It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
~ Ursula K. LeGuin

I was having one of those moments when I was only partially paying attention to the radio. My mind was wandering back to last night’s meeting. Did I talk too much? Did I listen well enough? Did I step on anybody’s thoughts or feelings? Just as quickly my mind jumped to what I needed to do this morning. Was I ready for my 10am meeting? “Remember to print off that list of names.”, I repeated a couple of times trying to sear the command into my still foggy brain.

That’s when I heard only the briefest statement made by the gentle voice of someone sounding young and yet sad.” This new system would allow people to know where they started and where they would end up but you would miss the journey.” My attention shifted into full gear. Of course, I had already missed the initial part of the report but it seemed to have something to do with a new GPS system that will be, or already is, available.

I tried to imagine what kind of system could give you that starting point and the ending point but wouldn’t allow you to see the path in between. Of course, I realized I was only working with my own experience of and understanding of GPS systems I have used. I was clearly missing some information and a lack of imagination.

Then I began to think of this statement and its possible broader,more metaphorical, meaning. How many times have I only been able to see my beginning point and had my eyes so set on where I was headed that I completely missed the journey? Some whole days have been spent this way. I know where I started. I know where I ended up. What happened in between is a blur. Ever happen to you?

Perhaps this all hit me the way it did because I seem to be surrounded these days by situations and people who are about to be on the journey……..not where they began, not yet where they are headed. Of course, I am having my own experience of being present to them. I am seeing a foot about to step out, a life about to change. I cannot speak to their experience. I can only pray traveling mercies upon them. One is making a transition from the working world to a new life of retirement or at least the ‘what next’. The journey begun at one point is now at a destination. Two young ones I know are at yet another beginning place but unsure what destination to program into their system. The GPS they might hope for might include a tool of discernment for the journey. One dear one is making an even bigger step toward a life that has reached its destination on this Earth. My prayer is that the memories of the journey are rich and deep and full and carry him with angel’s wings into eternity.

Are you at a beginning? Have you reached your destination? What GPS system guided your way? The reality, of course, is that each day is another beginning, complete with a destination. The real work is to be present to the journey, isn’t it? To not miss one blessed moment of any blessed day.

That’s my hope any way. To have more and more days in which I remember not only where I started and where I ended up, but all the bumps and curves, all the twists and turns, all the miracles and amazements along the journey. To make note of every precious face I have encountered and thank God for their beauty. To arrive exhausted and exhilarated with the journey itself.

And, if the blessing continues, to begin all over again with the rising of the next day.

Advent One

No long, distant pilgrimages are needed, are they, Holiness of our hearts? For you are in our midst, in the people, in the places, in the sounds and silence of our lives. Open our hearts, open our eyes, and quiet us in holy stillness, even as we journey as Advent pilgrims.”
~Thom Shuman

At church yesterday, we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent. Of all the seasons of the church year, I would have to say that Advent is possibly my favorite. I love the minor tunes of the hymns and the references to darkness and light. I love the dark purples and royal blues that are found in the banners and fabrics we use to dress our worship spaces. I love the Advent wreath with the candles being lit one by one over the four weeks leading to Christmas Eve. I love the scriptures that are on the one hand jarring with images and metaphors about skies opening up and also beautiful with glory shining all around. Truth be told I think I could stay in Advent longer than four weeks.

Most people, I know, are in a hurry to get to the red and green of Christmas. It is difficult to hold back the moving train that rushes toward the celebration that sometimes mentions the birth of the Christ Child. As a culture, it seems we have so much hanging on these days from an economic standpoint. So many businesses count on these days to make a go of it. While I understand it, it makes me sad to think of moving too quickly through Advent.

Sad because Advent is our invitation to stay awake to how the Holy shows up in our lives.Yesterday’s scripture lesson did just that: “Stay awake; for you do not know when or where God will come.” the Lector read. Advent is the season when we can, if we choose, allow our senses to be on high alert for the minute and magnificent showing forth of God’s movement in our very ordinary lives. Of course, it is happening all the time. But Advent is our big excuse to be on the lookout.

I found the prayer above by Thom Shuman tucked within the Advent devotional I am using this year. It caught my attention and my heart right away. I thought of all the times I have convinced myself that I needed to travel far distances or go to some holy place in my search for the Sacred. Most of the time I have not been disappointed. But it seems to me the story that leads us to Christmas proves the point that God shows up all the time…..where we least expect. Places like fields filled with sheep or along dusty roads. In palaces filled with kings and queens and in barns filled with animals. In the life of a young woman who is surprised by a messenger. In the vulnerable and precious face of a baby.

Our work during these Advent days is to be open hearted enough to notice. Our work is to be still enough to keep ourselves from drowning in the fury of the world’s speed. Our work is to allow the darkness to hold the glowing ember of what might be born. We don’t need to go to any particular place that is more holy than any other or surround ourselves with any special tools. We simply need to walk with intention through our lives. Looking and listening for the Breath that has always been there.

Thank You

And so another Thanksgiving day arrives. It feels to me that, as a nation, as a world, we are in times of deep transition. We are no longer who we perceived we were and we are struggling for a vision of who we might become, who we are being called to be. Some of the brightest among us, those whom we have entrusted with our votes and leadership,behave more like children on a playground tousling over a toy, but the toys they play with are people’s lives. In our churches, we wrestle with how to be the people shaped by sacred stories handed down to us by people who seemed to understand them in ways that seem foreign to us. And because we live in the midst of the Technological Revolution we know more quickly, have more information about all this than any time in history.

In this morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, the editorial was reprinted from one written in 1968. The assertion was that many of the events happening in that turbulent year mirrors the times in which we find ourselves. I thought back to that year. I was an impressionable, passionate adolescent filled with a heart for justice and active for peace. It was a time I tangled with my parents more than any other time in my life, mostly over political issues. This morning my heart softened toward those loving people who allowed me my spirited way of being in the world. Their ages allowed them to see my passion with wisdom I did not understand in a way I do now. They had lived long enough to know that life is complicated, that no one person or political party has all the right answers, that a pendulum swings in how we make our life together, sometimes toward our shadow side but most often toward the greater good. I give thanks for this and for them.

I heard someone this week say that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday because it comes with so few expectations. We gather round a table, share thanks for the food we have, enjoy that food, clean up and go home. I suppose in some ways that is true. But this year in particular, I am thinking of those who find it difficult to conjure up their thanks for any number of reasons. And to those who find it difficult to figure out to whom or what they are offering that thanks.

I won’t be so presumptuous as to offer any suggestions for either of these dilemmas.
I will, however, say that I believe it is an important part of being human to do so. Saying thanks reminds us that none of us made it here on our own power. People, our parents and others,sacrificed for our very existence and continue to do so in ways known and unknown to us. If we eat, others worked to provide our food,animals and plants gave their lives. If we breathe, the trees around help create the oxygen that fills our lungs. Those three things alone should get us started on the Thank-you Train. You can fill in your own additions for the ways your living is provided by others. Saying thank you is good for those who deserve our gratitude and for us. It has been scientifically proven that our thoughts and words of gratitude contribute to our overall health.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for so much and will offer my thanks to those with whom I come into contact this day. But I want to offer my gratitude to all of you who continue to read my thoughts and to those of you who offer your comments. It is a great gift to me and encourages me to continue to mine the places and experiences I have daily as I keep myself open to the movement of the Holy.

Today I offer this poem by W.S. Merwin entitled ‘Listen’ as a testament to Thanksgiving 2011:

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster and faster then the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Cave-Like Darkness

Move over the face of
my deep,
my darkness,
my endless restless chaos,
and create,
O God;
trouble me,
comfort me,
stir me up,
and calm me,
but do not cease
to breathe
your Spirit into
my waking soul.”
~Jan L. Richardson

My new, preferred route to get to the office is along the East River Road which winds along the Mississippi River. I have written several times in this space about people and things I have observed as I travel this path. Since I began taking this less stressful, more grounding drive during what is known as ‘rush’ hour, I have observed leaves in their full greenness turn to whatever colors already lived in their DNA. I have watched as people moved through wearing walking or running in shorts and tanks to the many forms of layering that is a Minnesota art form. I have been present to the change of the seasons as if it were a film in which I am a mere walk-on or drive-through as the case may be.

Now that the leaves have gone through the change of colors and most have fallen to the ground, the view of the Mighty Mississippi is much clearer. I am now able to see the barges moving at their slow, metered pace guided by the humble tugboats that maneuver the loads around the many twists and turns of this water turnpike. Soon that sight will also be a memory as the waters get colder and freeze. But for now it seems pure gift to drive along as I watch cargo that is mystery to me be delivered to unknown places.

But the sight that has captured my attention from my perch above the river is the ability to see the many caves that dot the river’s edge. Caves, dug out of the sandy banks,are tucked into the landscape, like white doors leading to danger or adventure. I can imagine rowboats of pirates or bootleggers floating in, unnoticed, to hide their booty. I can see lovers slowly disappear into the mouth of the cave for a kiss or a well-planned romantic proposal. I can imagine that over time many teenagers have found their way into these caves searching for the kind of rebellious shirking of rules and defiance that is the purview of the young.

We are people who once knew caves. Through a series of geological movement that is lost on me, caves formed and made the perfect home. No building. No gathering wood. No hard labor. Caves seemed to be the easiest place to move in and set up housekeeping. Build a little fire. Scare away the bats. Decorate the walls with a little mud tinged by the color of this plant or the other. Tell the story of the lives lived so, later, others will know a little bit about who called the cave, and the time, home.

Perhaps I am fascinated by the caves because my own Celtic ancestry was peppered with those who made their homes in stone hives, human-made caves, built along the water. Stacking stones gathered and hauled from the countryside, these early ones kept watch from their cave-like structures. They kept watch for those who would be friend and those who sought to conquer. From their rounded doorways, they sent their prayers out on the fierce wind to be carried by the water to the One who would hear them.

Soon we will walk into the season of Advent, a time of waiting and watching for the coming of the Light after the darkest days of the year. I often equate Advent with going into a cave. We enter the darkness, carrying only what we need. We enter the darkness, hoping to discover within ourselves the light the Holy One planted within each of us. We enter the small space we can call home for a while, as we remember the Light which came into the world. The darkness has its own gifts. Like the cave, it offers a place to rest awhile, to call home, a place of safety, rest and reflection. Advent invites us to rest in these darkest days we know in this northern hemisphere in November and December. Going into the cave requires building a fire that is just large enough to warm and nourish. Going into the cave also invites us to tell our life stories once again, even paint them on the walls of this safe house.

I will continue to watch over the Mississippi caves as I move in my 21st century ways. I will watch as the water no longer laps at their doors but, instead, freezes into glistening ice crystals. I will watch as the days get shorter and the darkness deeper. I will do so knowing that in a few short weeks the light will once again increase its beam upon us.

But for the time being, I will glory in the gift of the cave-like darkness.

Dog Is Love

Did anyone else catch the interview yesterday on MPR with a woman who has recently written a book about Rin Tin Tin? The author Susan Orlean spent eight years researching this real and fictional character of book and early television. It was a fascinating interview. While I have to admit I have never thought much about this hero-dog, I learned so much about him and all those who played him on TV, his owner and what his inspiration brought to so many. I found it so interesting that I just might purchase this book.

However the part of the interview that intrigued me most came from a caller who phoned in to talk of his own experience of being the owner of a German Shepherd. His dog is a ‘helping dog’. How does he help? He goes into elementary schools so children can read to him. I can’t stop thinking about this! The visual person in me has imagined these dogs,trained in this special way, sitting with a child as they sound out words and maneuver through making sense of black marks on white pages. My heart just goes immediately soft thinking about it.

This practice of using dogs as reading partners was a new concept to me. Apparently I may be alone in this. When I mentioned it to our son he readily reported that it has happened for some time and is instrumental in allowing children with speech difficulty or lack of self-esteem for any number of reasons to read without judgment. Again,my heart went limp. Imagining these young children, fearful to read aloud, laboring over words on a page while warm, loving, brown eyes watch attentively.

It reminded me of all the bumper stickers that reverse the letters for ‘God’. Things like ‘Dog is my co-pilot’ or ‘Dog is love.’ Indeed, in these reading relationships Dog is a co-pilot, riding shot-gun with a fragile being full of possibility, walking with hope and a wounded ego. Dog is also love, the kind of unconditional love we faithful so often equate with the Holy One. I would be so bold as to say that, in this instance, Dog and God might be one and the same.

We have been blessed recently to have a dog in our house again after several years. I have to admit that I am fascinated with his behavior and his devotion. How is it possible to have so much love in your body? But he does and so often I am the recipient of it. I don’t deserve it. I don’t even ask for it most of the time. But he is there, ready to offer this love whether I want it or not, whether I feel I deserve it or not. Sounds a lot like the words we preach on Sunday mornings.

Today I am thankful for dogs, those who listen to stammering stories without ever flinching. Those who smile their dog smiles and allow their eyes to look deeply into human eyes without ever feeling embarrassed or shy. Those who continue to love us when we are unlovable and down right mean. Those who, without knowing it, show us the kind of Love that will not let us go.

No matter what.


Baptized by Leaves

On my morning walk today I had the amazing experience of being baptized by leaves. Baptized by an all-out deluge of tiny, green leaves tinged brown at their edges, falling straight down on me and my surprised big, black dog. I simply had to stop and take it all it. Feel the feathery bits flutter all around me. The wind was strong and seemed to be saying to the tree: ” Now. It’s time. Let go.”

Shaking the leftover baptism green off my shoulders, I continued down the street noticing the trees who still had leaves teetering on their branches. They stood straight against the freezing temperatures alongside those trees whose trunk and branches are now naked in the wind. Every now and then one lone leaf would let go and fall, slowly, softly toward the waiting brown grass.

I thought of a children’s book popular in the ’70s and ’80s called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. It was written by Leo Buscaglia. It was a poignant little story of the leaves on one particular tree and their way of educating Freddie, who was afraid of falling, of the unknown of what happened after life on the tree. It was one way of helping children, and adults, soften their own fears of letting go, of mystery, of death.

Outside my office window is a magnificent oak tree. There are many Freddies hanging on it right now. Leaves that seem to have been left alone by their neighboring foliage. I have been watching them and blessing them, hoping their letting go is gentle and their landing is sweet. Hoping that at some level we all understand, tree, leaf and human, that the letting go brings surprises we can only imagine but perhaps never understand. Hoping that we all realize that our living and dying connect us with the Great Mystery and the on-going living that is this Universe.

I begin most funerals and memorial services with a poem by Nancy Wood. It helps me lift before those gathered the beauty and gift of our living. It is also a good reminder of the gift of this season in which we find ourselves:

You shall ask
What good are dead leaves
And I will tell you
They nourish the sore earth.
You shall ask
What reason is there for winter
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves.
You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life
You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that the leaves can die.

On this day, I am thankful for baptism. A baptism of leaves that reminds me of the gift of living and of dying. And the blessed Circle of Life of which we are all a part.


Precious Life

Every Sunday I have a habit of beginning our worship time together with a poem. My hope is that it sets the mood and intention of the service. Most Sundays it is very directly related to the scripture and theme of the day. Other mornings it has a more general call to intention for the day.

Yesterday’s poem was by the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz. It is simply entitled ‘Today’:

Do not
Want to step so quickly
Over a beautiful line on God’s palm
As I move through the Earth’s

I do not want to touch any object in this world
Without my eyes testifying to the truth
That everything is
My Beloved.

Something has happened
To my understanding of existence
That now makes my heart always full of wonder
And kindness.

I do not
Want to step so quickly
Over this sacred place on God’s body
That is right beneath your
Own foot

As I
Dance with
Precious life

This is one of those poems one reads over and over with a heart full of hope. “Please,please let this be true of me!”, I want to whisper. Or scream. To awake every morning so in love with the world, so in love with the Divine,so in love with my living,is the stuff of poets and prophets and children. It is my deepest hope.

And yet I find I allow every shiny thing that passes my line of vision to distract me from the dance. I follow this and that and trip over the beauty that is right in my path. I stomp on the gently fragmenting line on God’s palm that is this person’s feelings or the bright red leaf lit by the last few rays of a fleeting autumn morning. I forget over and over again to touch with the greatest gentleness each fragile ego I bump up against on my daily walk, each unturned stone that might lead to a buried treasure beneath.

I so wish, like Hafiz, that my heart was always full of wonder and kindness. But instead, I muddle through a day missing so much…..the way the setting sun makes purple stripes on the horizon……the hope in the big, black dog’s eyes as he gazes at me…….the slow arc and pitch of the golden maple leaf as it lets go and falls toward the waiting ground.

The poet sees the Divine in all this and more. I wonder sometimes how different the world might be if we carried more of the poet around in us. Like the psalmists of old, would our lips be full of praise at every turn? Would we be shouting our wonder and awe out the windows of our cars? Would we be found gingerly walking along sidewalks, careful not to step on any cracks or caterpillars or creatures invisible to our untrained eyes?

Perhaps the good news is that each day offers the opportunity to begin again. To pull from deep within the poet that might have been lulled to sleep by the constant activity of our lives. What poet is sleeping within you, calling you to walk gently, listen deeply, noticing the Face of God that is right beneath our feet?

It’s Monday. A good day to begin dancing with this precious life.


Done properly, the spiritual practice of going barefoot can take you halfway around the world and wake you up to your own place in the world at the same time. It can lead you to love God with your whole self, and your neighbor as yourself, without leaving your backyard. Just do it, and the doing will teach you what you need to live.”
~ Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

Yesterday, while driving along the East River Road in St. Paul, I was busy enjoying the end of the fall colors, oaky brownish-reds and brilliant golden maples were providing a full array of entertainment. Now and then I would notice a walker or two, busy at their morning exercise. Cars move slowly along this stretch of curving road so there is much time for reflection and I was taking full advantage of this rich time.

While I was taking in the sights in my own sweet time, I saw a large rather portly man, all in black, running toward me on the river trail. He was running with enthusiasm. In bare feet! I jerked my attention away from the beauty of the aging leaves to look at this not-so-young man running with such joy. I thought of the stones and acorns that no doubt littered the path on which his bare feet now galloped. I cringed at the thought of my own feet walking, much less running, on such a surface. But he was smiling to beat the band seeming not to notice any obstacles in his way. His joyful running transmitted itself to my morning spirit. I went on in the safety of my car while he continued on his way, full of mirth.

The fact is I had already been thinking about bare feet. Before leaving the house I had been preparing for a book study I have been leading using Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. One of the chapters had spoken of the spiritual practice of going without shoes, of being barefooted. Taylor’s words were still resounding in my brain when I saw a living example of someone, shoeless. In Minnesota. In November. What to make of it all?

I think of the few times I go without shoes. Like most Minnesotans, I have the habit of coming into my house, any house, and removing my shoes. But I am usually wearing socks so I don’t have the full feeling of the floor beneath my feet. I can’t tell where the pile of the carpet is worn from the regular pathways of many other feet. I don’t get the prick of any sharp objects that might have escaped the vacuum…..a stray crumb of toast, a lost piece of pencil lead, a valiant evergreen needle from last year’s Christmas tree. I walk most of my days with protected feet. Do you?

Here is what I imagine: Walking around the majority of my waking hours with protected feet keeps me from being completely grounded on the Earth, even if the ground I walk is mostly carpeted. Walking around the majority of the time with something covering my feet puts miles and millennia between me and my ancestors whose feet, uncovered,created the history in which I now make a home. Walking around with shoes and socks that warm and provide a safety net for my feet,and me, keeps me from being mindful of all those who have no shoes, all those for whom a safety net for their feet and their lives is nonexistent.

Frankly, I am not sure what to make of all this. It is unlikely that I will be walking outside without shoes anytime soon given the snow flurries that float outside my window. But I can take off my shoes and socks in the warmth of my house and realize the privilege it is to do so. That could be a first step in connecting once again with the ground that holds me and the Ground of All Being who holds us all, shoeless or otherwise.

I think I will simply trust Taylor’s wisdom that removing my shoes and walking mindfully will teach me what I need to know. Perhaps this is what the barefooted runner was experiencing. Barefooted learning. Barefooted joy. If so, I’m in.



Late last week I listened to a radio show on Public Radio Remix, a station dedicated to telling the stories of ordinary people. I love this station for the ways in which it continues to lift up the very extraordinary ways in which seemingly ‘ordinary’ people move in the world. The colorful stories sometimes make me laugh, other times they can make me cry. They never fail to inspire me.

The story that grabbed my attention this past week was called, I believe, ‘Mantra Wagon’. It was a story of a woman who had been traveling across the country in an RV- kind-of vehicle. She would pull up in public spaces and attracts people’s attention by asking them what their ‘mantra’ is. For the people who don’t just turn and run, considering her a little ‘goofy’, she explains that we all have mantras we repeat to ourselves all the time. Sometimes we are aware of them and sometimes we are not. She then re-asks the question and commits their responses to an audio file that she has edited into some very interesting listening.

“There’s no such thing as vacation.”, one man repeated over and over. ” I can do anything for 10 weeks.” said another with more and more emphasis the longer he recited this sentence. ” I think I can, I think I can.”, yet another person replied echoing the message of the Little Engine that could. All these mantras carried around by people walking the streets along side of us. Who would have guessed?

Of course, it caused me to consider the mantras I have allowed to become a part of the rhythm of my daily walk. Certainly, ” breathe, breathe, breathe” is the top runner. I have found it so helpful in so many situations. When I want to say the right thing. When I am sure I will say the absolute wrong thing. When I want to make sure I don’t say anything at all. “Breathe” is one of the best mantras I know to connect a person with their essential self, their sense of spirit, the Presence of the Holy.

“There is enough time.” is another mantra I have allowed to roll under my breath. This was particularly handy when I was the parent of young children or even teenagers. While holding a full time job, making a home, and finding my way through the maze of parenting, to have the message of ‘enough time’ flowing through the veins of my day, was a very good thing. What I learned from that mantra is that, if repeated well, there is enough time for what is really important. And who doesn’t want more of that?

I am sure there have been other mantras that have inched in and out of my life from time to time. Phrases like “I can’t, I can’t” or “Not me, not me.” Sometimes the mantras we practice choose us and sometimes we choose them. Some of them serve us well and others have the potential to do immense harm. Messages of “I’m not good enough.” or ” I’m not worthy.” come to mind. I think of the number of children who walk around with these mantras so engrained in their psyche they carry them well into their adult lives.

What mantras do you repeat to yourself? Are there mantras you allow to guide your days without even recognizing them? Are they helpful to your life? Or are they hurtful?

Whatever the mantra is that is leading you through your days, I pray it is one that reminds you that you are a beloved child of God. May the words that become the personal mantra we all speak to ourselves be ones that bring us hope and fill us with gratitude.

I can’t help but believe such a mantra would be pleasing to the Holy and certainly healing for us.

Handle With Care

Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

This past week I have had several reminders of how important it is to walk gently upon the Earth. Mostly I have had reminders about how important it is to speak gently and handle those I meet with tender care. The fact of the matter is that most of us get up every morning and head out into the world with little thought of those we might meet along the way. Speaking for myself, I know I have so many things on my own agenda that I rarely give a thought to the many things all the human beings I come into contact with may be carrying. It is a sad yet true statement.

But at least twice in the past several days I have been reminded that each of us wake up, plant our two feet on the ground if we are lucky, get dressed, brush our teeth and proceed out the door with our invisible bags jammed full of all that has happened to us. Yesterday. Last year. When we were children. In that last relationship. Before our kids were born. At the doctor’s office. When we were five years old, on the playground. No one else can see the wounds or the medals we wear from these past experiences. But they are there.

I was reminded this week that many people walk out into what will become their day with wounds that have never healed, never even been offered an antibiotic ointment or colorful band aid. They may be sitting on the bus or in traffic next to us, listening to music or talk radio, trying to just get through the next few minutes. Tears may be just below the surface or packed so deep in a well that if the water began to flow, it would create a flood of biblical proportions. Their fears might be riding on the surface of their dry, chapped skin or buried in the pit of a stomach that never stops churning.

The point is, we just don’t know. Right now the young man who sits across from me in a coffee shop, his black stocking cap pulled down over his ears, his puffy coat zipped tightly around his neck, could be carrying pain I would find unimaginable. The older gentleman I often see dressed in white painter’s pants grabbing a cup of coffee before he begins his work day may be suffering in ways that are certainly invisible. I just don’t know.

Of course at some level we do know because each of us have also made our way into a day, a week, a year, when sorrow or pain or sadness too deep for words has been the cape we wore. We have wondered how no one seemed to be able to see. We hoped that no one would bump into us with an bony elbow or a sharp word that would cause the carefully constructed armor we had tied on to break and fall to the ground, exposing all the frayed nerves of our weary, wounded soul.

I don’t know which side of this equation you are on right now. I do know that I am deeply grateful for the experiences that have humbled me and reminded me to be careful, very careful with my words and how I speak them. The gift of living this life, a life connected to all the many people we meet every day, demands that we handle one another with care, tender, tender care. Because we just don’t know what they have packed in their bags.

And so my promise to myself and to those that walk this path with me is that I will hope to walk gently, speak kindly and keep my heart open to all I cannot know. About that person. And that person. And that person.

So many people. So many unknown stories.