sending love on this solemn and sacred of days

by christie shumate mcelwee

Love.

Usually on Valentine’s Day I write a post on love and include some of my favorite quotes on the subject. I’ve collected love quotes since I first began writing. Some dance with joy, others are thick as fog around my old heart. They tug, pulling me towards the light. What is love to me these days? It is decency, respectability that comes from kindness. It is compassion, a true sympathy and empathy for another’s pain. Love is sacrifice, surrendering ourselves for others.

Love.

Love is a life-long learning curve that weaves around corners, stalls at intersections, and often crashes into itself. It can be horrible and exquisite, just like every moment of our lives. Love is making terrible mistakes. It is forgiveness. It is reaching out in times of tremendous grief and walking together when there’s peace. Love gives us hope, even in the bleakest of times.

Love.

So, on this 11th day of September, 19 years after those towers fell and our collective hearts broke, I am sending you love. Pure, deep, true love. Magical love. Love that is our quirky, crooked flaws, yet also celebrates our grace. Love that sees us, naked and beautiful, and, because only love will carry us home.

Love.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. – Neil Gaiman, The Friendly Ones

You can have other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. – Mary Oliver

Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live. – Tom Wolfe

My, wasn’t life awful – and wonderful? – Mrs. Soames, Our Town, Thornton Wilder

Where there is great love, there are always wishes. -Willa Cather

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war. Love is growing up. – James Baldwin

Tell me who admires and loves you, and I will tell you who you are. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
-e.e. cummings

“that’s what the storm’s all about”

by christie shumate mcelwee

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The world right now is exhausting. I know I am tired. Tired of cruelty and stubbornness and ignorance and injustice. I am drained. When my head hits the pillow at night and tears flow, I know I have over-consumed too much of the bad that is out there. And boy, it is out there, waiting in the darkness, ready to pounce and eat us all alive with its venom.

My heart is drained. What I am mostly tired of is the judgment and shaming, and yes, it is coming from within. I judge. I shame. And it is tearing my joy into shards. I am the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride who shames Buttercup’s nightmares.

“Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! Boo!”

The old woman was a manifestation of Buttercup’s conscience. She knew her love was out there, waiting. She was shaming herself because of the decisions she had made.

How do I move from becoming the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence? What is my conscience telling me about love? How do I maneuver this rocky and dangerous terrain and set aside my own judgment and shame? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these difficult questions. The sheer scope of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for social justice have presented us with many challenges. The stories in the news can be confusing. Where is the truth? How do we model honor and decency for our children and grandchildren? Whom do we look toward for guidance? Wisdom? Empathy?

Once again, I am not sure I have any answers. All I do know is that my soul needs peace. I seem to be at odds with so many, yet I do know this: I believe in the virtue of love, the dignity of grace, and the importance of our collective humanity. 

I will choose not to lose heart. I will soften my judgment. I will look and listen and try to understand. All of this may sound simple and naive, but it is all I have and I am willing to hang onto these nuggets of hope.

I will get through these confounding days. If I have moments of despair, I will sit with them. When I see magic, I will acknowledge its presence. I will embrace joyful moments. Navigating this complicated labyrinth may be a daily challenge, but I am choosing to live my remaining years with tenderness. I will strive to let go of the sharp edges and learn to forgive others and myself. I will weather this storm.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is for certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.”
~Haruki Murakami

How am I weathering this storm? Through piles of books and yoga and good friends and fabulous food and music and hikes through glorious fields of wildflowers.

our little tree: tiny hopeful buds

by Christie Shumate McElwee

We have a two-year old tree in front of our house that isn’t doing well. While all the other trees on our block have leafed out, ours silently stands with just a few buds attempting to open. Every day I send energy to its roots, hoping it will feel the strength of my love. I acknowledge that all my tree hugging may not be able to save it, yet I pray to Mother Nature to summon her powers to revive this struggling plant.

Lately I have been pondering the difference between hope and optimism. Yes, these concepts are related, but they follow divergent paths. Both are guideposts to the future. Think in terms of their opposites. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, and the opposite of hope is despair or fear. Optimism relies on feeling good about the future, even denying that bad things can happen. Optimists expect things to turn out okay. Hope, on the other hand, relies on the effort to make life better, knowing hard times are ahead and barreling ahead in spite of them. Hopeful people continue on through the pain, fighting for justice and kindness and peace.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”, she writes:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

The little bird clings to the branch while the storm swells, and continues to sing its song. Hope gives us warmth, yet doesn’t ask anything of us. We know things are rough. We see the darkness. We feel the pain…yet hope is still there, singing its tune.

Where do I see hope? It is in people trying their best to protect others. It is in our beautiful faces, even when covered by masks. Hope is in the reaching out, the praying, the grace we give one another. Hope sustains us.

And what about our little tree? Will my hope save it? I check it every day for new buds, and embrace its trunk, hoping it will feel my spirit. Will it survive? I don’t really know the answer, but I continue to hope, and that hope gives me strength to face what is ahead. I will live under hope’s roof.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” 

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

At first glance, our little tree looks dead.
But step closer, you can see tiny, hopeful buds.

Pondering Grace on this Most Solemn of Days

I find myself pondering grace on this most solemn of days. I know I have written words on the subject before, but this word, this state of being, draws me into its possibilities. Often I think about what grace is not, yet that isn’t grace. 

So…what is grace?

It is being there for a friend in her pain or grief or loneliness. 

Grace is understanding.

It is kindness, a smile, a compliment.

Grace is letting go of past resentments, of anger, of mistakes made.

It is sitting in silence. 

Grace is seeing people, moving in closer.

It is a presence. It is humility. It is acceptance over judgement.

Grace is a rainbow, a wash of colors across a sky as the sun peeks out after a storm.

It is always learning, always opening a new page, always seeing the potential.

Grace is seeing our differences as the beautiful wonders they are.

Grace swirls around as I stumble. It ignores my clumsiness and awkward actions. It is there, waiting as I trip over my anger, my envy, my stubbornness, my overblown ego. It finds me, even when I am not looking.

Grace is the truth. Grace is an open door. Grace is a seat at the table. Grace is thank you.

Grace is admitting I have been wrong, and offering ways to mend it. Saying, “I’m sorry. What can I do to fix it?”

Grace is acknowledging my brokenness, my scars. Seeing the beauty in the cracks. As Leonard Cohen wrote, “It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

Grace is my husband’s hand in mine…the sound of our grandchildren’s voices…a phone call or text from one of our adult children, just wanting to catch up…spending time with dear friends, swapping stories and listening to all of our joys and heartaches…sitting on our front porch swing, grateful for the peace it brings.

It is pie

and wine

and coffee with cream

and grilled cheese sandwiches

and warm chocolate chip cookies.

It is hanging onto hope when all is lost.

It is love.

Grace.

“Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a light; and at the last sun in his full and excellent brightness.” ~Thomas Adams

Asking Questions

“A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” James Baldwin, The First Next Time

“I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” – Albert Camus, The Plague

“There is no dignity in wickedness, whether in purple or rages; and hell is a democracy of devils, where all are equal.” – Herman Melville

How do we navigate the struggles in this world? Where do we gather the strength to battle the demons that inhabit society? Who do we turn to when our hearts are cracked wide open? How do we fix the broken light in the deep darkness of our souls? What gives us the courage to confront evil? Are we all so mangled in the mire that we can’t see beyond our own shores?

What if we bravely walked beyond the smashed glass, opened our hearts, expanded our minds, and looked past our egos? Could we offer dignity where we see indecency? Empathy instead of judgement? Grace in place of neglect? Kindness rather than hatred? Compassion, not cruelty?

Could we live, thrive, love, feed, embrace, and love with rapture? Or is the world too harsh, too cruel, too mean, too small, too evil? Do we accept defeat? Or do we scream into the wind, summoning strength for another battle?

What if today we decided to support dignity, breathe empathy, enfold grace, grasp kindness, and devour compassion? How would the world around us react to such behavior? Would it cower? Would it laugh? Or perhaps, it would blink in surprise? And what if the world then began to mimic our words, our acts, our hearts?

Dignity is an elevation of character, a worthiness in the world. We all deserve dignity, yet with every hateful epithet, dignity is lessened. Humans should be able to walk through life with pride.

Dignity is our inalienable right.

Empathy is seeing the troubles of others. It is identifying with their misery and wanting to alleviate it.

Empathy is our hearts bursting from our chests, exposing our salty tears.

Grace is the possession of mercy, goodwill, and honor. It is how we conduct our lives, our place at the table, inviting others to join us.

Grace is our truth.

Kindness is our behavior. It is a smile, a gesture, an open door, a generous tip. Our hearts reach out to grab others with love. It is courage wrapped in a whisper of silk.

Kindness is omnipotent.

Compassion is deep sympathy. It is our tenderness. It is our hearts, full and accepting. We feel others hurt. We acknowledge their pain. We sit with their sorrow. We respect their troubles.

Compassion is our humanness. 

So what if today we opened our doors to difficult truths? Listened to others? Held each other in solidarity? Tasted bitterness, yet still accepted the food? And lit a candle to wipe away the gloom?

What if for just today we saw dignity in each other, empathized with the downtrodden, walked in grace, spread kindness, and felt compassion for all suffering?

Could we change the world?

“Without dignity, identity is erased.” ― Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken

“Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not a career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.” – Audrey Hepburn

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”  -Og Mandino

“There never was any heart truly great and generous, that was not also tender and compassionate.” – Robert Frost

Featured

Good People

“Where’d all the good people go?

I’ve been changing channels

I don’t see them on the TV shows

Where’d all the good people go?

We go heaps and heaps of what we sow.”

Jack Johnson, “Good People”

That song seems to be reverberating in my head lately. The world appears to be saturated with mean spirited, hateful, bigoted, selfish, and rotten individuals spewing venom through their vile words and behavior. There are presidential candidates rallying fear. There are government officials boasting their superiority over others. There are guns everywhere, yet no one is safe. There are “churches” that hail hate as their doctrine. Everyone is pointing fingers. Victims abound. 

“Where’d all the good people go?” 

This got me thinking about the qualities of “good people.” What makes a good person?

A good person has honor. She gives her word and follows up on promises. 

A good person possesses grace. Grace is something that comes from within. A person with grace is kind and good and full of heart. 

A good person is grateful. He doesn’t brag about what he has or feel jealous when others have more. He is grateful for the simple joys in his life.

A good person has compassion. She empathizes with others. She gives of her time and her money. She reaches out to her friends and helps strangers. Her smile is sincere.

A good person is accepting. He may not agree with others, but he accepts other views. He reserves judgment.

I am lucky to have many good people in my life. They hug longer, judge less, laugh with glee, and make this world fine and glorious. They know who they are, and I am grateful every day for their passion. They are full of honor and grace and gratitude and compassion and acceptance. They are the “good people.” 

So, turn off the news, power down your phone, and tune out the spoiled and the wicked. Seek out the good people in your life. They are our greatest joys.

“What a great favor God does to those he places in the company of good people.”

– St. Teresa of Avila