by Gwendolyn Plano
For most of my professional life, I worked with college students helping them with one difficulty or another. Sometimes the problem was easily resolved (i.e., moving the student from one residence hall to another or finding the needed resources). But, more often than I wish to recall, the presenting problem required much more than common ingenuity; it required wisdom, compassion--and justice.
Residential colleges are microcosms of the whole, and as such, they experience the joys and the sorrows of larger communities.
No one knew that while I worked with students who were victims of date rape or battery, that I knew first hand their fear. I kept my life hidden behind closed doors. What was my shame, though, is our collective indignity.
The statistics are staggering--every 9 seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten. We collectively ignore the facts and listen as commentators argue about whether or not a NFL player should be suspended for hitting his lover so hard that she lay unconscious. How will a suspension impact the team? they ask.
A few months ago, former President Jimmy Carter issued a call to action to end the abuse and subjugation of women, and he referred to it as the “worst and most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.” In his new book, he relates subservience to violence, and asks all of us to look afresh at our organizations and systems.
Of recent, I've been asked to explain Perfect Love. It is easy to say what it is not: it does not have a hierarchy of value, it does not hurt or diminish, it is not male or female.
The Perfect Love of which I write, is a love that is without human limitations or conditions. It is a love that holds us, permeates our being, cherishes our very existence.
Through hurdles great and small, I've come to know this love.......and that is why I write, for through this love I now know joy.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
We meet, you and I, along the road of life. Maybe we spot each other on a subway platform or while shopping in a crowded department store. Were you the one with the worn leather briefcase?
Perhaps I saw you wrapped in a torn blanket sitting on a busy Manhattan sidewalk. I wonder if I paused to greet you, or did I just hurry past? Was it you who held out your hand?
I look for signs when I get behind the steering wheel of my old Outback Subaru; but, do I pay attention to the guideposts within my heart? The ones that say, "Follow your joy." "Live your truth." "Slow down, enjoy this moment." "Are you sure this is what you want?"
Do I listen?
What if our life challenges are the directional signs--whispering through our sorrows and our fears: "Turn here, not there." Could they be blessings in disguise, helping us choose our way and saving us from our prior mistakes?
The unknown can seem so foreboding, but what if we knew that Love awaited us? Would we risk the night?
Would we listen?
A glimpse through a photo.....
Perfect Love--without limitations, without conditions, without expectations.....
by Gwendolyn Plano
In an earlier reflection I wrote about my friends who were murdered on December 2, 1980. This entry is a modification of that post.
This time of the year is sacred for me. I remember my friends...and through them, all who have passed away. I was in my office when the call came: Jean is missing; we fear the worst.
I rushed out of my office, spoke briefly with colleagues, and went home. I knew where she was.
My friend, Jean Donovan, and three nuns (Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke) had gone to El Salvador to provide food, shelter, and medical care for the poor. They were warned of the danger, but they loved the children and refused to leave.
Jean returned to the U.S. briefly in the fall of 1980, and as she held my baby son, she talked about her upcoming nuptials and her desire for a family. Normal topics for a 27 year old. I urged her not to return to El Salvador, but her response was lighthearted, "where else do roses bloom in December." Then she shared her deepest fear--that she would be found in a ditch, raped and murdered. Her fear became a reality December 2nd.
I cannot look at a rose without remembering Jeannie, Ita, Maura and Dorothy. But today, I also find myself thinking about all the war-torn areas across the globe--where so many families are in tears, among the roses. 30 years have passed since my friend's untimely death, but it seems that only the geography has changed.
What do we need to do to stop the violence?
Ita wrote to her niece about four months before she was killed. It's a letter meant for all of us.
August 18, 1980
The odds that this note will arrive for your birthday are poor, but know I'm with you in spirit as you celebrate 16 big ones. …
What I want to say...some of it isn't too jolly birthday talk, but it's real... Yesterday I stood looking down at a 16-year-old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I know a lot of kids even younger who are dead. This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment is getting snuffed out here now. …
Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be -- that's for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I'm seeing and living things that others around you aren't...
I want to say to you: don't waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy... I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of a sermon because I don't mean it that way. Rather, it's something you learn here, and I want to share it with you. In fact, it's my birthday present to you. If it doesn't make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it sometime from now. Maybe it will be clearer...
A very happy birthday to you and much, much love,
The twists and turns of our life journey can overwhelm us. More often than not, it is
as we look back, sometimes years later, that we regain perspective and possibly find a deeper meaning for our suffering--especially if we have changed for the better because of what we have withstood.
Our miracle may not manifest as a flash of light or the healing of a debilitating illness. Maybe our miracle is wrapped in newly experienced joy--after re-discovering who we are....
When we were about 5 or 6 years old, we developed a sense of fairness based on equal distribution--the same number of cookies, or marbles or crayons for each. Through the years, our understanding shifted, to include the value of the object--and then one of my loved items did not necessarily equal one of yours.
And where might our 5 year old be?
She or he sleeps within our hearts, awakening at the call of tragedy. It's not fair, she exclaims. Why me? she demands to know. If we can pause to hold our child, the frightened 5 year old within, the melded tears can wash the fears and perhaps reveal a fairness complete.
And on the best of days, we realize that all is given to help us become who we were created to be.
Even as a young child, I was drawn to all things mystical or religious. Before I could read, I declared to mom that I wanted to be a priest someday. "But you can't dear," she whispered as we sat in church. "Why not?" I persisted, unfazed by the murmuring prayers of those around me. "Because you are a girl," she said with quiet emphasis. Because I am a girl?
It made no sense to me back then. I had no say in the matter; I did not choose my gender. So, I argued with God. "Why did you make me a girl?" I demanded to know. "This is unfair!" I insisted. I'd watch the altar boys and the priests with robes flowing, and I doubted my value.
Years later I completed a theology degree and then a pastoral counseling degree with classrooms of seminarians and a few sisters. But, I still stood at the sidelines of church-related drama. By then, though, I understood--the politics, the fear, and the tradition.
When we separate ourselves from others--because of gender (or race, or sexual identity), we create a hierarchy of value that fosters mistrust and sometimes acrimony. But today, something extraordinary occurred, which levels the manmade ranking. The Church of England decided that not only can women become priests, they can now become bishops.
I think of my granddaughter, who dreams without restriction. Maybe she will wear the robes some day....at least she has the choice. How amazing!
Years ago, when I was feeling very confused and lost, a friend gave me a copy of Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton's world and mine could not have been more dissimilar. I was a young mother working full-time, and my days were filled with meetings and crying babies. Merton was a Trappist monk, and his life was one of silence.
The book sat unopened on my dresser for weeks, but then one evening, as my baby nestled into my shoulder, I began reading it. I wandered with Merton through his early years in Europe and his adventures in New York. I cried with him when he lost his mother and then his father. And as he struggled to understand life's purpose, I realized that I had found a friend.
He reminds me even today that, "Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another." Who is this person or persons for you?
Seen or unseen, we are never alone. And, always, we are accompanied by Love, as we walk the sands of life.
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