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Everyone has so much they’re dealing with these days – if it isn’t money, it’s job and career or relationship or health or… Well, there’s a lot out there, isn’t there?

These are the times when good friends are so important. I find that if I keep it all in my head, it seems as if the world is coming to an end. But, if I reach out – when things seem so overwhelming — to one of my “committed listeners,” there is a comfort there that is simple and sweet in the “gathering together” of our shared humanity —  within which we are healed…

A perfect illustration of this is my story this week…   A story about two friends who merged in my life to create a lesson of love…

About five years ago, I went through a scary period, starting with suddenly losing my work in December and continuing through a time that certainly qualified as a “crucible of faith” over the following nine months – a roller-coaster ride of highs – when I’d have a great job interview – to the lowest of lows – when I would wonder, “What am I going to do now?”

This period was the most severe test of my faith and trust in everything I ever believed God was or is or ever would be in my life.

How that manifested for me is that — in the midst of all the worry about my own life —  13 people I knew died during a seven-week period from mid-May through mid-July – each from different periods of my life – each death a further test of my faith…

One, in particular, was the turning point in how I experienced God as always there for me…

I had a friend, Mari, with whom I had been very close many years before.   I met her because our husbands were business friends and we wound up going to dinner – the four of us – one night.  It was one of those kinds of meetings when you say, “Hi!” and you are instant friends.  I felt I had known her all my life!  

We became close – way beyond any friendship that our husbands had – we were like sisters, totally entwined in each other’s lives — and it worked out that Mari had a brother, Carmine, who was a hairdresser – Mari and I traveled to Nutley, New Jersey, every two weeks to have our hair colored and cut at his salon. Those drives were full of intimate, loving talks about relationships, our children, our careers, and our dreams…

It went on like this for years – our families spent time together, she and I met separately — when we couldn’t see each other, we were on the telephone, sharing what happened that day.  I loved everything about her – her loving nature, her honesty, her unbelievable energy!   Fred, my husband, always said, “That Mari is a ‘ball of fire!’”

And then – it wasn’t like that anymore. When my husband and I separated, I continued to talk to Mari and to see her for lunch on occasion, but – as so often happens when one couple parts – it changes things. It wasn’t so easy anymore to find time to get together. She had her life and I had mine – and so we drifted apart.

One day, I read in the paper that she had become a Vice President at Lacoste, and I decided to write to her. I soon received an email asking me to give her a call at home.  She said that she was working from there for a while…

I did – and it was just as it had always been…. we talked on the phone for an hour, sharing what had happened over those intervening years….

What had happened for Mari was that she had breast cancer….

We talked about our spiritual journey – mine having been birthed by the separation from my husband and my son growing away from me, my career shifting and changing in ways unpredictable and frightening; hers having intensified with her illness, offering her a comfort that she hadn’t realized before was even possible. We spoke our fears out loud and talked about what it meant to have God in our lives through such challenging times.

We planned a visit. I would come out to Long Island to see her and we could be together the way we used to be…

It never happened. She got weaker and weaker – until she could no longer come to the phone.  We communicated by emails and, occasionally, I would check in with her brother.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never speak with her again….

My own life took more unexpected twists and turns…. I took a consulting project in the fashion industry and it meant that I was busy and traveling…     Just before I left for India the following November, I called Carmine.  Mari had just gone into the hospital once again. I gave him my cell phone number – “Just in case…”

While in India, I went to Sai Baba’s ashram and brought back some Vibhuti for Mari –Vibhuti is the holy ash that Baba creates out of the air – it is used for prayer and healing. When I returned, I learned that, without warning, my consulting gig would end, and so I was plunged into my own fear for my life and future…. 

The Vibhuti stayed in its box and Mari was never called…

During this time, the friend who was MY strength and comfort was Victoria Moran, the author and spiritual teacher. She and I had come together in our own accidental way – she called me because she found me online and wanted to join the Peace Circle I was holding after 9/11.   By the time she called, I wasn’t doing them anymore, but I said to her, “I live on 55th and First. If that’s convenient for you, I’ll take your name and when I start doing them again, I’ll call you.”

As God would have it, Victoria lived across the street.  Literally.  Right across First Avenue – we could see each other’s windows if we looked out our own.

Victoria and I began a spiritual tag-team kind of friendship – we were each other’s spiritual listener. One time, we met for 15 minutes a day for a month to speak our dreams to each other – hers for that her book, “Younger By The Day” would become a best-seller (it did!) — and mine that I would have a brilliant new job  (I did!).

Victoria was there for me when I learned that my consulting gig was over – I didn’t even go home first…. I went straight to Victoria’s apartment and she listened as I tried to move out of my “deer-in-the-headlights” fear state… her presence and her listening were the love I needed to get through that awful day…. and in the days and months afterwards…

I emailed Mari over  the next few months, and although I didn’t receive any answers, I saw from the status report that they had been read.   Soon there would be cause to wonder who was reading them… 

On one of my better days in May, I woke up thinking of Mari. I hadn’t checked in on her with Carmine since I lost my job, and I suddenly realized how long it had been.  I picked up the phone and called her house.

When her husband answered the phone, I knew immediately that something was wrong – he sounded awful. I reminded him who I was and he remembered. It took a few moments — but finally, he seemed to realize something.  He said, “You don’t know…?  Mari died in January – January 27th – you didn’t know?”

My grief was immediate and profound – made even more so by realizing that these months that I had not been working and trying to get a new job – and, therefore, so very self-focused – had made me lose sight of Mari and her illness.

I hung up and called Mari’s brother. Carmine was gentle and caring on the phone. He told me that Mari’s last months were very difficult. From the time I spoke to him before I went to India, she continued to decline…

My unspoken question hung in the air, “Why didn’t you call me?”

He shared with me that she had died with great dignity at home — and that, in the days and weeks before  her death, she had called in her family and close friends, one by one, including her ex-husband, and had shared some private time with each one of them.    He told me that three weeks before she died, she had asked him to call me so that she could speak to me. He couldn’t find my number.  He was sorry, he said — he knew that she loved me and wanted to say “Good-bye.”

I thanked Carmine and got off the phone. I felt incomplete. I’ve never really understood funerals until that day. I needed to be with people, to talk to her family and tell them what she meant to me. I needed to hug someone and I needed to be hugged – to comfort and to be comforted. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I prayed to God, “Please help me with this!”  I waited for His answer.

I did the only thing I could think to do – I started cleaning and organizing. Two hours into this process, I came upon a notebook – the first page was dated “1991.” The book fell open to a page that said, “Mari Goldberg” at the top, with a notation that we had had lunch that day. There was a quote by her name:

“If you always want more than what you have, then nothing will ever be enough. But, if you are grateful for where you are now, then everything you have will be a gift.”

It struck me that this was a time when I was learning that lesson in my life in so many ways – not the least of which was this very situation! It struck me that she had come to me in that moment to tell me this once more – now that I was ready — and needed to hear it.

Later that evening, Victoria called me. She had just received my distraught message from earlier in the day when I had just spoken to Carmine.   She listened to me cry and berate myself for ever allowing the friendship to lapse those many years – and even to beating myself up that I had not sent the Vibhuti immediately upon returning from India.

When I said that Mari had wanted to speak with me but no one could find my phone number, Victoria jumped in with just the reminder that I needed:

“Linda, you are lost right now in the physical part of this – but your spiritual Self knows better. Mari’s in her eternal creative expression right now as a “ball of fire” with God – and maybe you are the one who is supposed to remember her that way for her family and for the the world. If you were meant to speak with her before she died, if you were meant to go to the funeral, your phone number would have been right there for them to find.”

She went on, “January was an awful month for you – how would you have handled losing your job and Mari’s death, too? God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle. You found a notebook — on the very day that you learned that she passed — that had her quote in it – a quote that has more meaning for you today than it did when she first uttered it. Your phone number would have been just as close at hand — if that was the way it was supposed to be.”

Lastly, Victoria reminded me, “Don’t forget that you got the opportunity – for those few months when you reconnected – to speak and to tell each other how much you loved each other. There’s the gift!”

Victoria went on to suggest that I get a recent picture of Mari from her family and make an altar with a candle and light it in memory of her every evening. She also offered that I could write letters to her family to tell them what Mari meant to me – with remembrances of her energy and spirit – a reminder of when she was a “ball of fire.”

God had come through once again — through Victoria – reminding me that there was absolute perfect-ness in my experience of Mari and how this had all transpired – that it was all in Divine Order just as it was – and that nothing was lost.

Mari’s altar sat in my window for a long time after that day… the same window from which I could see Victoria’s apartment — with Mari’s picture that her sister sent me, a candle, and Mari’s words beneath it, reminding me that I couldn’t have everything I wanted in this situation, but what I did get – Mari’s friendship for all those years, the months of reconnection with her – and now, Victoria’s comfort and wisdom…

…these are my gifts…

Deliciously yours in Gratitude always, Linda

“You do not walk alone. God’s angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless.”
                         “A Course in Miracles,” Workbook for Students, Epilogue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         victoria_photo1A special thank you to my dear friend, Victoria Moran — one of God’s angels, for sure. Victoria’s two new books are coming out now: “Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day,” and “The Love Powered Diet: Eating for Freedom, Health, and Joy.” Please visit her at www.VictoriaMoran.com.  

If you are in NYC on Monday, May 4th, at 7:30PM, Victoria is having a book signing at the Barnes and Noble Lincoln Triangle at  1972 Broadway in Manhattan. 

Victoria is truly a bridge over troubled waters in my life…  I am forever blessed that she is my friend…

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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chocolatecakejpeg1A reminder of love in a world where love is often hidden…

Do we know the people we love?    We say we  do, we say we love them,   we feel love when we think about them – and often, those real moments of love in which we can feel the love itself – are hidden in the folds of daily life,  the worry that permeates our world in these times,  the routine of automatic communication that leaves no room for the beauty of what love truly is.

When I first started in transformation education at Landmark Education, there was a course I took in which we had to create a “map” of our closest circle – those people who are in our lives on a regular basis, with whom we interact daily, or at least weekly, who create the fabric of our lives.

My map was virtually empty – my son and my ex-husband and a sprinkling of friends around the country.  I realized that I didn’t have a circle – I didn’t have a community, I didn’t have many people with whom to weave a rich, textured fabric in my own life.

I went up to the leader, embarrassed to admit that my map was meager. She listened to me, looked at my almost empty page, and said, “Make them up!”   I went back to my seat.

I stared at my map, stunned by her instruction, feeling silly and alone. After a few moments, I thought, “I have family. I rarely talk to them, but they are my family nevertheless. Why would I make people up when I have a whole family that I could be close to?”

In that moment, I took a stand that my family would be what I would transform for myself – I would get in communication, I would learn about their lives, I would be there for them, I would love them.

So, let me tell you about my brother, Ralph. He is strong and dependable and has always been there for his family. He’s not quite a year younger than I am – something we joke about, that we are the same age for four days out of the year. He’s married to his high school sweetheart and has four girls, Nicole, Tiffany, and the twins, Jacki and Julie. He is an engineer by education and worked at Rohm and Haas for all of his working years, retiring in January of 2007.

And he never talks. Not that he can’t talk – he doesn’t talk. Or he didn’t talk to me, anyway. To illustrate, I was in a car with him for a long ride about 10 years ago, babbling away in the seat beside him until I realized he hadn’t said anything for a quite some time. I said, “My jaws hurt from talking so much! It’s your turn. Tell me what has been going on with you.” After we laughed at the strange injury to my jaw, I shut up and we continued driving.

We rode in silence for 15 minutes. Finally, the silence was unbearable!  I turned to him and said, “I can’t stand it any longer…! Aren’t you going to say anything?” We both laughed and that was the end of that.  We continued on and I talked the entire time.  I never did find out what was going on for him.

I had rarely seen or spoken to him since.

I took my stand for love and family.  I started calling my brothers and sister… and little by little, I was invited to family events and dinners. The summer after, I was invited to my brother, Ralph’s, house in Avalon with his family for their yearly summer vacation.

Before I left, I actually thought about who I would BE in the presence of his family — I didn’t want it to go the way it’s always gone – a lot of automatic interactions, a lot of opinions and defenses, a lot of awkward moments – and my brother, once again silent in my presence.   And so, I created myself as being Love, no matter what came up, no matter what anyone said — I would not babble, I would not lecture, I would not talk all the time – I would not defend my opinions or positions about anything. I would just let it all be the way it was and simply love them.

The week was beautiful — the grandchildren were there – Sophia, Luke, and Olivia — and so it had that magical quality that young children always bring to a space… laughing and running around and giggling – running into the waves at the beach and getting sand all over us — I let myself get carried away with it all.

Finally, on the last day I was there, everyone else had gone to the beach and my brother and I were talking at the house about the plant he had just finished building in Shanghai. He had spent almost 2 weeks out of every month traveling to China for the three years prior to his retirement. He mentioned that he had pictures of the plant.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have asked to see them. My Goodness! It was a plant for  — I didn’t even know what kind of products! This time, I heard something in my brother’s voice…. I asked to see the pictures. He seemed surprised but pulled out his laptop and started showing me hundreds of pictures of this project in Shanghai that had consumed his life for all this time.

The more pictures he showed me, the more he spoke — he pointed out the glass walls, the interior details, and the “water element” that the Chinese people believe is good luck… how challenging it was to create this side of the building or that pond….  I heard his admiration for the Chinese people and his love of their country…

I was looking at the pictures and I was glancing at my brother’s face… how animated he became as he spoke of something that he had devoted his life to over the past three years…!  I realized that this was the first time I had ever truly listened to him.  He had a whole life I never knew about – a passion that excited him and was a driving force in his life – all hidden from my view!

I was overwhelmed with love for him….

I was suddenly sorry that this had only come up on the last day.   I wanted to sit there and listen to him for hours more…   I didn’t want this time to end.

Soon, it was time for me to leave to take the bus back to Manhattan.

I gathered my belongings and positioned my suitcase by the door. I walked back to where my brother was sitting, now watching one of his favorite car races on television. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, “I love you so much,” I said and turned to go. I heard his voice as I walked away….

“Same here,” he said.

The tears came into my eyes, moved in a way that took me by surprise.  I grabbed my suitcase and wheeled it out the door and down the street towards the bus stop.

I sat on the bench, waiting for the bus, thinking about my brother and all the things I never knew about him – not because he wasn’t willing to tell me but because I wasn’t open to hearing them.  Before that, it was always about me and there was no room for him.  For the first time, what was created was a space of love, devoid of me and my ego – that allowed the magnificence that he is – and always was — to rise up and shine!

I now know that love can only be seen in an empty space…. a space of allowing and giving and silence and presence…. a space where all is open to the love that is always there….

Like right here, right now…

Deliciously yours in the Glory of it all!   Linda

“A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another;  as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

dontwelookalikeexceptfortheredhairmeandralphHere’s a picture of me and my brother, Ralph Ruocco.

 

 

 

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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We often think of allowing God into our lives for the “big” stuff:  illness, financial crisis, sadness, loss, job promotions, relationships  – and we feel that WE should handle the “little” stuff.   I’ve come to find that the more I let God into my life on every level, the more blessed my life becomes.

Here’s one of my favorite stories.   Six years ago, when I was looking for an apartment, I looked at one place after another – and became very frustrated.  I’m sure that my attitude had a lot to do with why I wasn’t finding what I wanted.   I had always owned my apartments before – and what I was looking for at that time was a rental.   There was something about rentals that I didn’t like — maybe because it meant that I couldn’t afford to buy at the time, maybe because most rentals are boxy affairs in post-modern buildings and I’m a pre-war gal, or maybe it’s the high fees that tenants have to pay in order to find a good rental in NYC.   Whatever it was, after looking only a little while, I became discouraged.

One night, after a particularly trying day,  I was in one of my frequent conversations with God, and I said, “You KNOW how much I hate this. Please take care of it for me?  Find me a great apartment in a building You know I’ll like – and please send me an email.”  I laughed as I said the last part…. but, I always figure that God can do anything – and He has to talk to us somehow – why not email?

Two days later, I DID receive an email from my then spiritual coach – and friend – Aleta St. James.  It was an eblast to her entire email list and it said, “A friend of mine has a two bedroom apartment in the Sutton area that she has to give up. Whoever sees it first, gets it.”  I called Aleta immediately to get the name of her friend – and, I said, “Aleta, didn’t you remember that I was looking for an apartment? You sent this to EVERYONE!   They’re ALL going to want it!”   Aleta was so apologetic – she had forgotten….  “Call Amy right away!”  she said.

I called her friend with the apartment.  Amy told me that she had had several calls already.  My stomach churned – you know that feeling?   When we feel like we’re going to lose something if we don’t hurry?   I reminded myself that it was no accident that I asked God to email me with an apartment – and I got an email about an apartment.     So, I comforted myself — if He wanted me to get this apartment, 5000 people could want it and I would get it – no sense worrying about it!

I took a deep breath and let it go….

I walked over to the building that afternoon.  It’s a gorgeous pre-war building, a block away from where I lived when I was younger — so I already knew – and loved – the neighborhood, one block from Sutton Place.    It had a beautiful Tudor lobby and a doorman.  I took the elevator to the second floor. I knocked on the door of apartment 2C.

Amy opened the door and invited me in.

We chatted for a few minutes and then she said to me, “Don’t you have a sister named Laura?” I said that, yes, I did.   Then she said, “You may not remember me, but about 15 years ago, I was a good friend of hers.  I was going out with her husband’s best friend, Michael. Do you remember me now?”  Slowly, the recognition washed over me – “Of course, I do!  How wonderful to see you again!”

As she showed me through the apartment, we caught up on what she had been doing since I had seen her last – and, with her  little daughter playing in the living room, I could see that she had been up to quite a lot.

I LOVED the apartment – pre-war, not quite 2 bedrooms, more like 1-1/2 bedrooms, but perfect for me to have a little office at home, huge bedroom – and, overall, the apartment was about 1100 square feet. I was thrilled. Most one-bedrooms in Manhattan at that price are small boxes.

The piece-de-resistance was the tiny second “bedroom” that Amy had made into a nursery – she brought me in there and I gasped. The room was a fantasy painting of a garden with leaves and vines and flowers and bees and butterflys and even little ladybugs on some of the leaves – she had had the room hand-painted in order to create a garden “wonderland” for her little girl.

It was obvious that I loved it all.  What was not as obvious was that the more I loved it, the more anxious I became that I wouldn’t get it…..

I took a deep breath and said silently, “Dear God, this is the one. Thank you.”

Amy turned to me and said, “Since I know you, if you like it, I won’t show it to anyone else. But, you have to act fast because I do want to rent it within the next couple of days.”

Fast?   You have never seen “fast” like I was moving around in the next few hours. I had the application in, my employer letter over to the managing agent, my checks written and the lease signed by noon the next day.

I got the apartment.

And…. that’s not the end of the Mystery…..

I hadn’t been to church in so many years I couldn’t count them… Sometimes, an occasional Easter Sunday and, perhaps, a Midnight Mass at Christmas time…. Right across the street from this apartment is the Archdiocese office building for New York City – and tucked in the side of this big office building is a little chapel of a church called St. John The Evangelist – with 6 rows in the front and 8 rows on the side – just the kind of intimate setting I would have preferred in a church  –  if I had thought about it  at all!   The entrance was directly across the street from the door to my building.   A few months after I moved into the apartment — in a time of deep crisis — I ran across the street to seek comfort – and found it – and stayed.

Someday, I’ll tell you more about that. For now…. it’s enough that I felt led to this place – to live and to grow and to be devoted and to feel connected.

I live in that apartment to this day…. I sit here now, in my little jewel-box of an office, with its garden-fantasy-painted walls and its view out onto First Avenue in Manhattan…. and I feel safe…. and treasured… and protected by the Divine… I’m at home here.   I do love it so much…

I am so blessed…

Deliciously yours in the Mystery of it all, Linda

“You are still My holy Son, foever innocent, forever loving, and forever loved, as limitless as Your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure.  Therefore, awaken and return to Me.  I am your Father and you are My Son.”   Text, p.445, “A Course in Miracles”

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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