Innovations in medical science provide technologies that digest and analyze astonishing amounts of medical information. Treatments and techniques, elegant in detail, are put to use immediately, seemingly increasing our healing capacities at an unstoppable pace.
And yet, the speed of the human heart remains constant. No matter how small the incision, or how benign the chemotherapy, the human soul will forever ache for time – time to find its way, to step carefully through the garden of impossible choices, to seek the reassuring nourishment of good, honest company.
“If money goes, money comes.
If money stays, death comes.”
– Muslim (Urdu) Proverb
In 1989 Roger Montoya left a successful career as a professional dancer in New York City. At the age of twenty-nine, after studying, performing and touring with celebrated dance companies – Alvin Ailey, Parsons, Paul Taylor – Roger returned to his childhood home in Velarde, New Mexico.
Growing up in a rural village in northern New Mexico, Roger was loved and nourished by his parents, Jose Amado and Dorotea Montoya; nurtured by excellent teachers; and blessed with opportunities rarely available in such remote, financially distressed areas. Roger showed extraordinary promise. As a teenager he earned a; place on the team representing the US and Canada, traveling to Romania, France and Denmark. At 20, he received a merit scholarship to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City, which led to an astonishing life as a professional dancer, performing all around the world.
It’s an unremarkable day, a Sunday, and I pick up the San Francisco Chronicle to read while eating lunch. I find myself engaged with a story of a 12 yr. old girl sold into sex slavery by her auntie. I’m reading it and the sorrow in this story feels like it takes a bite out of my heart. Immediate pain. I don’t even know this young child or her auntie, but I don’t need to. At that moment, I feel her pain, her family’s pain, and I understand how deeply connected I am with everyone, no matter where they are, or who they are. It’s a profound moment and I use it. I make a conscious decision to stay with what I’m feeling and not distract myself, which is to say I do not to abandon myself.
I decide to gather some flowers from the garden and make a little altar for her. Staying with my feelings doesn’t mean I have to make it harder than it already is. I can bring flowers into the room.
I cannot tell you how often I type the word “Live” when I want to sign off my emails with “Love,” as in Love, Marianna. The I and O are next to each other on the cell phone keyboard, and my chubby thumb is clumsy. Maybe if I lost an extra 10 pounds, I would say what I mean.
Or maybe what I actually mean to say is Live.
As in be alive. Now.
If you find yourself going mad, go to lunch and keep driving till you get to the beach or mountain or field of wildflowers that brings you home to yourself.
If someone you love has gone away, or never came, grieve till you get to the bottom of it.
If singing is your thing, do it once every day. More if you’re brave enough to keep feeling alive.
If you have finally figured out & named that little, unique thing you love about someone, tell them.
I had an accident a week ago at my health club (Laugh. It’s okay. I get the irony.) I, unknowingly, stepped onto a treadmill that was on and moving at a fast clip. Someone had walked away without turning it off. What???
I was suddenly in a free fall tumble trying to grab something, anything, to regain some control of my body. No such luck. When I landed on the floor, one leg was twisted between two treadmills, my head hit the floor and I felt jangled. Everyone jumped off of their machines and a crowd formed with people asking a lot of questions to determine how badly I was hurt. I couldn’t really move for several minutes, but not because anything was broken. Read more
Several years ago I moved into a sweet house with a verdant yard that calls me outdoors. I named it Cielo en Tierra – Heaven on Earth. For weeks I was graced with the unmistakable warmth of gratitude each day and especially when I looked out the bay window at the 120 year old oak tree in my back yard.
This tree was the thing that made me say yes to the house. Ten steps past the front door, a bay window framed this force of nature and I was drawn like a Yo Yo to the hand of someone playing with me. The window, the tree, the blue sky, my breath. All of it a bit overwhelming. She was beautiful. I turned and said, “I’d like to rent this house.” That was four years ago.
At the same time I was struggling with a certain inner tension. Let me explain. At Bread for the Journey, our vision is To Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart. As Executive Director, I had been practicing generosity by nudging the limits of my giving, noticing the places where generosity is easy and where it’s not. Following in the footsteps of new friends who were immersed in the “gift economy” movement, I wanted to provide my grief support services as a gift to anyone who needed them, but was afraid. I worried that giving away my services would reduce the value of my work; worried there would be too many takers and it would interfere with my job at Bread for the Journey; worried that it was an unwise move for a woman who did not have much financial security. And yet I deeply wanted to do it.
Okay, so there is an upside to being a person who didn’t see herself as generous while running an organization whose vision is To Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart. I became earnest in my wish to become a generous person.
I practiced a little every day, giving away some of my money to people on the street and to non-profits I loved. I also gave my time. Sometimes to people I didn’t know, sometimes to friends. I wrote a book called Being There for Someone in Grief, a labor of love. And since I was my own living experiment, I paid attention to how I felt when I was generous and when I wasn’t.
Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving creates love.
Our volunteers at Bread for the Journey know that living up to our Vision to Nurture the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart is an inside job. As we nurture the seed of generosity in our heart, our energy ripples out and touches others. Seen or unseen, it is felt by the people in our lives. And the way it feels is—well, it feels like love. Read more
I saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with my sister, Theresa, during the holiday and we both loved it. It was funny and it made us think more deeply about life. It’s a film that reminds us to take risks and be brave. In one of the last shots of the film, the words Good Your Journey floated across the screen and I thought, That’s what we’re all doing…trying like hell to make Good our Journey.
How do we raise good kids, have meaningful, well-paying jobs, keep the flame alive with our husband or wife, (find a good husband or wife!), be creative, feel connected to our community, be there for our friends and family. Every day we are challenged to step out, do hard things and take risks. How do we do it with some measure of grace? Read more