Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Some weeks life's learnings cascade down on me as if I was sitting under a waterfall, almost drowning. Since it is the end of the quarter there is little time to stop, pause, and take it all in. No doubt I'll sort them out one-by-one during Christmas vacation. Yet for now it is enough to know that they are coming for a teach me to be a better person, a more compassionate human being.

Not long ago Scott Finnie visited my Intercultural Communication class. We were talking about the impact of our ethnicity, the color of our skin, on how others perceive us and judge us. Scott blessed us by telling his "story." As always I was brought to tears. How is it, I wondered out loud, that this amazingly kind person, this valedictorian, student body president, and gifted athlete had to endure such hatred, simply because his skin is black and his hair curls differently than mine.? And how, after so much unwarranted hatred was flung his way, is he now the most compassionate person I know?

Scott talked about "DIGNA", the Latin root of the word dignity. He defined dignity as the God-given right that each human has to be treated with kindness and respect. They are, after all...ALL of them, God's children and therefore worthy. He said these words with such conviction that I saw tears in the eyes of my basketball players. I saw tears in the eyes of my hippie student, a young man with green hair who often wears a skirt to class. WE are all in the same room and we all co-exist and give each other "digna".

I can't seem to stop crying this morning because as I look at my own life these past few months I feel as if God is tugging on my heart to step out and show more "digna", more respect, more compassion EVERYONE! And I do mean everyone! Those that I do not know who hold signs on the street asking for help, those that I pass in the halls at SCC everyday, those in my family who feel distant and separated from me, those in my life where there are unresolved hurts and issues, often from long ago...and i don't know how to "fix" any of the hurts. There is a small "i" in that sentence because "i" feel about that small in the midst of all the hurt and sorrow in the world, and some of it is at my very doorstep.

One of my favorite quotes from Mother Teresa says:

We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.

As Anne Lamott says, "Help God! Open my heart!"

I am reading the book.. Life is a Verb-37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally.
I cry every time I read a story in this book that is changing my life. This morning I read the story "Squeeze In Next To Someone, Arm-To- Arm".

In a nutshell, it's the story of author Marion Woodman, who asks the question..."How are we changing the people around us by how we respond to them, or don't?" How do we hold "presence" for others? How do we hold love for others, with no agenda? Who, as we were growing up, really saw us and heard us, without asking us to perform up to their standards? Who loved us and asked nothing in return?

During a stay in India, many years ago, Marion saw these questions acted out in real life. She was very, very ill with dysentery and captive in her hotel room for several weeks. She could feel her life-blood draining with this illness. Finally, desperate to escape her room, she gingerly made her way to the lobby of the hotel and sat on a sofa, where she tried to write her husband a letter.

Although there were other seats available, a very large brown woman came and sat down right next to Marion, with their arms touching. She invaded Marion's space. Marion moved over, so did the woman. The pattern happened again and again. Marion was too ill to move to another sofa so she finally gave up and let the woman be right next to her, arm-to-arm.

This same pattern happened, much to Marion's amazement, day after day. Finally Marion relaxed, stopped moving away, and realized what a nice, warm big arm the woman had. They had no common language so they sat in silence. Marion said that her soul was touched, not just her body, by this woman's kind presence. Marion's health began to improve.

This couch dance continued for a week until one day a man appeared as the two women finished their silent, warm-armed vigil. He said to Marion, "You are all right now. My wife won't come back tomorrow." Marion asked him, "Why is she here in the first place?"

Marion was unprepared for his quiet, simple answer. "I saw you were dying and sent her to sit with you. I knew the warmth of her body would bring you back to life."

It took a moment for the magnitude of his message and the enormity of what these two strangers had done for her to sink in.

Suddenly Marion knew that the woman HAD saved her life by taking the time just to be with her. And just as important, Marion had been willing to receive her kindness.

That is what it means to hold presence for others. That is what "digna" is all about.

So I ask myself, through all of my tears, who today does God want me to "hold presence for"? How do I share this profound lesson with my beloved students? How much more kindness would there be in the world if we could just do this for one person each day...just be there for them and hold them in a loving, arm-to-arm presence?

Albert Schweitzer said:
"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flames by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."

Thank you Scott Finnie for teaching me about "digna" and thank you Marion Woodman for sharing your story about the gift to your life when a beautiful large brown woman squeezed in next to you and arm-to-arm brought you back to life!

God Bless!
Love Linda


Our Family said...

Lovely writing, Mom! I'm glad that you can see blessings and joy in the midst of it all.

xoxo, me

LORIE said...

Linda, this a is a beautiful post. I don't know what to say but thank you for sharing. Digna is wonderful. I relate being Vietnamese and an American. Excellent post.

jessithompson said...

Wow... I am letting all of this sink it and holding back the tears a little bit because I'm at work. I love this post. Thank you for taking the time to share these special thoughts and stories.

I've been going to yoga again recently and they have a saying at the end of each practice "Namaste" - it means: the Divine within me honors and recognizes the Divine within you.

I think its beautiful.

Kayla Jode said...

I love reading (and hearing) the stories that you've heard! Thanks for sharing!! Despite my exhaustion from staying awake until two in the morning with Nickie, Allie, and Bri and waking up at seven, this story has really brightened my evening!

Finding Comfort in Kindness...sharing from the heart

                                If every person made it a rule that                          wherever you are, whenever you              ...