“I’ve found that every spiritual advance I’ve made was preceded by some sort of a fall – in fact, it’s almost a universal law that a fall of some kind precedes a major shift.”  

THIS was the sentence that stopped me cold in my reading of Wayne Dyer’s new book, “The Shift: Taking your Life from Ambition to Meaning.” 

I was reading – and loving — this book, a companion book to Dr. Dyer’s movie of the same name, ‘The Shift,” that came out last year.  I watched and enjoyed that movie then and  — loyal Wayne Dyer fan that I am — always intended to re-watch it so I could take notes on his always wise observations on life.   I never got around to that.    

I was relieved when I heard he had written a companion book – “How considerate of him to realize that we frustrated note-takers would appreciate a summary of everything he said in the movie.”   I was so involved in the stories in the film — the stories that illustrate, in each case, a character’s or a couple’s fall, or near destruction as a result of the ego’s  striving  — to a choice for meaning — and love — in each character’s life.  

As I read the book, I arrived at that passage and stopped to reflect – “Yes, that’s exactly how it’s gone for me” — personal and career falls, followed by a yearning for something more, a shift to something greater in my spirit, that often resulted in some beautiful revelation about myself or the world or the Universe, or God, Himself – and generated a transformation of my own world view, my own Being – so that the competition I felt before transformed into willingness, the judgment transformed into empathy and compassion, and the feeling of “I’ve got to make this happen” transformed into surrender to the God of my mind and heart. 

Dr. Dyer’s new book, besides being the companion book to “The Shift” movie, is also a lovely sort-of “handbook” to his spiritual philosophy –  not an in-depth  analysis of the “Tao Te Ching” that his previous book, “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life”  is,  nor a how-to book like “Excuses Begone!: How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits,” both of which I also read and liked very much. 

 “The Shift” is a synopsis of a spiritual world view grounded in purpose and meaning. 

It is, at 112 pages, a short book for Wayne Dyer, and for that, a very appealing one.  Dr. Dyer gets to his point quickly – a life based in ego thoughts can never be ultimately satisfying, given, as the ego is, to always wanting more. And, then, the dreaded sentence: “a fall of some kind precedes a major shift.”  Somehow or other, there is some kind of “fall” – a set-back, a disappointment, a divorce – or almost one, losing a job or a project – something that takes us down so low that there is a danger of losing our way in life.  It is often at those low points that we see something we never saw before. 

What is possible to see in those falls is that there IS another way – a way that leads to fulfillment and joy –  finding, or suddenly realizing, one’s purpose. 

Dr. Dyer’s books always seem to come to me at just the right time in my life – I often get the feeling that he sits in his study in Maui writing just for me.  I think his message this time could very possibly be for the entire world.  

We’ve just been through a financial crisis – one marked by the drive of greed, ambition, and cut-throat competition – all ear-marks of the ego gone wild.  If this isn’t a fall, I don’t know what is.

What do we do now?  Dr. Dyer paints a clear choice.  We can either go back to the ego driven world we had before – and, I say, there are signs that is happening in many quarters.  Or, as Dr. Dyer suggests, we can look within, and find those places where we can make a difference – and look to serve an end beyond ourselves. 

The journey to Meaning, Dr. Dyer asserts, is to raise our consciousness from our own material wants and desires and find that for which we came – to serve others, to serve humanity, to serve the world.    

Dr. Dyer’s message is,  “…making the shifts to humility, trust, and letting go feel natural because we’re rejoining our original nature.  A life of meaning is only a thought away.” 

What will you choose?

Deliciously yours in the Source of it All, Linda

Here is the link to Dr. Wayne Dyer’s, “The Shift:  Taking Your Life From Ambition to Meaning” at his website:  http://www.drwaynedyer.com/

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. 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 ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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This little Easter story is about one of those serendipitous moments that I so love…

It happened on Holy Thursday this past week.  I invited my friend, David, to go with me to hear readings from Dante’s “Inferno” – all the way uptown, to the 4th largest cathedral in the world, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York City.  It had been years since I’d been there – not since the fire and not since the scaffolding had been up in a vain attempt to finish it…  Started in 1892, “St. John, the Unfinished” as it is affectionately known by New Yorkers, is no less glorious in its Majesty and no less a contribution to the rich and varied cultural life of New York City.

As for Dante’s “Inferno” – I hadn’t cracked that book open since I studied it – in Italian, yet – in college over 40 years ago.  The nuances of Florentine politics were challenging enough at the time – I could not imagine that I would remember the story of it in one sitting on Thursday night.

No matter.  A work of epic poetry, Dante’s great masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy,” is still one of the enduring works of genius in this world – and, I often find that, with works of genius, there is something in the energy of the space when you hear a great work of literature, see a great work of art, listen to a musical masterpiece – that resonates in our deepest, most heartfelt places – our very souls — whether we think we understand them or not.

I wanted a journey into my soul and I could think of no better guide than Dante….

I was not disappointed.    Renowned names in poetry and the arts read from various translations in English, for those of us whose Italian is a bit rusty, if it exists at all — the lamentations of those lost souls doomed to whatever circle of hell for all eternity, names familiar in Florentine times… utterly unknown or forgotten now…

Ah, but the soul’s journey to God – the allegory that this great poem is – still sings in the verse about tortured souls and burning corpses – but is really about our own distance from God, in whatever form that takes…   Doubt, fear, selfishness, indifference, violence — and resonated in my own soul after a challenging couple of years of doubt and fear and wondering what would become of me – as I travel my own “inferno” of trying to live in New York City as a real estate broker during a time when everyone is scared and few can get mortgages, and everyone I know has their own version of the separation from the inner riches of knowing that God provides always.

David and I left after about an hour and a half of rapture in that beautiful space – we flagged a  taxi to travel down what would become Columbus Avenue after we left Morningside Heights, to leave David off on the West Side, and then on to the East Side, where I live.

We talked in the cab  about what we heard and how happy we were that we had gone, and how beautiful St. John the Divine is, and then we touched on the differences in how we were raised – I, as a Catholic, and David, whose father was an Episcopal Minister.

David hopped out of the cab at West 78th Street, and I stayed inside for my journey home…

As the taxi pulled away from the curb where we had left David, the taxi driver asked me if we had been to a class.  I replied that  No, we had gone to that beautiful cathedral to hear one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written.  I explained to him what it was —  and also explained that it seemed a good time to hear it since it was Holy Thursday and what a wonderful way to commemorate Jesus’ own “descent into hell” during the three days that he was laid in the tomb.

The taxi driver interrupted me, alarmed – “Who sent Jesus to hell?  Why?”  I thought for a moment and realized that I had just repeated — unconsciously and automatically (never a good thing)  —  the version of the Creed that I had learned as a young child, but that sentence is no longer in the statement of what Catholics believe.  I remembered that it scared me as a child that I had to say, “He descended into hell and on the third day, he rose again from the dead…”

I have been back in church for almost six years now, saying the Creed at every Mass, and realized that it now says, “He  suffered, died, and was buried.  On the third day, He rose again…”

He rose again….  that is the message – the redemption of man through love and compassion…

The taxi driver shared with me that he is Muslim — and that, in the Muslim religion, Jesus is a prophet.   I knew that since I have other Muslim friends…  The taxi driver and I talked about love and redemption and compassion for all people – the Jesus Christ message – and how we both believe that that is why He came – to teach that to all of us.

My heart opened up with our shared vision of a world of love and peace. It didn’t matter at all that we were two different faiths.

We talked all the way and the time passed quickly — as I fell in love with this conversation between two strangers.   Before I knew it, we pulled to the corner of 55th and Second where I was getting out.

As I paid him the fare, I offered my hand to shake his and thanked him for a beautiful interlude in a challenging and sometimes cold world.     He took my hand in his and thanked me and said, “Love will be the way… That is what Jesus wanted.”  I started to cry.

As I walked the short half block to my apartment, it occurred to me that I had traveled uptown to a great cathedral to hear the voice of genius, always inspiring, always moving to me – and came to find something even greater — a meeting of minds joined in peace and love…  in a yellow taxicab, late at night,  in New York City….

This is how we are redeemed.

Happy Easter to All!

Deliciously yours in the Glory of it All, Linda

“But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Dante Alighieri, “La Divina Commedia,” “Paradiso”, Canto XXXIII, lines 142-145, on the Radiance of God.

“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?  He is not here.  He has risen.”     The Gospel of Luke, 24:1-12.

The beautiful interior of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine on  West 112th and Amsterdam Avenue.

For programs and readings, go to:  http://www.stjohndivine.org

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. 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 ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

  
 
 
Dear Readers,
 
Valentine’s Day is the first year anniversary of this blog. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, my loyal readers,  and so I celebrate you with a shift from my usual story.
 
 
 
 
 
 
A sonnet for you on Valentine’s Day: 
 
  
To have arrived here – takes me back to time alone
in youth;  Those lovely hours dark and late at night,
Huddle’d in bed, reading book or fantastical poem,
My mother’s vain urging to turn out the secretive light
fell on deaf ears as longing and fantasy reigned free.
Intrigue and romance drew  me far from  my childhood room,
“A moment!” I called, though sleep I would not soon seek,
Still gone, away from the dark of reality’s seeming gloom.
 
Those journeys of heart were solace and peace to my mind
without which my shy and aching spirit could not engage
those days perceiv’d as fearful; in words I sought to find
adventure and freedom, expression on beauteous page.
 
My friends, your loyal attention here doth prove
again, that mind creates world; with thanks, my love.
 
 
Happy Valentine’s Day! 
 
Deliciously yours in the Gratitude  of it All,  Linda
 
 
“But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day”
  ….”My Funny Valentine,” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart
 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. 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 ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

 

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.

We say, “I’m going to go on a diet,” and maybe we join a gym or maybe we eat healthy –  for a few days or weeks –  and then —  we get too busy to  go to the gym, and we see a great dessert and say, “Oh, just this once…”

And that’s the end of the resolution.

We’re right back to where we were before.  Worse, really, because, now,  we feel bad about ourselves because we failed at THAT,  too.

We fail because we make it all about the “doing” and not about who we’re “being”…

For me, it’s been more effective to take a stand for something — a stand for myself, a stand for someone else — a stand for something that’s important to me.  That “stand” becomes something that the living without THAT would be — not who I am.

This is not easy.  It takes being present to who we really are all the time and THAT is a challenge.  It’s just not something we do — We tend to be a lot “foggier” about our lives.   Without that presence — Well, life will simply continue on automatic.

What it takes is courage.  Courage to face the truth in ourselves. Courage to do the work to be who we really are.

Complacency is so much easier.

The first step is to really get what’s going on now:  The “what’s so” in the matter.  Once you get that, you’ll know where you are standing now on the issue – and then you can see whether you like standing there or not.

I remember when I quit smoking for good.  I had quit many times before that last time.  I did all the things that smokers do when they try to quit:  I tapered off, for a while. Then —  a bad day at work would set me off and I would realize I’d finished a pack.   A few times, I quit cold – and all I could think of was a cigarette. Then I sneaked a cigarette at a party and was right back to smoking.

Every time I went back to smoking, I hated myself about it more than before.

I couldn’t trust my own Word to myself in the matter of smoking.

I never referred to myself as a smoker.  I tricked myself into thinking that I only smoked when I was socializing or I only smoked after dinner or I only smoked outside my apartment.

Rarely did I notice that I smoked when I was by myself and I smoked in the morning and I smoked sitting in front of the television late at night when I was too lazy to go out into the stairwell or to go outside.

On October 10th in 2000, my friend invited me to an Anthony Robbins event at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  The Meadowlands is right across the Hudson River from Manhattan, so she also had to talk me into taking the train down to her house in South Jersey so that she didn’t have to drive to the Meadowlands alone – and so I did.

The night I arrived at her house, I sneaked outside to have a few cigarettes on the back deck.  I sneaked out there again the next morning and I smoked outside the Meadowlands, after our long drive from her house and before we entered the arena.

During the course of this event — a motivation-driven event for 3000 people that included speeches by Christopher Reeve, Barbara Walters, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Donald Trump, and Tony himself – I quit smoking for good.

I love Tony Robbins – in the pantheon of motivational speakers, he’s got the thing DOWN.  He’s got more energy than any ten people I know.  And he goes for the jugular of self-loathing in a way that leaves you no choice but to face yourself.  Really.

At one point in the event, he talked about smoking and smokers.  It was clear that he does not think that being a smoker is an empowering way to live one’s life…  What he thinks is even more disempowering is when we don’t know who we are around being a smoker…

He addressed the audience, “Raise your hand if you’re a smoker.”

I didn’t raise my hand.  After all, I wasn’t REALLY a smoker, I didn’t smoke ALL the time….

About one-third of the people raised their hands.

He then said, “Raise your hand if you’re not a smoker.”

Well, I couldn’t very well raise my hand.  I did smoke… SOMETIMES.

A different one-third of the people raised their hands.

Then, he said, “Raise your hand if you didn’t raise your hand for either of the other two choices.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.  Now, here was something I could get behind:   Ambivilance.

I proudly raised my hand high.

Well, pride goeth before a fall.

Tony said, “Good for you if you don’t smoke.  Acknowledge yourselves for that – you’re taking one step towards leading a healthy life.  There’s nothing more for me to say to you about this.”

Now for the smokers, “YOU know that you’re doing something that’s not good for you.  You know that and you continue smoking.  You think of yourself as a smoker and until you don’t, you’ll continue to be a smoker.  I’m not going to try to talk you into quitting smoking.”

No lecture, no advice, no nothing.

Tony continued, “The people I really want to address are those of you who didn’t raise your hand for either ‘Yes, I’m a smoker’ or ‘No, I’m not a smoker.’  Don’t you get that you either are or you aren’t a smoker?  There are only two choices here.  Who are you kidding?  Only yourselves.  Everyone around you knows what you are.”

Suddenly, I was embarrassed.  I guess I thought I was fooling everyone.

“You are living in a fantasy world.  A world where you cannot possibly make a powerful choice for yourself because you don’t even know where you stand RIGHT NOW.”

Tony didn’t say much more than that – he’s not into convincing people to do things.  What he did say was much more powerful:

“I’m going to ask you all again.  This time, I want you to choose one or the other because there can ONLY be one or the other.  Be honest with yourself.  Be true to yourself.  Be willing to be responsible for the consequences of your behavior, whatever that is.  Non-smoker?  Healthy choice.  Smoker?  Unhealthy choice.  Know thyself.  Choose powerfully.”

Then, he asked again, “How many of you are smokers?”

It was a moment of truth for me.  Am I a smoker?  Is that who I am?  Am I someone who daily makes an unhealthy choice for my life?  Someone who does something to put myself at risk for my LIFE every day?

NO, that’s NOT who I am.

I didn’t raise my hand.

Then, Tony asked, “How many of you are non-smokers?”

I hesitated only a moment.  I raised my hand. I was a non-smoker.

That was it.  I never smoked another cigarette.  I never reached for one, I never craved one, I never thought about smoking again since that day.

Looking back on it now, in the light of what I’ve learned since then, I realize that what I did – what Tony helped me to do – is the simple formula for transformation of anything:

Get profoundly related to the “what’s so” in the matter.  And, given that, what is your stand – for yourself, for your life, for the world?

That’s what I believe in.  That’s what I do every day of my life – about whatever comes up.  A stand is a very powerful thing – because we are very powerful Beings.

I’m working on my stand for 2010.  So far, it sounds something like this:

My possibility for myself and my life is to live in the fullness of life everyday, to be in partnership with everyone who comes into my life, to be someone who gives everything I have to give, always.

Happy New Year!

Deliciously yours in the Creation of it All,   Linda

“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”  Rainer Maria Rilka

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. 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 “Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

Josh was four years old and all he wanted for Christmas was a toy record-player.

We spent hours composing our letter to Santa Claus, enumerating all the ways that Josh had been such a good boy that year:   helping Mommy and Daddy, putting his toys away  after he was finished playing,  and helping homeless people in the street… 

We walked hand-in-hand to the post office, mailing our letter to “Santa Claus, North Pole” and marking it “Urgent – Please read upon receipt” across the back of the envelope. 

A few weeks before Christmas, we were invited to my brother’s house in New Jersey for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Ralph has four girls, and the two youngest   – Jackie and Julie – were only eight months older than Josh – beautiful redheaded twins who adored Joshua — and he loved being around them. 

This time, though, Josh seemed upset that we were going to visit “the girls”,  as we called them.  With each passing day – each day closer to Christmas – he seemed to get more withdrawn.  Every now and then, he would ask me, “Do we have to go to Uncle Ralph’s for Christmas?” 

I didn’t get it.  I said, “Oh, Honey, you’ll have a great time!  You and the girls can play with all your toys and we’ll all be together!  Won’t that be fun?”  He looked down to the floor and walked away… 

Finally, after about four of these exchanges…  I followed him out of the kitchen into his room to find him sitting in the middle of the floor, just looking down at his hands… 

“What’s the matter, Josh?”   He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to Uncle Ralph’s for Christmas.” 

This time, I paid attention and didn’t brush it off… 

I sat down on the floor, next to him.  

“Honey, talk to me.  What’s bothering you?”  

With that, Josh put his arms around my neck, leaned into my chest, and started crying in earnest, “Mommy, how will Santa know where I am if we go to Uncle Ralph’s?   He’s expecting me to be here…”

I wrapped my arms around him and rocked him….  

“Oh, Honey, Santa knows EVERYTHING!    He’ll know where you are!” 

He looked up at me, eyes wide, “He does?  How will he know?” 

I thought for a moment.  I knew this was a very important question – for him and for me… 

“Josh, there are things we know, not because we can see them or touch them…  but, they’re real just the same.  We know these things in our hearts…  and I know that Santa knows where you are because you are in his heart…  Not just at Christmas time, but all year long – even when you’re  not thinking about Him…    You have to believe…” 

We sat there a little longer while Josh thought about this… He wanted to believe me, but I could see he wasn’t quite there yet…. 

“I’ll tell you what, Josh…  Why don’t we leave him a note?  Just in case he accidentally forgets…  I don’t think he will, but, if it will make you feel better, we can do that.  What do you think?” 

He thought that was a great idea…   

On Christmas Eve morning, we prepared to go to my brother’s house.  My husband, Fred, had taken all the presents – including the coveted toy record-player – down to the car and put them in the trunk the night before. 

Josh brought me a piece of paper and a crayon to write the note to Santa… 

“Dear Santa,” I wrote carefully, “Just in case you come here first, I just want to let you know that I am at my Uncle Ralph’s with Jackie and Julie.  Please bring my presents there.”  And, just in case Santa didn’t know how to get there, we gave directions, “Just look down from your sleigh and follow the New Jersey Turnpike…” 

While it was all I could do not to smile, I realized that this “crucible of doubt” was going to be a turning point for Josh – this was very serious business. .. 

We set up a little table between the fireplace and the tree – where Santa couldn’t miss it – and laid out His usual milk and cookies — the “bread and wine” of Santa devotion — and placed the note carefully between the glass and the dish…

We left for New Jersey.   But, not before Fred went back upstairs, “to go to the bathroom,” poured the milk back in the carton and left the glass where he found it, grabbed the note, and put the cookies in his pocket.

Josh had a great time that evening, playing with his cousins. As hard as they tried to stay up and sneak a peek at Santa, all the kids finally couldn’t keep their eyes open.  Off they went to bed. 

The next morning, I heard the excited screams as all the kids ran down the stairs.  I heard the whooping and hollering and crying out in delight at what they saw under the tree. 

I rolled over and said to Fred, “C’mon, wake up… we have to get these pictures…”   We pulled on sweats and walked out into the hall…. 

There was Josh, standing all alone at the top of the stairs.  The sounds of Christmas laughter  and the smell of cinnamon-Christmas-something were wafting up the stairs to us… 

“Honey, what’s the matter?  Why aren’t you downstairs with the others?” 

His soulful eyes looked up at me and he whispered, “What if Santa forgot me….?” 

I walked to him, kissed his cheek and took his hand, “Honey, remember what I told you?  I’m sure that Santa didn’t forget you…  He knows everything…” 

We walked down the stairs and into the living room where all the kids were tearing open packages and laughing… 

I went to the tree and picked the package I knew contained the record player.  I looked at the card to see whose present it could be….  “Oh!  Here’s one for you, Josh!”

I read aloud:

“Dear Josh, I know you’ve been such a good boy this year.  Merry Christmas, Love, Santa…” 

Josh ran to me and reached up for his present.  He dropped to the floor, and I sat with him, watching his face as he ripped open the wrapping… 

“It’s my record-player!” 

He looked up at me and then  straight into the camera that Fred held, and said…

“Oh, Mommy, you’re right!  Santa DOES know EVERYTHING!” 

Yes,  my dear, sweet child….  He does…. 

As I breathed in the tree lights,  beautiful sights, laughing sounds, and evergreen smell of Christmas, I silently thanked the SomeOne Else who really does know everything….  “Thank you, thank you… for this… for this moment… for this child….  for this family…  for all this Love…” 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all….  I wish you the greatest gifts…  Faith, Beauty, and Love… Miracles, creation, and Joy…

Believe. 

Deliciously yours in the Wonder of it All, Linda 

“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   Hebrews, 11:1 

This is Josh at that “Ah-ha!” moment about Santa, with Julie and Jackie in the background and me and the record player in the foreground.  The Big Eyes tell the whole story….

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” 

*Note:  The title and this excerpt are from the famous editorial published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897, entitled, “Is there a Santa Claus?” written by Frances P. Church.  Here is the link to the full editorial:  http://beebo.org/smackerels/yes-virginia.html

© 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.

I was looking for my Christmas ornaments.  

It was the Fall of 2007.  I hadn’t had a Christmas tree in all the time I’d  lived in my apartment, four years at that point.  It occurred to me to celebrate my transition into a new life by creating one of my beautiful Christmas trees, loaded with lights and decorations and wrapped in pink tulle. 

I took on cleaning out my closets to find my boxes of ornaments.

It’s funny about closets – New Yorkers always seem to want lots of closet space, AND what happens is that we bury things in there for years.  Then we forget.  We forget what we have and what we value and what has long ago lost any worth or use to us.  We let it all lay in the background of our apartments and our lives, leaving no room for anything new to come in…

After moving every box and pile out of all the closets and into the middle of the living room floor, I made a disconcerting discovery:

My Christmas ornaments were nowhere to be found.

I sat on the couch, gathering my thoughts and dusting off my memory.  Where could they be?

I remembered.   It had been a horrible time. I had to leave my previous apartment to go and live with a friend for a while.  I wasn’t working – a condition made worse by the 9/11 tragedy the prior September.  The city was still in shock, a job I had been working on dried up, and New Yorkers – as resilient as we are – were waking up to a new world.   The process was not easy.

In the midst of this, after 8 years of separation, my husband, Fred, brought me divorce papers.   When I asked, “Why now?” he said, “It’s time,” and I had to agree.  It didn’t seem that it would change anything – we had been friends for years, and there was no reason to think that we wouldn’t be as we had been.  I signed the papers.

There were many things that I couldn’t bear to put in storage when I left that apartment.  Fred helped me to move boxes of these treasures to his house: photographs, our wedding album, the blue snake paperweight he had given me when I became a Vice President at Bloomingdale’s, the Tiffany Battersea box of the Statue of Liberty from her birthday year, my amethyst ring that I had designed in a little goldsmith shop in Florence, some of my favorite articles of clothing, and all my Christmas decorations.

When Fred and I were first married, we made a promise that we would give each other an ornament that was a special gift to the other.   Although Fred is Jewish, we always had a Christmas tree and decorations all over the apartment.   That first year, I bought a white felt church ornament and, with a black Sharpee, I wrote, “United Nations Interfaith Chapel, May 16, 1976” around the front doors to celebrate our wedding day.

In the years following that, I would go to work at Bloomingdale’s early on the morning after Christmas day and buy some of the special ornaments that I had been coveting that season – now at 50% off.  I bought angels and gilt boxes, and delicate crystal scene ornaments.  One year, Bloomingdale’s had a Venetian Christmas theme, and I bought masks and gondolas and Venetian chandeliers, and a hand-painted porcelain jester to sit atop the tree.

When I realized that the ornaments had to have been at Fred’s, I called to ask him to drop them off for me.  When I made my request, he said, “But… you gave them to me.”  I was so surprised by his response that all I could do was to repeat it, “I gave them to you? For keeps?”  He said that I did.  I still couldn’t get it, “You’ve been using them?  All these years?”     

I stopped myself before I said what was there for me, “All these years?  Without me?

I listened as he recounted the day and the conversation when I had done so.  I didn’t remember.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  Losing my home was so traumatic that Christmas ornaments and divorce papers for a marriage long over paled by comparison.   I could even imagine myself saying, “Sure, take them.”

I made a stab for sympathy , “Fred, you know what I was going through.  Wouldn’t you want me to have them back now?”

He didn’t.  He was annoyed as he said that he thought they were his and he’d see what he could do about pulling them together for me, but some of them weren’t there anymore. 

I knew instantly what he meant.  My special “love” mementos weren’t there.  His girlfriend would never hang an ornament on the tree that was “engraved” with the date and place of our marriage.  I didn’t want to hear that there were ornaments that had been thrown out, discarded in some trashcan someplace, sullied and forever lost.

I stopped talking.  We were in two different conversations, and I realized that I didn’t want to be in THAT conversation anymore – the conversation of “mine” and “yours” that had run our marriage.  Those ornaments weren’t my marriage, they weren’t my feelings, they weren’t my life.  They were memories, and that’s what they would remain.

I hung up the phone and I knew I was done. We had tried hard to maintain a friendship, an enchantment about the way we loved each other, first passionately, now fondly.  It was over, I knew – but, I always believed – and still do – that God can always start over again.  It may not look the same, but He can make things as beautiful and as glorious as ever  they were –  and even greater… IF we let Him…

In the moment, that seemed like a stretch….

In the following weeks, I went through all the boxes from my closets.  Most of them contained books that I had been lugging around from apartment to apartment, never opening them, hidden away and taking up space.

One box was full of Fred’s old books.  I took them out of the box, remembering how he would talk about what he was reading – Fred is a brilliant, passionate man and it was never more evident than when he was reading something he loved.

He read mostly non-fiction.  The books were “Kippur,” “Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number,” “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and The Holocaust,” ”Who Financed Hitler.”  And, because he couldn’t stand not to have a wholly informed point of view, there was also “The Disinherited:  Journal of a Palestinian Exile.”

At the bottom of the box were Solzhenitisyn’s books.  I closed my eyes and was taken back to when we were dating and we would go to the Hamptons for the weekends.  I remembered him lying on his side in the sand, under the hot sun, engrossed in “The Gulag Archipelago.”   I remembered the curve of his arm as he leaned his head on his hand, how the muscles in his shoulder looked strong and protective…. how I was overwhelmed with love for him….    It was the most erotic posture I could imagine….  My heart used to melt just watching him read…

I put all those books back in the box and closed it up.   For a brief moment, I considered calling Fred to ask if he wanted them, but I knew better.  He never saved books — or anything else.  When he was done with something, he threw it out or gave it away.  He would have been surprised to know that I still had these.   

I pulled the box through my front door and dragged it down the hall to the service elevator. 

I rang the buzzer on the elevator and ran back to my apartment.  As I opened the door, I looked back to see the porter pulling the box into the cage.   In one swift movement, it was gone.

I stepped inside my apartment and closed the door behind me.  I sighed as I leaned back against the door and closed my eyes.  

My closets were clean and clear…  It was time to work on my heart…

I thought,  “I will buy a new Christmas ornament tomorrow.  I don’t know what it will look like, but it will be special and it will be beautiful, and it will be the first of many magical things I will have in my life…”

Christmas is a time of birth, renewal, creation, and love….   a new year…  a new life… for all of us…

Begin again.

Deliciously yours in the Enchantment of it All, Linda

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.
That will be the beginning.”
Louis L’Amour

*EPILOGUE:  This story was orginally written in the Fall of 2007.  Fred and I are good friends now and always will be….  God has created a new friendship between us — a different way of being with each other that is as beautiful as the time when we were in love….  It is a friendship full of kindness, caring, and grace that I am blessed to have in my life…..

© 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.

DianeBWhiteGarden5I’m a real estate broker, and I just sold my penthouse listing that I’ve had for over a year.

When we first put it on the market last year, we had an offer in three days – great price, cash sale.  My owner almost couldn’t believe it – two guys walked in, took one look, and the next day, we had a great offer.

That was in August.  AND, in New York City, in a coop, it’s a good two to three months from “accepted offer” to closing.

A lot happened in the months between August and October, 2008, as we all know, But, they were doctors with not much stock market exposure, and so, it seemed that we would be OK.

I did their “board package” and applied to the board of directors. They passed easily  The day I called to tell them that they were approved to move into the building, the stock market dropped over 700 points.   The next day I got the call:  they were backing out of the deal, leaving their deposit on the table.

They were scared. Everyone was.   Soon, New York City was a barren real estate market  in an even bigger real estate desert. I went from having one of the hottest apartments on the market to being in the same boat with everyone else:  no customers, no mortgages, no sales.

Oh, did I mention that this particular penthouse apartment has a huge set-back terrace….?   There is room for a table and chairs, lounges, and a hammock. In the middle of Manhattan!   Once the sun crossed over the water tower on the building, there was bright sun all day on this beautiful terrace that faced South, West, and North.

After a few more false starts with customer interest and then wariness, we made a decision to take the apartment off the market for the winter.  My owners had relocated to Boston in the Fall, moving out in the middle of October as they had planned  – when they originally thought they would be closing.

I threw out the dead plants and we closed up the apartment.     It looked as forlorn and desolate as the entire market seemed.

As the Spring approached, we started planning to put the apartment back on the market.  We discussed how we would set up the apartment to get the most mileage out of  marketing the property.

We could have “staged” the empty apartment, but a terrace in Manhattan is a really big deal.   New Yorkers are funny about outdoor space.  You would think that they were never going to see a tree again.    So, in the toss up between moving furniture in and buying plants and landscaping the terrace.

My vote was for the terrace.

Once I said that, I cringed inside.  My owners didn’t live there anymore, and I live two blocks away.   My stand as a real estate broker has always been to do the extra things that make the difference to my owners and buyers.  I research the schools, I find out about moving companies, I supply lists of grocery stores and restaurants, dry cleaners and hardware stores in the neighborhood.  I’m a one-woman show.

And,  I’ve never been able to grow a plant in my life.  I have grand ideas about trees in my living room or plants in ceramic pots in the windows.  And they all die.  No sooner do I buy an orchid plant in full bloom than, one by one, the blooms fall off and the stem. turns brown….

I did have a neighbor once who taught me how to water her plants when she was away.  With that successful memory in mind, I offered my owner,  “Please  don’t worry.  I’ll come over and water every day.“  I knew I could do that much.

Secretly, I worried that something would go wrong and those beautiful plants would wither and die under my care.

I even remember, years ago,  when I took up Astrology and found out that I have no earth in my chart.  I thought, “No wonder all my plants die!  No wonder I don’t cook!  No wonder I’m not  ‘earthy’….”

It didn’t make sense to me.   My mother was an avid gardener.    She had flower gardens and a vegetable garden and hedges of lilacs around our property, and roses growing up the entire side of our garage.  When the lilacs bloomed, my mother would cut bunches and bunches of them  and fill every room in our house with bowls and vases of lilacs.  To this day, when I pass a corner store selling lilacs here in the city, and I smell their fragrance on the air,  I always think of her, and I am reminded of how much I miss her, and all the beauty that she gave me.

She was known for making things grow. One time, I asked her how she could spend hours on her knees, planting and weeding, and picking and arranging.  She told me that the flowers and vegetables kept her in touch with who she was, they kept her “grounded.”

I often heard her talk to her plants. She was as affectionate with them as she was with us.  I asked her why she did that and she told me that plants don’t grow unless they feel loved.  She said that talking to them reassured them that she loved them.

Well, maybe.  It was clear to me that she spent time with them, she took care of them, and there was something magical in what she did. Everything she touched, grew.  And,  I had no idea what that was!  If she wanted to call it love, that was fine by me.

The landscaper came in and set up the plants.  They were pretty, but hardly lush.  She told me that it would take awhile for them to “warm” to their environment. As she spoke, I thought, “Oh, no. This is just like my mother.  It’s not just about the watering.  There’s something more here to do.” I just didn’t think I had that magical quality  that could do it,  whatever “it” was.

Nevertheless,  I gave my Word and now I was responsible for them.   I came over every day and I watered.  I noticed that when it rained, the wind whipped around the edge of the terrace and knocked some of the plants over, so I made a point of going over when it was windy to move the plants up close to the apartment walls. I moved them around as they grew so that they could get the most sun; or, in some cases, when they got too much sun, I moved them into the shade for a day or so.

In the meantime, people were still scared, mortgages were still scarce, and this beautiful terrace sat, in the center of Manhattan, with no one living there.  Sometimes, I would go over with a book and read in “my” garden for hours.

I started going over, and, after I watered, I would read or meditate or work for a while.  Soon, I found myself stroking their leaves and buds until, one day, I opened the door to the terrace, and called out, “Hi, Babies, I’m here!”  I caught myself:  Now, I’m talking to plants?

And, they grew and they grew.

I had to stand pots up on top of other pots because the vines and the leaves were flourishing so much they had to be lifted up off the hot terrace tiles.    Verdant and luxuriant, a garden to be proud of.   I sent pictures to the landscaper and she wrote to me, “Boy, you really have a green thumb!  They look great!”

I do?  I have a green thumb?

One day, I noticed that one of the evergreens had these little pine cone-looking things.  I thought that was odd.  None of the other evergreens had little pine cones.   After a week or so, I noticed that the leaves on that particular evergreen seemed to be thinning.  As I watered, I got up close to the tree, curious about those funny appendages hanging down. and then, one of them wiggled.  I pulled my face back quickly.  what was THAT?

I finished watering and put the hose away.  I came back to that tree and just stared at those “pine cones.”  Suddenly, out of the top of one of them, I saw this big, black worm raise his head and pull himself up from the opening.

I recoiled from what I saw.  What could this be?  And, as I looked at all these “pine cones” hanging down, I realized that these weren’t supposed to be there — could there be black worms in every one of those cones?

That did it!  Nothing was going to mess with my babies.  I ran inside the house and grabbed some paper towels and came out and pulled every one of those “pine cones” off that tree.  Harder than it looked, mind you.  There was something that looked like silk thread that tied those cones to the tree.  Finally, I thought I had gotten them all.  I took them inside and tied them into a plastic garbage bag and threw them out.

When I got home, I googled “worms in evergreens” and….  THERE THEY WERE!  They are called “bag worms” and I learned all about how they make their bags from the silk thread that they produce and they take some of the little evergreen needles and decorate their bags with them so that they look just like little pine cones.

I read for hours.  One woman commented that the gardener must stay vigilant because “those worms will drag those bags all over that tree.”

I learned that they use the wind and their silk to fly from tree to tree to infest other evergreens in the area.

No way was that happening.

The next day, I went over, armed for a fight.  And, sure enough, there were more bags in the very same area that I thought I had cleaned out.  I removed those and into the plastic bag they went.

I searched the entire terrace. I found one attached to the underside of the table. I found one on the evergreen nearest the infested one and removed that.  I even found one attached to the apartment’s brick wall.  It was trying to get itself over to the other side of the terrace!

I removed them all and have not found another one since.  There are other things to do to prevent them from coming back next year and I will work with the landscaper to be sure that happens.

After I removed them all, I walked around from plant to plant, reassuring them that I was there and I was taking care of them and no “bag worms” were going to get them, not if I had anything to do with it.

I called the landscaper and told her what I had found.  She applauded me for spotting them and taking care of the problem.  “Just think of it this way,” she said, “You just saved a tree.”

Wow!

That’s when I got myself in a whole new way.  I always held it before that nothing could grow around me.  Even when I saw myself as successful in other areas, it always bothered me that I couldn’t make flowers grow and I didn’t know anything about vegetables, and so I thought I wasn’t earthy or grounded.   I always thought I didn’t have what it takes, but that wasn’t it at all.

It struck me that I had been like those little “bag worms”, carting my “bag” of history and pre-conceived notions about myself around with me wherever I went, and now I see how deathly that can be.  The only reason I wasn’t earthy was because I believed I wasn’t.  I couldn’t make flowers grow before because I was convinced that  I couldn’t do that.

And that’s not the truth about me.

What there is to do is to create, to nurture:  to water and feed —  whether it be plants or flowers or people.  Or dreams. To be responsible for them, to speak to them so they always know how much I love them.

Anything could  grow in that space, don’t you think?

The apartment has been sold now and will close at the beginning of November.  I promised the new owner I would work with her on getting the landscaper in to take care of the trees for the winter and to be sure that the evergreens are sprayed for the “bag worms” so that there is no repeat of them next Spring.

You might think that I would be sad that I won’t be taking care of them anymore, but here’s what I’ve taken on: Those beautiful plants on the terrace taught me something important about myself, and I am incredibly grateful.   Now it’s time for someone else to enjoy them and take care of them, and, perhaps, to learn something, too.

There will be other gardens for me to grow.

Deliciously yours in the Beauty of it All,   Linda

“Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed…  that with the sun’s love
in the spring… becomes the rose…”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             …”The Rose”, Bette Midler

“The only way to change your story is to change what you believe about yourself….Every time you change the main character of your story, the whole story changes to adapt to the new main character.”
~Don Miguel Ruiz

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This is the terrace I’ve been caring for all summer….  These pictures were taken mid-Summer.  All these plants are twice as big now!

 

 

 

 

 

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And, these are the evergreens that I saved from the “Bag worms”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 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 “Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

peaceful-viewinCentralParkAfter 9/11, it got personal….

In the aftermath of those days of serving at the armory, and those nights of writing about it to all my friends, I was left alone with my own fears… 

Before September 11th, I had been interviewing for a job.  It had looked good for a few weeks.  On the Friday after the towers went down, I received a call that they were putting the job on hold.  

During the busy days, I would forget that I had no job, no means of support, and the only thing I had been working on was now gone.  In the middle of the night, after the shower, after the writing — sometime around 4:00 every morning, alone in my room, I would remember…  

That’s when I got scared for myself… 

I was forced to look at my situation and, when I did, I became paralyzed with fear.  There were times when I sat in my seat, unable to think of what I would do or where I would go.  My options looked grim.  I was virtually estranged from my family.  Years of going down separate roads, with no time or effort invested, either on my part or theirs, to enclose us back in the loop of “family”  had created a distance and an indifference that caught me off guard.  I never realized before that not being committed in love and community with them would finally leave me without family to turn to. 

Sometime after the towers went down, Fred called me that he wanted to speak to me.  He came over that afternoon and handed me divorce papers.  I was too tired and too stunned about my life to be further shocked that he chose this time — after 8 years of separation —  to bring up a divorce.  I looked at them – three simple pages that dissolved a marriage that had long been over.  I looked up, “Why now?” I asked.  “Why not?” he answered —  and I had to agree.  I signed the papers. 

That night, the impact of his visit hit me.  I was alone.  

The despair and loneliness hit.  I had been praying at the armory with the victims’ families, but my own prayers seemed empty and meaningless.  That night, they moved into desperation.  There was no direction, no comfort, no hope. 

I didn’t know how to reach out.  I never did that before.  I always had it that I was supposed to do it by myself.  I didn’t know any other way.  And, in not reaching out, I had withdrawn into myself, closing myself off to everyone who had ever been in my life. 

I walked to my computer and sat down.  I composed an email to Marianne Williamson.  Marianne was the pastor of Church of Today in Detroit, Michigan.  I had read her book, “A Return to Love” many years before and had loved it.  It was a book based on her reflections on “A Course in Miracles”, a spiritual self-study program.  Since then, I had searched out her lectures and workshops.  She had just been in New York City after 9/11, speaking at St. Bartholemew’s Church on Park Avenue about the tragedy.  She had said something that was so hopeful:  “God didn’t make this happen, but, now that it has, God has a plan.” 

I wondered if He had a plan for me, too. 

I wrote to her about the victims’ families and what I was doing with them and that I felt called to do that work – to help people deal with the tragedy, to make a difference in people’s lives, and that the calling had to do with God, but I didn’t know what that was.  I knew I wanted to continue helping people, but what did that look like?  I questioned how one went about figuring that out AND making a living at that same time.  I told her that I was at a point of fear and “not knowing” and that didn’t feel good, but what WAS the way?  I didn’t know and I hoped that she did.  I clicked “Send”.  

The next day, I received an answer.  The email said: 

After reading your email, my sense is that you need to be more patient as you are being ‘pruned’ for this work.  I don’t believe we can hurry the process, we can only be willing to be used, to be changed, to evolve.  A year from now you will look back and see how much you have grown in faith and trust.  You will see how your fear has been kept in check, not removed, but kept in check by your faith and a power greater than yourself.  Do what is in front of you to do right now and the next thing will be shown to you in due time.  I know it is not easy, and yet I do believe this is the way the preparation for service works.

God’s blessings are with you” 

At the bottom of the email, there was a note:  “It might be helpful to put yourself in a spiritual support group.  Here is a list of “A Course In Miracles” study groups in Manhattan.  It is not for everyone.  See if it is for you.”       

I called every group on the list.  Some people were inviting, some were distant and aloof, some were in people’s homes, some met in coffee shops once a week.       

The last name on the list was Jeffrey Mironov.  He lived on the Upper West Side, and he held a group in his home every Wednesday night.  He had been doing it for 10 years.  He was open and welcoming and comforting on the phone.  I don’t remember what  he said to me, but I do remember that I knew that this was the group for me. 

I told him I would come the following Wednesday. 

Years before, after reading Marianne’s book, I had bought a copy of “A Course in Miracles”.  I tried to read it by myself and found it very dense and confusing.  I was baffled – she got what she got from this book?  How?  I could barely keep my attention on it for more than a paragraph without my mind wandering away…  

I thought, “Maybe if I find the chapter on ‘forgiveness’, that would be enough…”.   I laugh at myself now when I think of that since the entire work is based on forgiveness.  At the time, though, I was looking for the quick and easy way.  Perhaps I just wasn’t ready.  I found the one chapter heading with “forgiveness” in the title and tried to read that.  No luck.  I folded back the book to the page, stuck it in the closet and there it remained. 

As I prepared to go to Jeffrey’s house on December 5th, 2001, I searched all over for my copy of the Course.  I found it tucked away in the back of one of my closets, still with the page turned back to the chapter on “forgiveness”.  I didn’t know how studying this book that I didn’t understand would give me any peace.   But, I was willing to look at it differently….

Jeffrey lived – and still does — at 86th Street and Riverside Drive, a beautiful pre-war building called The Normandy.  The doorman directed me to take the elevator up to the 15th floor  — I opened the door – already slightly ajar — into Jeffrey’s apartment .  Nice.  Cozy.  I stepped into the foyer and noticed lots of shoes by the door.  I took mine off and lay them near the others.  I walked into the room where I saw people sitting.  

What was immediately there for me was the breath-taking view of the Hudson River and New Jersey from the living room window.  I was instantly  relieved that I wasn’t in some basement somewhere with no windows and a stark, single bulb hanging from the ceiling, which is how I always imagined “self-help” group meetings. 

I met Jeffrey, the leader, a tall, easy guy who reminded me of what I always thought  Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” looked like.  Only  there was nothing scared and meek about Jeffrey.  He seemed peaceful and friendly and invited me in as if his home was my home.  There was a power and grace to him.     

There were other people there, but the one who most stands out for me was Steve Conenna.  Steve is a big guy, tall with a shaved head and a wide, ever-present smile.  I was nervous about meeting everyone, but Jeffrey and Steve made me feel comfortable and, somehow, as if I belonged there…  as if I’d always belonged there… 

We read from “A Course in Miracles” and Jeffrey spoke.  I don’t remember everything he said, but he was so sure, so certain that God is “right here, right now.”  He used that expression a lot.  I wanted to ask, “How do you know that?”, but even as my questioning mind was going crazy, something inside me was settling down.  Every once in a while, the skeptical part would rise up and say something, and Jeffrey would simply answer, confident and certain, and I would sink back down into comfort.  Even so, the tears threatened to pour out at any moment.       

After a while, everyone started to leave.  Soon, I was alone in the living room with Jeffrey and Steve.  I told them about me – that I was broke, I didn’t know what to do, I felt alone and helpless AND I had just done this service at the armory that made me realize that I wanted to do something for other people.  I didn’t know what it was…  and I was afraid of what was next…

Even as I spoke, I was thinking,  “Am I kidding myself?  How can I do anything for anyone else if I can’t even take care of myself?  Am I just making excuses for a life now in crisis?  How will I know what I am supposed to do?” 

My mind was going crazy… 

Anger growled into my voice as I spoke about why I was there, “I know what I DON’T want – I don’t want to sit around and talk about God!  I don’t think that helps anything or anyone.  I want an experience of God in my life.  I want whatever this is that is angry and scared to go away and I want some peace.  I want to just BE.  I don’t want to keep trying to survive.  I’m tired and I’m scared.  If we’re just going to talk about God, this is not for me and I’m not coming back.” 

That night, and in all the years since I’ve  known  Jeffrey – I have never seen him flinch at anything I’ve said.  I’ve never seen him angry or defensive or lose it or be anything other than loving and great.  He responded to my rant by looking right in my eyes.  He said:

Linda, God loves you now, He has always loved you, and He will  always  love you. That’s all there ever is,  always.” 

That was it.  I stared at him as he and Steve looked at me.  And.. I felt… love.  It washed over me.  Right then.  Not before.   Just… right…. then.   Suddenly, Jeffrey looked beautiful to me.  Steve looked beautiful to me.  The tears rolled  down my cheeks.  I couldn’t believe it could be that simple – all of a sudden, I felt a joy and a comfort and a love for everything and everybody… 

And… the fear was gone…       

Steve said, “You look pretty good to me.”  I nodded my head.  I looked into his eyes and then I looked into Jeffrey’s eyes and I knew…. 

This is what I came for…. 

I’ve been here ever since….  in the love, in the peace, in the knowing… 

Deliciously yours in the Majesty of it All…  Linda

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”  Psalm 138:8

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”    Mohandas Mahatma Ghandi

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This is Marianne Williamson, whose book, “A Return to Love” is the book I read that got me to “A Course in Miracles.”  She’s written many books since then and I’ve read them all.  If you want to know more about her or to order this book or any of her other books, all of which I recommend,  please go to her website, www.marianne.com.  I particularly like “Illuminata” which is a book of prayers that I keep by my bed.

 

 

 

© 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.

candle1A  personal remembrance of 9/11…

I woke up that morning and did what I always do – rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, meditated, and turned on my computer.  The first thing I saw on my screen was a tiny picture of both towers with smoke coming out the side of one — and a headline that said, “Plane hits World Trade Tower.”  My first thought was, “Wow!  The pilot couldn’t see that?”  It was early enough that there was no mention of terrorists in the paragraph that followed. 

I ate breakfast – and I headed for the living room and my television.  I clicked it on – just in time to see the first tower go down. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes…  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t pull myself away from the TV screen… 

It was lucky I turned on my computer so early…  It was my link to the world outside.  That computer line stayed open all day because it had already been established.  After the towers went down, neither of my phones worked.  I worried all day about my family, about my friends…    After the day was over, I would find no less than 8 messages from my son, each one more troubled than the one before, and lots of voice mails from all over the country.    

The voice on the television called for blood donations in anticipation of all the casualties.  I lived on the next street from the blood bank and soon the line curved around the corner, under my window, to curve around the next corner again. I have a mildly rare blood type and so I thought to do what seemed to be the only thing I could do  – I went to the front of the line and spoke to the guard there, told him my blood type, and made an appointment to come back the next day.  They were so over-loaded with donations right then, but rare blood was being taken on an appointment basis.  

When I went back the next day, they told me that there was no need to donate – they had more blood than they could use.  

The television screen showed well made-up gurneys outside hospitals, in preparation for all the bleeding and hurt who would surely fill them soon.  That image would soon haunt us in the days afterwards as they stood there,  pristine and empty.  

By Thursday, I could no longer sit in front of my television, watching replay after replay of the towers collapsing.  I called the Red Cross to volunteer.  They took my name and told me they would call me back.  I waited all day.  They didn’t call. 

On Friday morning, I heard the announcer on television say that the National Guard had taken over the armory at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street, and the victims’ families were urged to go there rather than to go anywhere near Ground Zero.  I decided to go to the armory to offer whatever help I could.  After all, I thought, I was a spiritual minister – I could pray with them, I could comfort them, I could do something 

The taxi couldn’t take me right to the armory – the street in front of the building was blocked off, and there were people everywhere.  I walked the last block to the front door.  There were guards lined up across the entrance, blocking the way in through the massive doors in front.   I walked up to one of guards, told him that I was volunteering with the Red Cross, and he let me right in.  No one asked for identification, so one looked in my bag.  I didn’t know it then, but those days would soon be over… 

I walked into the huge, cavernous room that is the main hall of the armory.  There were people everywhere.  High on the right wall, there was a huge television screen, playing the same news channel that I had been watching at home.  I wondered if everyone who had missing family members really wanted to watch the frequently replayed scenes of the towers smoking and then collapsing. 

Over the next few days, I would come to appreciate that huge screen on the wall as the only information available, and – as it was grounding for people at home to watch the television updates – so was it grounding for the families who had come to find out something – anything — about their missing family members — only to find that information was in the form of where their loved ones weren’t

The Red Cross table was in the far right corner of the room.  I announced myself and my intention to help.  The man behind the table asked me what I could do.  I explained that I was a spiritual minister and a form was shoved into my hands.  I filled it out, noting that there was a list of societies, orders, and credentials for me to check off.  I belonged to none of them.  When I handed my form back in, the man looked at it and told me that I could not be a minister under the Red Cross rules.  Not satisfied with that answer, I wanted to speak to someone else. 

What happened next would always after strike me as the intercession of God in an otherwise “not-going-to-happen” situation. 

It seems that the manning of the table was in the midst of a shift change.  The man who didn’t want me was leaving  and someone was taking his place.  As he got up from his seat to go, he handed my form to the woman coming in and said, “She wants to be a chaplain.”  

The woman took the form, didn’t look at it, and put it down in a pile to her right.  She called over to another woman, got her attention, pointed at me and said, “Chaplain!”  A yellow placard vest with “Chaplain”  printed on the front and back was handed to me, and I was instructed to put it on.  Then, she told me to go and stand near the front door and be on the lookout for anyone who was upset or seemed to be in distress. 

That was it.  I was a chaplain.  

As I walked to the front of the huge room, what I noticed immediately was that hardly anyone was crying.  While there were families sitting together, leaning on each other, many people were watching the screen on the wall or walking around in a daze.  The shock of what was happening was so palpable, but it had not yet given way to grief. 

A man came running up to me and a few of the other volunteers and told us that they were short-handed in the “hospital room” downstairs, and we were to go there right away.   Hospital room?  I was puzzled, but ran to follow him… 

I moved down the stairs to the right of a long line of people that started at the top of the stairs, snaked down the steps, across the hall, and into a room.  We walked up to the man in charge at the front door.  He explained that he wanted a chaplain at each of the stations where the members of the families would go to seek information.  

I looked into the room to see a series of tables arranged around the room in a big rectangle, with the chaplains and other volunteers sitting in the inside seats.  As an outside seat was available, a person from the front of the line would go to sit in the vacated seat.  I soon found out why this was called “the hospital room”. 

In front of each of the volunteers was a fat white binder about two inches thick.  The man in charge explained to me, “That is a list of everyone who has been admitted to the hospital.  They will give you the name of the person they are looking for. You look up the name.  If it is there, it means that they were admitted to the hospital.  If the name is not there…..”.  His voice trailed off.  

I asked if people were still being admitted to the hospital.  He turned and looked at me. He sighed and said, “Today is Friday.  It happened on Tuesday.  Anyone who was injured was admitted to the hospital right away.  Most of them have already been released – most of those people were injured running away from the collapse.”  He looked towards the line,  “Many of these family members have been in here already.”  As I turned to walk into the room, he said,  “We can’t say anything more than that.  The name is in the book  — or it’s not…” 

I stayed in that room all day and all night.  I suppose I must have eaten or gone to the bathroom…  I don’t remember….  There was only to stay present with each person who came to me, each at their own stage of grief – some dazed, some angry, some crying…   Some were sure my book would be updated soon and their loved one would be found, their worry would be over, their lives could continue…. 

All I could offer was a word of comfort, a touch, a prayer… listening to them as they tried to sort this out for themselves….. 

Some were ready to move onto the next stage of grief.  One woman was.  She was older, Spanish, fragile looking.  I asked her name.  “Maria,” she said (not her real name).  Her voice was so low, I could hardly hear her.  “Who are you looking for, Maria?”  She gave me the name of a man.  I looked in the big, white book.  The name was not there.  I looked up at her, “He has not been admitted to the hospital.”   

She put her head on the table and sobbed quietly.  I leaned across the table and put my hand on her arm.  “Who is this you’re looking for?”  “He is my husband,” she said. “He is my husband for 32 years.”  I got up and came around the table and held her in my arms.  She cried softly for a few minutes and then lifted her head and dried her eyes.  “That’s it, then,” she said.  

I thought to say, “You don’t know that.  Come back later.” But, I couldn’t say it.  I knew that, at some point – a different point for every person – each would have to come to that inevitable conclusion and, if Maria was ready to do that now, I could not take that away from her. 

I said nothing. 

At some point, someone noticed that I was there a long time and told me to go home.  It was 2 in the morning. 

I was exhausted, but couldn’t go to sleep right away.  I needed to decompress.  Over the next few days, a ritual evolved.  I would go home,  shower, change into a clean t-shirt and PJ bottoms, and sit at my computer… 

In the middle of those nights, I purged myself onto long emails to my friends, reporting on what was going on here, what I saw at the armory, what people were saying, what they were doing, how we were holding up.  

I sounded stronger than I felt. 

When I wrote about what I was doing, what all the volunteers were doing, I found that it really mattered to me that people were comforted, that they had enough arms around them, enough shoulders to cry on, enough people to talk to — and that those people, like me, would simply listen as the speakers worked out whatever they had to work out for themselves.  It wasn’t easy to simply listen…  AND  that is what there is to do when people are hurting….   

What I did see for myself was that being a care-giver filled me up and used me in a way that I never felt before –  it gave me a peace that money couldn’t, that my “success” never did.  It seemed strange to me to think this:  in the midst of the tragedy, I found purpose, a sense that I was contributing to people, that I was making a difference in their experience of this awful time, that I could be a source of love and comfort, and perhaps that love and comfort would register somewhere in their hearts so as to contribute to their healing… 

In one of my email “newsletters,” I offered a Sufi teaching: 

Past the Seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them…he cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”  And God said, “I did do something.  I made you.” 

Months later, I would receive an email back from one of my high school friends, to whom I had sent that Sufi passage.  She had forwarded it to her friends — and her friends had forwarded it to theirs around the world.  Someone in Nepal read it and sent a message back to me — through all the different address lists – to tell me that message had touched her most of all… 

…that people were helping people, that many were comforting others, that there was hope for humanity if that could happen…. 

Amen to that… 

Deliciously yours in the Goodness of it All….  Linda 

“Lord, take me where you want me to go
“Let me meet who you want me to meet
“Tell me what you want me to say
“And keep me out of your way.”        

….The prayer of Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York City, who died while administering last rites on September 11, 2001.  Father Judge was victim #001, the first official victim of 9/11.

© 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.

ChocolateOrchidEdit

I am among the many who are  mourning for and reflecting on the death — and life — of Senator Ted Kennedy.   This is not a political context at all — it is a reflection on  transformation – in this case, the transformation of the  man himself, revealed in what he has done,  yet given by something deeper.

What occurs for me is that one way that people develop compassion  is to “crash and burn” themselves — to experience their own “dark night of the soul”, to stand on the edge of the abyss,  and then to make a deep inner shift – a choice to be different — in order to take up the charge and lead others into the light…

It would be euphemistic to say that Senator Kennedy had,  on occasion,  exhibited poor judgment in his personal life…  a sadness for him — and for all of us – because of what had gone before.   Why shouldn’t we have hoped for yet another round of greatness from a family for whom greatness was known and from which greatness was expected?

He was a disappointment to all of us….

It seems to me that Ted Kennedy must have made a profound personal choice somewhere in that abyss…  to shift from a man who was simply raised to “do the right thing” – more of an “automatic” behavior” — without necessarily taking on the personal responsibility that goes along with that – to become a man who took a stand for himself and for the world. ..  then took the actions given by that stand — to make a difference for all people…

A shift from having it all be about “me” to having it not be about “me” at all…  or, in this case, “Ted”…

That takes a sense of responsibility, a deep love, a great compassion…

My mother used to tell me that we would all eventually  get knocked to the canvass in life – What will we choose to do when that happens?   Would we stay “knocked down” and forever-after live a life of what “might have been?”  Or would we pull ourselves up, bloodied and broken, from the mat – and take that next shot,  step that next step, and do what is before us to do?   

We all get to choose…

It was, of course, no surprise that he died – it was expected, really…  He had been ill for over a year now…  In a way, he was given a gift…  a gift that his brothers did not get.. the gift of time – to be with family, to die where he wanted to die, with the people he loved around him…   Brain cancer or no… I cannot think of a better way to go…

I saw him once not long ago…  and that fleeting peek into the character of a man revealed to me the thing I most admired about him…  his love for his family —  and his faith…

I ran across the street one Sunday morning to my little chapel of a church for 10:30 Mass.  As I walked to my usual front row seat in the tiny church of only six rows, I glanced to my right and there, in the other front row pew, was Senator Kennedy, his wife, and,  in a wheelchair in the center aisle, his sister.   It would have been rude to stare — and certainly there are other things to pay attention to at Mass, but I managed to steal a few furtive glances…   What I saw was a man whose very being was that of humility and service…  humility before God and service to his sister… solicitous of her every need while deeply given to his own devotion…

I got it on a whole new level that here was a man who had suffered… and perhaps was suffering still  in many ways…  who had raised himself up from that proverbial mat to go forth and live another day in the best way he knew how…  in love, in compassion, in faith… 

As President Obama said at the funeral, Ted Kennedy lived through  “a string of events that would have broken a lesser man…”   Yet, it is  that note that I believe to be the real lesson of Ted Kennedy’s life….   a life that, early on,  was over-shadowed by brothers whose heroic proportions  seemed impossible to surpass — exacerbated by his own failings  that appeared  to seal his fate as the “lesser” brother…     Indeed, a lesser man…                              

And that lesson is — there are no “lesser” men…  there are only men — or women —  who do not get up from the mat … 

We can — if we choose — dig deep for that “divinity” within us  — that well of creation from which we can draw–  and cause ourselves to be reborn out of the ashes of defeat and despair  —  to rise up and step  into what God has given to each and every one of us…

Our own Greatness…..

Maybe we won’t be famous or rich or make a difference for millions of people through life-altering legislation…

AND… as the Talmud says, “If you save one person, you save the world…”

How do we save the world?   Show up, share what we  have, and love them…..  one person at a time….

This is what Ted Kennedy did…

The piece that moved me most during the funeral was when President Obama read the letter that Jackie Kennedy Onassis wrote to Ted Kennedy….  “We are all going to make it because you were always there with your love.”

…that  is the measure of the man…. the measure of us all….

Deliciously yours in the Grandeur of it All, Linda 

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”     …Ernest Hemingway

“And so our job here on earth, the way we regain our divinity, our sacredness, and our general good-standing is by reconstructing love and creating love out of the broken pieces that we’ve been given.”   …Bruce Springsteen

“If you have made mistakes…there is always another chance for you…you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” … Mary Pickford (1893-1979) Canadian Actress

Note:  For those who have asked, the title of this blog is from Billy Joel’s song, “2000 Years”.

© 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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