Hope will come to me like a firefly
In my hour of ebony fog,
Burning with luminosity
From nowhere else but God.
[Excerpt from poem by
Gwendolyn Taylor Soper 4.10.06]
Also available as an audio poem.
[click here to hear it read aloud]
Will we look back several years from now, only to realize that because of Robin Williams there are more honest conversations about suicide? Will we see that more people have come forward with courage to share how they have coped with the loss of their loved one to suicide? Or, how they have recovered from an attempt or even thoughts of ending their life? I trust we will.
Because of Robin Williams I, for one, am mustering up the courage today to talk about my father’s suicide. It’s not easy, even after forty-six years. It’s very, very different than talking about a dad who died from a heart attack or cancer.
What I’ve learned is this: suicide’s repercussions don’t necessarily fade with the passage of time,
yet, somehow, something can happen to your heart as a “loss survivor”; love for the fallen has a wonderous way of growing even stronger with time if you allow. Regardless of how much love you felt for them before they were gone (or didn't feel), the love and compassion you feel can grow. There IS beauty that can appear along the journey to recovery for loss survivors left in the wake of the trauma.
It’s not easy though. The people left behind after a loved one's suicide have years, often decades, to work through sadness, confusion, anger, feeling abandoned and unloved by the one who left them. How can one not feel those things? I can’t speak for others, but for me even though time passes the pain still comes out of nowhere on some days.
Sometimes you feel the pain a little bit and sigh. Other times the pain feels like a sledgehammer has hit you in the stomach full force. Usually, though, I forget completely that the pain is there and it's wonderful, but I'm reminded at times from comments, sounds or memories that it is always there somewhere, just under the surface of my laughter, my joy and the good times that I experience with family and friends. I love the poem "Minstrel Man" by Langston Hughes because he captures my experience, and presumably that of many others, so exquisitely.
It's unimaginable that anything good can come from suicide. Miraculously, though, there can be beautiful, positive compensations to such terrific loss. They are tiny gifts, because nothing compares with having your loved one alive, yet God, in his wisdom and unfathomable love, often gives us tender gifts to ease pain or distress:
As a loss survivor your heart can be forever softened and sensitive to the pain that others around you are feeling. I think your heart can become more sensitive to beauty...to the beauty in all people, to the beautiful world.
What a gift.
Love for the fallen father, child, friend or mother has a way of growing stronger with the passage of time if you allow. You just have to make space for it in your heart. Once you
BY WALT WHITMAN
Source: Leaves of Grass (David McKay, 1891)
My first grade teacher gave me a note one morning at school. The note said to go to the kitchen in the lunchroom. My father had died from a suicide a few months earlier during summer break, but I didn't think about that when I got the note. I just wondered why I got the note and I felt nervous walking down the hall on my little six-year-old legs.
I turned the doorknob and walked in to the quiet kitchen and there was Mrs. Morton-the-lunch-lady in her blue frock and white collar. She was an older woman with tight, dark grey curls all over her head. Her big eyes and full lips reminded me of Barney Fife on Mayberry. She said, "Here, I just wanted to give you this", and she handed me an orange, which she had studded with coins: two quarters for eyes, a nickel for a nose, and pennies in the shape of a smile.
This was in the year 1968 when people had no idea what to say to someone, young or old, who had lost a family member to suicide. Mrs. Morton didn't say anything about it either, but by calling me out of class to give me that smiley-faced orange, she said precisely what I needed to hear.
I will always love Mrs. Morton.
This great woman has not fallen silent today with her passing. She found her voice at age twelve-and-a-half (after six years of mute silence) and didn't stop talking her truth for decades and decades.
These first 10 quotes come from a list compiled by Geoff Wise, from entrepreneur.com:
1. “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
2. “You shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
Maya Angelou, an iconic force for good who encouraged all people to find their voice, and to give a voice to those who couldn't articulate as well as they would like, passed away today. I am very grateful for her inspiration.
I love the words of wisdom she shared on the Master Class series, which I transcribed here.
[This was originally posted in January 2011.]
These quotes come from the "Master Class" series which aired on the OWN network in 2011.
My TOP 10 favorite quotes from Maya Angelou's Master Class:
"The Pruned Tree" is one of the first poems I ever read from my treasured book of Howard Moss poetry. Lines were immediately underlined, and comments written in the margins.
Moss offers a beautiful, optimistic view of loss. It may strike a resonant chord with anyone who has been cut back, put down in life, lost a loved one, lost a job, or has rid themselves of old ideas or cherished beliefs. As you read the poem for the first time, some of the personified lines in the poem may awaken such an instant recognition of their truth that I dare you to stay silent as you read. It is nearly impossible. [Personification: when an object takes on human charactaristics such as when the tree says, "I am made more beautiful by losses"].
The Pruned Tree
by Howard Moss
As a torn paper might seal up its side,
Or a streak of water stitch itself to silk
And disappear, my wound has been my healing,
And I am made more beautiful by losses.
See the flat water in the distance nodding
Approval, the light that fell in love with statues,
Seeing me alive, turns its motion toward me.
Shorn, I rejoice in what was taken from me.
What can the moonlight do with my new shape
But trace and retrace its miracle of order?
I stand, waiting for the strange reaction
Of insects who knew me in my larger self,
Unkempt, in a naturalness I did not love.
Even the dog's voice rings with a new echo,
And all the little leaves I shed are singing,
Singing to the moon of shapely newness.
Somewhere what I lost I hope is springing
To life again. The roofs, astonished by me,
Are taking new bearings in the night, the owl
Is crying for a further wisdom, the lilac
Putting forth its strongest scent to find me.
Butterflies, like sails in grooves, are winging
out of the water to wash me, wash me.
Now, I am stirring like a seed in China.
Sunday is always a good day. The spouse and I take a long morning walk. We go to choir practice where we make music with people we like. We sing hymns. We take the sacrament. I play the organ loudly, badly and with great joy. We spend two hours with toddlers who think every idea we have is a good one. Yesterday we made palm fronds out of sticks, construction paper and smiley face stickers. We paraded the hall at church waving our leaves and singing Hosanna. Toddlers trying to march and wave at the same time is hilarious. Embraced by my religious community and Sabbath worship habits, I went to bed eagerly anticipating the upcoming Holy Week. I would be my best self this week.
Monday morning came and reminded me that while I am a well-intentioned spirit, I am a spirit encased in flesh and my flesh is weak. The list of holy intentions I made before going to bed sits at the kitchen table mocking me. My spirit is willing but my flesh just wants to go back to bed. Fortunately for me, I've had a life time of Monday mornings. I know
A donkey is not a beautiful creature. What it lacks in beauty is not compensated by a good nature or a pleasing voice. It cannot even claim exotic or rare as a distinguishing feature. And yet the donkey-- short legs, long ears, big teeth, voice of horror-- plays a central role in the life of Christ bearing his mother to his birth and carrying him in his brief moment of triumph on the day called Palm Sunday which launches Christians' most Holy Week. GK Chesterton wrote a tribute to the donkey for Palm Sunday.
When fishes flew and forests walked,
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry,
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
Of all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hours and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
Holy Week starts with shouts of hosanna and songs of praise. We sing and celebrate even though we know the story will take us through betrayal, injustice, suffering and death before leading us to the hope and promise of Easter morning.
In the grand scheme of God's creations, I am a donkey. I'm not much to look at and
Jester Hairston is the first person who helped me to feel (and imagine) the joy that Jesus Christ's resurrection brought to the world, and to understand to a degree what a glorious, pivotal moment His resurrection was for all humankind. I felt it from the tip of my teenage head to the tips of my teenage toes when we sang his song, "Amen".
Jester had come to our town in the 1970's to lead a choir (and a huge audience) in song. I am glad we were in the audience, because it was unforgettable. My musical mother had heard of Jester because he was famous for the many hats he wore: actor, songwriter, and choral conductor, and he arranged many Negro spirituals from his youth. Sidney Poitier freely admits that is was Jester Hairston's behind-the-scenes voice, which he lip synched in the movie, "Lilies of the Field".
When you watch the above video of him conducting "Amen" you will see why my mother insisted that we all go ~ it wasn't an event to be missed. He traveled the world giving this concert. I was in high school when we went to hear him, but I still remember the chills and the teary eyes that I had when he had us refrain from clapping during "Amen" until the moment when he sang, "He rose on Easter!".
The award-winning movie, "Planet of Snail", is a South Korean documentary about the power of the human spirit. It is also an extraordinary love story. The marriage of Young Chan, a writer, and his wife, Soon-Ho is an example of utter devotion and unity. Young Chan is blind-deaf and Soon-Ho has a spinal deformity that limited her height, so she is not very tall at all. Young Chan says he is even blind-deaf in his dreams. They communicate through a sort of braille, which they invented where she types on his hands ~ a beautiful thing.
Here are a few of their quotes from the movie that were especially meaningful:
Though no star has glittered in my eyes
I have never doubted
that they are shining bright in space.
I know the sun is still blazing under my feet even when it's dark.
One's sight and hearing are not something he has lost.
They are just wandering around far in space
and shall come back to their master all in good time.
Use your hand like a shield (in front if your face). That is how a deaf- blind person walks. [When you greet a person], you can't touch the lips in the first place. You need to start with the body, touching randomly, so that you know where his lips are. If you know the person already you
Last spring a mother bird built a nest outside our window in the fragrant lilac bush. She warmed the tiny blue eggs day after day until one baby hatched ~ all belly and beak ~ with it's wide yellow beak yowling for food. The mother robin immediately spent her time looking for food, while the father robin stood on the nest's edge guarding the baby until she came back. Then she would sit on the well-fed baby until it became hungry again.
It was the father robin who ended up raising the baby bird, however. The mother's life was cut short, unbeknowst to the father and baby robin, when she flew into a window and fell lifeless to the ground only days after the baby hatched.
The father robin waited and waited on the edge of the nest for the mother robin to return. He chirped frequently, hoping she would answer his call. After quite some time we couldn't bear to see him wait any longer, so my husband carried the limp mother robin and placed her on the ground under the nest in the lilac bush hoping the father robin would see her. He did.
What happened next was remarkable. This father robin instantly understood that he was to become both mother and father, feeding, protecting and warming his baby.
He gingerly climbed into the nest over his new baby bird, like someone stepping into a mud puddle wearing their Sunday shoes, with no other way around it. He akwardly shifted and twisted ~ trying to figure out how to sit on the baby to keep it warm. After some adjusting he settled on the baby and "got it".Then when the baby became hungry, off he flew in search of food. He repeated the rigmarole over and over during the first day.
At the end of the first day he was exhausted. I didn't know birds could look exhausted but they can. His feathers were ruffled and his eyes were at half-mast; he could hardly keep his eyes open as he sat on the baby bird, hoping for a rest before it got hungry again.
This experience made me think of all single parents everywhere, including my own beloved widowed mother who raised the five of us little children on her own. I was so touched by the mother bird's sacrifice and instinct as she
We spied a Great Blue Heron today on our morning river-walk in the falling snow. The peaceful sight of this majestic bird reminded me of the most peaceful sight that ever was.
I can only imagine the reverence and the peace that was felt in the stable at the sight of the baby Jesus Christ, divinely sent that night so long ago. This baby born of Mary, was also the Son of God.
I can only imagine the awe and wonder that was felt by the shepherds that night who were visited by an angel telling them to "Fear not...I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people...for unto you is born this day...a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord...wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
I can only imagine the overwhelming beauty that the shepherds heard and felt when, suddenly, "there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host."
Not only did the angelic visit suddenly increase in number from one angel to a multitude, but the heavenly multitude was "praising God, and saying all together, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." It's almost too beautiful to contemplate.
No wonder the shepherds "said one to another, "Let us now go, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us".
No wonder they went "with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." No wonder that they spread the good news abroad when they had seen the Son of God.
My husband and I stopped in our tracks today at the sight of this majestic bird ~ rare for these urban parts. I wonder how often we all "stop in our tracks" during this Christmas season to enjoy the simple essence of what we are celebrating: the birth of Heavenly Father's son, come to teach us; come to help us. And to ponder how His life and His sacrifice mattered.
Would that life's experiences were all as gentle as the bath these babies receive from the woman in this Paris hospital. It reminds me that we all deserve kindness and gentleness from others, and that we deserve to treat ourselves with self-compassion. Every person is so unique and special, especially to our Heavenly Father!
Would that every baby could start life being mothered, bathed and cared for in the same way as the babies in this video. Come to think of it, we all need to be nurtured and offer nurture no matter how old we are.
Since life is not always this gentle we MUST learn to care for, and nurture, our own self and those around us with love, tenderness and respect. If we don't something within us shrinks and hardens. Wouldn't the world, wouldn't WE, feel full of more light, peace and joy if we all learned to treat ourselves kindly and send that same kindness to the people around us?
We all came into this world deserving of every good thing, and so did those around us. Nothing has changed in that regard. God is not a respector of persons. He wants the best for every one of his children. We still deserve to be loved and we still need to give love, regardless of what we have done or what has been done to us since birth.
Imagine the hope that our Heavenly Father has and feels for us. I believe God hopes that we will be happy and filled with light and joy. I believe He hopes we will thank him for giving us life and for giving us mortal experiences (even if some of them are difficult). I believe He hopes we will use the gift he gave us to change: the gift to become the fullest measure of who we are meant to be. I believe he hopes we will take the opportunity and make the effort to learn to see others and see ourselves with the same love and compassion He has for us.
We can all change. We can cultivate the gift to nurture, whether we offer it to a plant or a person or our own remarkable selves. Something literally changes in our heart when we offer and receive love.
I keep a wildlife journal. On the days I walk to the nearby river I usually spy a bird or an animal that makes me stop in my tracks. I smell the fragrant air, I feel the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot, or snow falling on my eyelashes and I hear the water gurgling or rushing by depending on the time of year.
Something magical happens when I'm on these walks. My busy mind slows wayyyyy down. My stress level decreases and I feel really, really good and grounded. In Japan they call a short, leisurely nature walk like this "forest bathing" (shinrin-yoku). Isn't that an awesome name?
I also spend a great deal of time on the bridge facing downstream and I imagine my stress floating away, or I say a prayer. Then, I spend an equal amount of time facing upstream to allow good feelings, thoughts and blessings to fill that newly emptied space.
Forest bathing trips are popular "medicine" in Japan, proposed by the Japanese Forest Agency in 1984, to help some of the overworked, overstressed population de-stress, and lower things like high blood pressure and anxiety. If you have ever wandered around having NO agenda in nature . . . you have taken a forest bath.
Part of a forest bath is engaging all five senses. For the sense of taste part you can bring along a thermos of tea, so you don't have to risk eating something potenially dangerous. In Japan, scientists often monitor blood pressure before and after shinrin-yoku to see if it goes down after being among the trees. It does.
Since Japan has the 3rd highest suicide rate in the developed world, Japanese scientists and their govornment are researching, and funding, this forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) as a way to counteract all that. So far they have 48 official forest therapy trails (shooting for 100 official trails).
If you want to be inspired to do some sinrin-yoku yourself, you can
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
~excerpt from Mary Oliver's poem, "The Summer Day"
"I was born with a rare birth defect known as Prune Belly Syndrome (prunebelly.org). It occurs once in every 40,000 live births, with a 50% survival rate in utero and another 50% survival rate after 24 months of age. According to the latest genetics statistics, there are currently only 1,495 survivors living in the U.S.
"As my parents struggled to save my life as an infant they were told that, should I survive, I would not be able to walk, I would not be able to stand unless propped up by two walls, I would not be able to ride a bike, that I would never be able to have children, and that I would be one of oonly a few world-wide to have survived this disease. When you are born under those circumstances, you learn fairly quickly how much everything is a gift from God; a blessing, to be unwrapped daily, as our feet hit the floor to start each new day.
"As I went through the challenges of childhood, I was blessed to have parents who allowed me to
"The world sends us garbage. We send back music.", says Favio Chavez, Recycled Orchestra Director, Paraguay.
When things got tough, I used to say "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade". From now on I will think of the Recycled Orchestra in Cateura, Paraguay and say, "If life sends you garbage, make music".
This story inspired me so much. In fact, I have a new goal to make a little music every day and see how it makes me feel. I used to be very devoted to music but health issues have made it difficult to participate in choirs or sing solos like I used to. It's time for me to get creative and make music on a smaller scale because I know it fills me with joy and hope.
"Welcome to Landfill Harmonic. A film about a garbage picker, a music teacher and a group of children from a Paraguayan slum who play instruments made entirely of garbage. Landfill Harmonic is a beautiful story about the transformative power of music, which also highlights two vital issues of our times: poverty and waste pollution. The story develops in one of the poorest slums in Latin America. Just outside Asuncion, Paraguay; Cateura is the city’s trash dump. It is built on a landfill. Here, people live in a sea of garbage. And they live from garbage.
"Surrounded by stories of drug-violence, alcoholism and destitution, they make herculean efforts to
Dipper birds make me stop and stare...and laugh.
They also taught me a lesson. Dipper birds are to rivers what canaries are to mines: they are birds whose sensitivity to pollution or undesirable conditions makes them a useful early indicator of those conditions; birds who warn of the coming of greater danger or trouble. They don't wait for their health to deteriorate. They leave the polluted water and only seek pure water sources, where they thrive.
They look like a stocky grey robin without the red breast. The dipper birds constantly bob up and down, they are only at home in rivers with very pure water, they have an uncanny ability to run on river rocks or logs overflowing with rushing water (without tipping over or being swept downstream), and they dive headfirst to look for food as they swim underwater. It is a rare bird that does all that.
They seem like happy, well-adjusted teenagers doing what they love the most. In this case diving, swimming, goofing around, preening and
photo via iamcocoa
Many people dealing with emotional pain search for trained counselors or therapists to help them. Some therapy it isn't that helpful. One particularly effective approach that has been getting more mainstream attention is called EMDR therapy. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.
Yes, daily prayer and faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, can bless and fill us with a measure of hope and peace. However, it can come to a point when professional help is needed to find greater relief and make sense of lingering pain.
If you are looking for immediate relief from emotional pain that traumatic events can cause (rather than slower relief from prolonged "talk therapy") many people are turning to EMDR over all other therapies. Click here to find an EMDR therapist near you.
EMDR therapy is a very effective approach for overcoming "chronic pain, phobias, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders and poor self-image, stress, worry, stage fright, performance anxiety, recovery from sexual abuse and traumatic incidents" [emdr website].
This is a favorite poem of my mother's, and I love to hear her recite it:
Oh, the comfort —
the inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts
nor measure words, but pouring them
all right out, just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will
take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness
blow the rest away.
Dinah Maria (Mulock) Craik (1826 - 1887)
[A Life for a Life, Chapter 16]
Photo: Nepal: Cultures in Context series, by John Tyman
Leonard Bernstein's, Candide, is the platform for one of my favorite anthems of hope, "Make Our Garden Grow". I am certain that Bostonians ~ forever loyal, tight-knit and patriotic ~ are going to rebuild and "make their garden grow" into an even stronger community, and "make some sense of life" after this event. Bernstein said,
This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely, more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.
In the song, "Make Our Garden Grow", Candide proposes marriage to Cunegonde, acknowledging that no one is perfect (including them), but that "we'll do the best we know". He sings, "We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good/ we'll do the best we know/ we'll build our house and chop our wood/ and make our garden grow". It's a proposal for all humankind to consider as we build, or re-build, our own lives.
"Make Our Garden Grow" never ceases to make me weep, partially for remembering the time I sang it with Boston Symphony Orchestra's choir (Boston Symphony Hall Centennial Gala, 2000), but mainly I weep for it's hopeful, hopeful message for all of us to "do the best we know . . . and make our garden grow."
[Candide, an operetta, written and orchestrated by many contributors, continues to
In the history of the world, the three most important words could arguably be "Christ is Risen!". Those three words carry the hope of eternal life for ALL men, women and children. If Christ has risen, so may we someday. Jesus Christ suffered all our sorrows and sins in Gethsamane so that we may progress in this life, through repentance and forgiveness, and ultimately overcome our physical death to live a joyful eternal life.
Our Redeemer's sacrifice and resurrection, including the gift of his Atonement, give us all immense cause to rejoice and feel reverent for His sacrifice: greatest gift of all. Preparing for Easter ahead of time helps us remember Christ's gift, so that our rejoicing may be more complete and sincere.
I like the tradition among faithful Greek families and friends who greet each other at Eastertime by saying, "Christos Anesti!" (Christ is Risen!). Their response to each other is, "Alethos Anesti!" (Truly He is Risen!). This joyful greeting and response usually begin on Easter Sunday after the priest passes the Eternal Flame (the light of the resurrection) to the candles of those nearest him...continuing from person to person until
[Marie Tueller uses her POWERFUL voice to tell her story of attack, abuse and the inspiring aftermath of how she moved from silence to empowerment and hope...by finding her voice. Blessings to Marie for leading out. I hope every silent girl, woman, boy and man will add to her chorus of advocacy.]
From Marie Tueller on Lean In: "In early February 2012, my husband Kyle and I moved into a new home to accommodate our small, but soon-to-be growing, family. I had earned my Master’s degree in psychology and was working as a counselor and supervisor for an addiction treatment center. Our daughter was nineteen months old and the love of our lives. We planned on having a second child when Kyle was finished with his graduate studies. Life was rich with gratitude and joy.
"Shortly after the move, our lives changed forever. On March 14, a man entered our home, tied me up,