years of this close friendship, the question that keeps running through my mind is, Who am I without Ted in my life?

While I don’t know the answer, I do know that Ted enriched my life more than I could have imagined. I have been blessed and I am deeply grateful.

 

 

Mending fences

Any farmer or rancher can tell you that fences need to be examined periodically, checked for downed poles or sagging wires, and mended. Through the normal wear and tear of daily use, fences break—perhaps because of animals rubbing against them or jumping over them or just wind, rain and snow.

BrokenFence04

Relationships can be that way, too. Sometimes they get worn down through the small clashes and irritations of daily living. Sometimes busyness or distance or life changes can erode a relationship until it is at the point of breaking.

I was thinking about mending fences the other day when I visited an aunt I had not seen for more than five years. Nothing had happened to keep us apart, and it was an easy fence to mend—I just needed to set aside the time to visit.

That same day, I also got together with someone I had been close to in my last job and had not seen since I left. It was good to see her, and it felt like old times, like a fence that was precarious had been stabilized.

Repairing broken relationships is not always that easy. One of my most important relationships—a friend from when I lived in Canada more than twenty-five years ago—has been broken for many years and is probably beyond repair.

It happened in the way so many relationships begin to end—a small spat that never got resolved.

This was a person who was very important to me when I lived in Canada. She was a life-saver when I left l’Arche, helping me to find work and a home in a city where I knew very few people and had few options. Her friendship was key in my healing and growth, and I was deeply grateful.

We both moved east, but lived about five hundred miles apart. During this time of transition, she came to visit me. We were both going through tough times, and the visit was strained. I demanded an apology for something she said, and she was not willing to give one. She wanted to move on, as if nothing had happened. I was proud and stubborn. After that visit, nothing was the same.

It took me a long time to own up to my part in the disintegration of our friendship and then even longer to reach out and apologize. I did not expect her to respond or to try to pick up the pieces of this broken relationship; but, if I am being honest, I hoped she would. I still miss her friendship, and after all this time, it still saddens me to think of its demise.

One thing I learned from the collapse of this friendship is to be more proactive in maintaining friendships that matter to me and to try to mend fences while there is still time.

January may not be an ideal time for farmers or ranchers to mend fences, but the winter quiet is a perfect time for me to tend to relationships that might need some attention.

The importance of a loyal friend

Margie and I were housemates for about two years after I graduated from college.

She taught me a lot about overcoming adversity. Margie has cerebral palsy; her body shakes and sometimes she falls. I have always thought of her body as “uncooperative.” But she is not a quitter and no matter how difficult the task, she is willing to try.

She also taught me a great deal about friendship.

Margie had a friend named Nancy who also had cerebral palsy. They met on a retreat long before I came along.

One day Margie asked me if I would help Nancy find a new apartment.

Nancy lived in a subsidized housing project in North Philadelphia, and Margie suspected it was not a good situation. Nancy’s husband worked all day, leaving her home alone.

If Margie’s body was uncooperative, Nancy’s was downright defiant. She used a wheelchair for mobility, but she did not have enough control of her hands to turn the wheels so she propelled her wheelchair with her feet. She relied on paid attendants to get her up in the morning and then ready for bed at night.

Margie told me that she had called Nancy every day since they first met, a daily check-in to make sure Nancy was ok. And yet she had never been to Nancy’s home. I asked if she wanted to go with me to talk to Nancy about finding a new place to live.

The drive into North Philadelphia was not new to me, but Margie had never been to this part of the city, and as we drove into the housing project, I sensed Margie’s body tense. “Are you up for this?” I asked. She said she was.

Nancy’s apartment door was unlocked; she did not have the strength to turn the deadbolt, so her attendant had left the door open for us.

A narrow path, just wide enough for Nancy’s chair, cut across the living room. On either side of the path, stacks of newspapers and magazines filled the space, floor to ceiling. One small armchair offered the only place to sit. Margie sat, and I stood in the path.

After they caught up on their social connections, I broached the subject of moving.

She admitted that she and her husband had been mugged coming home one evening and she did not feel safe. But her husband did not want to move. I could see why—every inch of available space was filled with his newspaper and magazine “collection.”

We visited for about an hour and I told Nancy I would talk with her husband about moving.

Back in the car, Margie sobbed. “I had no idea,” she said again and again. How could she.

Who could imagine that Nancy, this sweet, friendly, joyful woman, was living in a veritable prison—not only trapped in a defiant body but by a defiant husband.

Margie was overwhelmed with horror at Nancy’s situation and guilt that she did not know.

I tried to reassure her, telling her that sometimes we can only know what people tell us. Intellectually, she agreed, but her heart was broken for her friend.

“Just imagine how important your daily phone calls are to her,” I offered. We both pondered that truth for a moment. Margie stopped crying. It was true. She was doing what she could, and what she could do, those daily check-in calls, had been making more of a difference than she imagined.