Walking the Walk

Taking Steps on the Path to Compassionate Living

Remembering Ourselves

Both before and after sharing my last post, I wondered if I was doing more harm than good, calling attention to the broken places, sending more negativity out into a world that so desperately needs good energy. We cannot address the problems of our world, our lives, our hearts, if we don’t recognize them. But what is the balance between bringing realities into the light and bringing light into the darkness of those realities? What is the difference?

I shared my story and my struggle over the post with a friend, who responded, “I wonder what the man was thinking at the time he made the comment. What did he think later? Was he pleased with the conversation or did he wonder, ‘Why in the heck did I say that?’” I was grateful for her reminder to consider a perspective other than my own narrow focus.

Then she told me a most extraordinary story about a friend of hers. It went something like this: Her friend, a tall woman, was out running one day when a man grabbed her violently and wouldn’t let her go. Locked in his grip, she calmly said to him, “Someone hurt you.”

She repeated, “Someone must have hurt you.” This was not a response he expected. Then she asked what he wanted. He let her go. Disarmed.

“Ten dollars.”

“I have ten dollars I can give you.” She didn’t have any money with her, but they went to her apartment and he waited while she went to get the money. He left with the $10. Neither she nor he was hurt.

I am struck by her presence to him in that moment. She saw him. In a moment that could have easily gone another way, she saw not a threatening attacker, but a person who had been so damaged that his way of addressing his unmet needs was through force. Her willingness to see his humanity no doubt saved both of them from harm.

This reminded me of another extraordinary story, not of a one-time occurrence, but of a tribal practice of the Bemba people. According to the story, when someone makes a mistake or does something wrong, everyone in the village stops works and circles around the accused. Then each person names the good things the accused has done throughout his or her lifetime. In remembering the good, they re-member the person who has broken, putting back the pieces that have fallen away or broken off. In coming together to remember the good of one person, they also re-member their community. (Note: when I went to get more information about this story, I found out there is little evidence to support its truth. I choose to include it anyway, as stories that are not factually true may, nonetheless, offer a higher truth).

I have watched many times the story of a mother who visited her son’s murderer in jail. Through the pain of her loss, she reached out to him and they developed a relationship. She saw his humanity and he saw hers. When he was released, he moved into the apartment next to hers and she treats him like her son.

When the female runner responded to threat with kindness and genuine interest, she allowed her attacker to remove the armor that had shielded him from further breakdown; as she applied the healing balms of recognition and understanding, she re-membered him.

Through a murderer’s offering of deep remorse and a mother’s offering of forgiveness, two people formed a connection beyond the violence that first brought them together.

Recently I was with a dear friend with whom I’ve led senior retreats for high school boys. An element of the retreat is the reading aloud of letters from parents. At a time in life when teens and parents often struggle through the changing balance of dependence and independence, the parents share in writing what is dear about their sons. As the boys hear the words spoken, many weep as they soak in the love. As they recognize that love, many open themselves to re-membering the relationship with their parents.  

On that same retreat, students have a chance to share stories of their pains, mistakes, places of fracture. In exposing their brokenness, they invite others to affirm that those places of hurt are not the only things that define them. We are all more than the worst we’ve done or suffered. They, together, re-member each other, as individuals and in community.

As a person who easily sees her faults and less easily recognizes gifts, I am thankful for the many people who are gentler on me than I am on myself. How many times, as I’ve been chastising myself for some mistake, oversight, lack of sensitivity or lack of action, has a friend re-membered me? How many times have I not even known how broken I was until the healing came?

Five years ago, I left on a 9-month journey with a vague awareness of my fragmentation. During that journey, learning and laughter with children in India, trust and earnest questions from young people in Palestine, notes and messages from friends at home all re-membered me. In places unfamiliar, through strangers and new friends, I found pieces I didn’t know were missing.

Sometimes, as during that journey, the re-membering is gradual; other times it is fast and dramatic.

Though I live in my body all the time, I had, over a number years, allowed myself to forget my need to be touched and in physical relationship with another. It might be more accurate to say I convinced myself that the needs didn’t exist, since they weren’t being met and so I slowly cut off a piece of my being. When I returned from my travels, I experienced a sudden reunification of mind and spirit with body. I was re-membered through a tangling of bodies with a man I deeply cared about and though his care for me was not the same, I will always be grateful for the presence he offered me for a time. The only way I can describe it is this: he gave me my body back. I didn’t know how severed I was until I was living wholly in my body again. Even my singing was different. I resolved not to allow such dismemberment again.

More recently, another man entered my life with an unexpected gentleness that restored my memory. As with my body, I had forgotten, and I didn’t even know I had…until I remembered: this is what it feels like to be treated the way I deserve to be treated. He was good to me and I believe I was good to him, too. Even in parting, we were good to each other.

Re-membering.

Bringing ourselves back to fuller embodiment, finer manifestation, deeper knowledge of Who We Are.

As we remember ourselves, as we see ourselves, we reclaim our gifts and share them more generously; we claim and accept our shadow. As we remember, we root ourselves more deeply in abundance and stretch towards the Light of Being, allowing the Light to flow through us and grow through us. The freedom of our own growth helps others to root, to stretch, to grow in Light.  

How do we remember?

We look at people and see them.

We listen.

We trust.

We affirm.

We love.

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