“Our big emotions are the path to being awake. . . . awareness is the key.” Pema Chodron
My grateful/thankful emotions feel so big! It’s so weird how you can have huge feelings of thanksgiving and be devastated – all at the same time.
I have grown to love mornings. I didn’t always love mornings. I never could figure out if I was a morning person or a night person. I settled on that I was just a day person. But somehow loss and tragedy transformed me to love mornings. And parts of my mornings are spent in a coffee shop: one of my sacred spaces.
I feel very thankful for this sacred space. What makes a space sacred? What makes it Holy Ground? Perhaps, not what I imagined. As I sit here in mine, it’s not quiet. There is music, some gentlemen talking over coffee and a bagel, cars rushing by and a gentle morning breeze (today it is a sunny morning so I am sitting outside). I love to sit outside because there seems to be more life out here. I feel a deeper connection to the whole world outside. There is a homeless man sleeping at the bus stop and he was just joined by a couple friends who brought a pizza to share for breakfast. And when I’m sitting inside the café, I smell coffee (that waft of coffee steam as I pour my first cup smells like vacation), fresh yeasty bread and bacon. Sometimes my senses are surprised by the lunch prep beginning and onions invade my space. But there is also a deep sense of community here. Tom always sits in the front booth. I call him Elder Tom because he listens and is attentive to everyone’s stories. Five years ago when my son, Ryan, got sick, Tom would check in with me and listen. At one point, when Ryan was on hospice, Tom quietly sang a hymn over me as we stood among the coffee pots. As he sang, I wept as I experienced deep grief and a warmth that flowed through my heart because my pain was seen. What an amazing gift to give – to really “see” someone.
But it’s here that I breathe – deep breaths. I rest my mind, relax my shoulders, and listen. There are no dishes to do, no clothes to fold, the weeds in the garden can wait. Because here, at my coffee shop, there is space. There is room for stillness, reflection, for God, for me and for the other.
Anne Lamott says, “Earth is forgiveness school.” We need space to forgive . . . to slow down and be still enough to see . . . to recognize the hard places in our hearts. For years and years I ran. Running to keep ahead of the pain – to stay asleep – to stay numb.
There is a soft spot in us that wants to be held and heard. But it is a fragile shy place that responds only to compassion and loving-kindness. We need a gentle space that provides a safe path for all the wounds that are being held. It can feel counterintuitive to extend, as Gerald May put it “excessive compassion to ourselves.” And it is in this place of abundant compassion that truth tiptoes in. Wounds and hardened places begin to be revealed. It’s in my sacred space that I begin to see my truth – and here is an invitation for courage. The glorious thing is that each compassionate choice begets another. Every moment of courage gives grace for more courage. Providing a safe place for a moment of truth sends mercy throughout our bodies, with an invitation for more truth to peak out into freedom.
My son died when he was 30 years old. Ryan’s grave is sacred space. I like to sit and read to him, eat my lunch, clean up his grave stone, freshen up the flowers and rearrange the sacred heart rocks and Disney pennies that have been carefully laid as messages of love. My goal has been to visit his grave each week – doesn’t always happen but when I do get to stop by, I began a practice. I can’t help but notice that there are so many grave stones that are overgrown with grass creeping around closer and closer until you can hardly see the name of who lies to rest there. Life has taken their families’ hostage and they haven’t been by in a long time. Life gets so easily crowded. So, I decided each visit I would clean up one grave.
Today is Billie. She was only 49 years old when she died. The epitaph on it says “Outstanding wrestling mom.” Only 49 … it’s been 16 years . . . the grass has enveloped the message. The kids must be all grown by now. Perhaps they have children of their own. Remember me, says the grave. Billie, I’m sorry you had to leave your family so young. Today I see you.
As I packed up my tools, chair, lunch bag and books – an older woman and her fluffy sheep dog walked by. She spoke to me. I’ve noticed that etiquette at the cemetery is that generally you don’t speak to one another. Each one is there with a heavy heart – carrying sorrow, guilt, loneliness, anger, bitterness, love . . . pain. But Kay spoke to me. She said, “Last summer I tried to take care of your tomato plant you placed on his grave. I carry water for my dog on our walks and so I watered your plant every time we walked by.” The beautiful thing is that this day I had just delivered Ryan’s tomato plant for this summer. I had wondered how his tomato plant had survived all summer through our unusual heat last year. Ryan & I loved to garden. When he was in middle school, he grew pumpkins and researched how to grow a giant one. So, he carefully chose one pumpkin and watered it with milk and tended it daily. I wept as I thanked my new friend, Kay, for caring for “Ryan’s garden.” I never dreamed that a cemetery would be a sacred space for me.