Posts Tagged ‘resilience’

“You can blow out the candle, but you can’t blow out the fire. Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.”  ~ Playing for Change, Biko, 2009

I spend my days with lightworkers. I think you might know the kinds of people I mean—those folks whose very presence brings your day up, makes you feel cared about, makes you want to be around them. It’s one of the reasons I love my job so much. The opportunity to share days with people whose existence makes the world a better place is a gift.

From my friend David, I am reminded of the role of being an advocate for people’s rights, especially culturally competent healthcare. I am reminded that not everyone has access to healthcare  (culturally competent or otherwise) and I have always admired his stance on that topic.  “I want everyone to feel safe here. They should know they can get what they need here.”

When the topic first came up, we were talking about people who are living with HIV. The next time the topic came up, we were talking about people who are LGBT+. The third time, it was in reference to people who are living with chronic mental illness, who may or may not have a home, who may or may not choose to be medicated for their mental illness. The answer didn’t change, though, which speaks to the underlying value driving his words. “I want everyone to feel safe here.”

From another good friend, Lorrie, I am reminded of the courage that it takes to overcome the shame that accompanies family violence. She helped run Youth Outlook’s healthy relationships program for over a decade, teaching youth how to speak up for themselves and how to hold themselves in a place of esteem from which they could make strong choices about how they would allow themselves to be treated. She would speak of strength and renewal with reverence, calling to mind that everyone has the chance to be reborn, to be loved, to be respected within the context of every relationship.

Such friends not only bring light, as I have mentioned in other posts, but they raise the vibration around them, inviting everyone who crosses paths with them to lift themselves to match that vibration. This is what I mean when I talk about leading with your light. Last summer, I went to a conference with David, and I am now struck by the images of him walking with me on the streets of Tulsa. He radiated joy at being there, at being with me, and the prospect of what we were attempting to do in a joint project. It was impossible to spend time with him and not feel the lift. I watched the employees at his work place respond. I watched wait staff respond as well as other conference attendees who were meeting him for the first time, surrounded and (probably inexplicably to some of them) elevated.

“David, I’ve heard that there are two kinds of people in relationships,” I have told him.  “Kites and rocks. Every relationship has one of each. You’re such a kite!”

On two occasions, he put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me and said, “Good. You be the rock. We’re going to grow old together, you and me!”

When I told him I wanted my first tattoo to celebrate turning 50, he shared my excitement and asked me what I wanted for a design. So far, he has been the only person who knew without needing it explained what “Ohana” meant and what it meant to me.

“Oh my God, that’s beautiful!” He beamed.

Surrounded. Lifted.

I noticed early on that it wasn’t just me. Other people could feel it too, evidenced by smiles, gestures, shoulders that straightened and heads that tilted upward. Sometimes just by walking into a room, lightworkers shift the energy and it catches…and spreads. People do sense that joy and they want to be close to it.

I started 2016 with a text from David on New Year’s Eve telling me that he couldn’t wait to dig further into the project that we shared and he was ready for next steps. I reminded him that we would grow old together. I, too, wanted to be part of that joy.

I left a meeting with him a couple of weeks ago and realized in the parking lot, as I was pulling away, that I hadn’t told him something very important. I paused and dug my phone out.  “I love you, David!”

“I love you back!”

From cold October evenings in a park in Naperville for Take Back the Night rallies to warm, relaxed afternoons over coffee, Lorrie poured energy into her work with LGBT kids, with rape survivors, with new volunteers seeking to give back to their communities. She could sail into a volunteer training and bring the room up with her announcement, “Of all the places I volunteer, Youth Outlook is my favorite. I cannot wait to be here on Tuesday nights!”  Bodies would shift, heads raise, shoulders straighten.

Surrounded. Lifted.

Our texts shortened over the last few months from “Driving by your house and waving!” to simply, “Loving you!”, and her response, “Loving you too.”

Had you asked me twenty years ago if I’d ever tell a coworker or colleague that I loved him or her or them, I’d have thought the question pure madness. This is what lightworkers inspire. You can’t stop it. No one can. Energy can’t be destroyed, just transformed. And spread–through our friendships, and our engagement with consumers of our agency services, and in our intentions and our wishes and our dreams.

David died last Sunday. Lorrie died on Tuesday. As far as I know, they never met each other, but the light they both brought has illuminated the path for me for more than a decade. The challenge of last week, and of weeks to come, is to recall that their light has not been extinguished. I carry it. You carry it. It doesn’t go out. It transformed and it will continue to glow in the work we do and the passion we feel. “I love you, David,” and “Loving you” would be my final words to David and Lorrie. That, alone, stands as testament that their light will not fade. It merely flickered. Advocacy, safety, rebirth, love, respect…we all get to carry it from here.

“And the eyes of the world are watching us.” ~Playing for Change, Biko, 2009

flickering candle


I live in a town that experienced a college campus shooting. In 2008, five NIU students were killed, plus the gunman. I moved here from a city that experienced the trauma of Pan Am flight 103, carrying thirty five Syracuse University students home from a semester abroad, exploding over Lockerbie, Scotland. All two hundred and fifty nine people on board were killed and later news reports described people picking body parts up out of their backyards.

In the days that followed each incident, the cities grew eerily quiet. Businesses opened for operation, but clerks spoke in whispers. After the NIU shooting, I could stand at my back door and watch the helicopters circling above campus.  The screams of the witnesses and family members fade over those first few days and turn into mournful keening at funerals and memorial services, sounds I don’t always remember that humans are capable of making until I hear them again. And the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Last week, in the middle of a meeting with my board of directors, a board member checked her phone and said, “NIU received a bomb threat. Everyone’s being evacuated.”

The room felt suddenly airless and I turned to the board chair and said, “Please excuse me. I need to call home.”

I texted first, not sure (if she were someplace loud) that she’d hear it ring.

“Where r u?”

No answer.

Okay, forget that. I dialed. As the number connected, I remembered the waves of disbelief after the shooting in 2008, followed by the indescribable horror as the events pieced together to form the whole picture.  Were we heading down that path? Again? But wait—I thought lightning never struck twice. Could we have both a shooting AND a bombing? What would it take to survive THAT?

Everything at home was fine. My family and most of my friends employed by NIU were not on campus at the time, and the few who were, went home when the evacuation started.

Later news stories focused on multiple bomb threats on numerous campuses around IL. It was time to breathe. Perhaps it was simply the work of a distraught student entering midterms.  As the town of DeKalb took its first deep inhalation and classes resumed less than twenty four hours later, reports came out of both Texas and Arizona about campus shootings.  That inhalation suddenly didn’t feel as smooth.

In February, 2008, I attended the funeral service of one of the young women murdered during the NIU shooting. It was bitterly cold that day, single digit temps  (if that), and I stood elbow to elbow with other supporters to form a line across the front of the church to block the view of some demonstrators who had come to “celebrate” the ending of that student’s life. My nose and ears went numb. My fingertips, even inside gloves, burned. I lost feeling in my feet. On the walk back to my car, I hoped to a god I hadn’t believed in for a long time that I’d never have to do this again.

It won’t be that cold in either Arizona or Texas. But it might be as eerie. There might be those same sounds of parents and siblings and friends who have been cheated out of sharing a life. Maybe hearts will go numb and tears will freeze up on the inside due to this wave of destruction we can’t seem to get our hands around.

Driving back into DeKalb on the night of the bomb threat, I crested the hill on Peace Rd that is the overpass of the railroad tracks. From that spot, I could see the Holmes Student Center on campus clearly. I was looking, although I didn’t realize it at first, for the helicopters again.  The sky was clear. I dropped down the other side of the incline and continued toward home.

As I turned into my neighborhood, I thought about a book I read some twenty plus years ago on animal testing and animal rights. It may have been Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. The concept that jumped out at me was the experiment that he describes wherein if you place dogs in small, confined areas so that they cannot move, nor can they escape, and then you repeatedly shock them with electrical shocks (through their feet if I remember correctly), they will eventually give up hope that the shocks will stop and lie down and just let you continue to shock them.

Airplanes full of people carrying university students home to their families being blown out of the sky…Campus after campus of school shootings… Bomb threats that close high schools and college campuses…So far,  it appears that we cannot move out of the way. Nor can we escape this, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to predict where the next “this” is going to occur. Should we worry that all of this amounts to us constantly being shocked through our feet and that eventually, we’re all just going to lie down and let the shocks continue?

I will repeat what I said in a post a few weeks ago. Lead with your light, friends. I think it may be the only way to deal with being zapped through our feet.