I began to write this reflection back in August 2014, and wanted to write about “lovely” things, “spiritual” things but, if I am to be truthful, all of my personal reflections were on the question of “What can one person do?” You see, it had been a pretty rough week. It was the week that Robin Williams killed himself. It was also the week that a college friend called and told me that her darling, brilliant daughter had become a heroine addict; the week that riots were rampant in Ferguson, MO; the week that a friend said to me, “I am slowly adapting to the fact that my son might die”; the week that his son, Nick, had a car accident because he was totally strung out on, only God knows what drugs.
Really, what can one person do?
It is a beautiful and almost unbelievable thing, the way guidance comes slipping in – like a cat silently slipping in the door. This question “What can one person do?” swirled around me all week and then early one morning, as the sunlight was breaking through the limbs of the magnolia tree, I woke up with this poem by the Welsh poet David Whyte running through my mind:
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first thing
you don’t want to take.
I did not really understand that this was guidance at that moment. But as I was meditating that morning, and was dropping into the silent Still Point of my heart – dropping into what Dr. Barbara Brennan calls “the black velvet void, teeming with all un-manifest life”, there, in the center of my heart, I felt the presence of Nick – slouched in a chair, his long, gangly legs sprawled out in front of him, his sullen fury like a dark thunder cloud all around and through him. In that deep heart space, I simply sat, “starting close in.” Coming out of denial, I was facing the truth of Nick’s addiction and the possibility that he really might die from this.
Over the next little while, I sat and I watched as my heart’s field expanded out from me, encompassing and embracing Nick. With each breath, this field of light brightened around both of us. I continued to watch and saw how the clouds were beginning to clear from around my angry, addicted friend.
Could just this small step make a difference? Really? I believe it can – and it does. I could not control whether Nick lived or died; I could not “heal” him from his addiction – he had to make that decision for himself. But if even for a moment, I could be with him, in this heart space of infinite possibility, perhaps, just perhaps, it would plant a seed, a reminder, that he could make a different choice for himself; that he could choose life; and life, in my experience, is always worth choosing.
And so, I sat, each day, silently inviting him to sit with me in the infinite space of “the sacred human heart.”
As my week went on, I continued to be given the opportunity to experience what one person can do. As I was walking to lunch, there on the sidewalk was a man curled up in the fetal position. I recognized this man as one of the local homeless men that stayed at the nearby shelter. Something was not right; he was sort of shaking. I stooped down and asked him if he needed help. Without looking at me, he barely nodded his head yes. Did he want me to call the ambulance? Again, almost imperceptibly, his head signaled yes. So I sat down right there in the middle of the sidewalk and called 911. Help was on the way. I continued to sit with him, told him that the ambulance was coming and that I would stay with him until it got there. I did not know what was going on – I just knew he needed help. As we waited, another homeless man silently walked up and mumbled, “Panda is an epileptic and he just had a seizure.”
It was clear that the ambulance guys knew Panda and they gently picked him up and took good care of him. I saw him three days later on the street and even though he does not know who I am, he is no longer a stranger to me. He will always have a little corner of my heart space.
Yes, as individuals we can, and we do, make a difference every day.
But still, the doubt creeps in. Is that enough? “What can one person do?” Another bit of the answer came to me later, when I got an email from a friend who was cycling across the country and was dedicating her long, uphill climbs to those who need help. A sort of cycling prayer chain.
When I read her email, my heart soared! I wrote back to my friend: Yes, yes! Ride for Nick! Ride for my friend and her addicted daughter! Ride for Panda! Let your cycle wheels spin and bring healing!
Seriously, how could I have forgotten this crucial ingredient – community? What a beautiful reminder! We are not alone. Nick is not alone in this; my friend is not alone in this; Panda is not alone; I am not alone. There is always help and support.
It’s true that one person can do a lot to bring healing to the world. But we are a Community. We are a community of the sacred human heart. And as a community, we make a difference, we support each other, we contribute to each other – simply by reaching out a hand, by making contact, by simply by being who we are.