“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore.
One of the first concepts that puzzled me when I moved to Jamaica as a child, was the term ‘follow’. At the end of the school day, once it was decided that I could find my way home by myself and I didn’t have to wait on an older sibling to collect me, I would find schoolfriends offering to ‘follow’ me home. And I knew that the verb ‘to follow’ indicated that one person was in front, and the other came behind. Why would you want to walk behind me? I don’t know how long it took me to recognize that the common use of that word in Jamaican parlance was to accompany, but I suppose I observed and learned. Often I would hear people asking others to ‘follow me’ to the shop, or on an errand, and soon I was using the word that way too.
That act of ‘following’ soon became a useful way of making company last longer. When I was in high school (junior high in the USA), at the end of the day my friend would ‘follow’ me ‘partway’ home. Then I would follow her partway back, then she would follow me partway, and so on and so on. I don’t know what we found to talk about, but we were never ready to end the day and go home. I always think about that when I hear the Ram Dass quote: “We’re all just walking each other home.”
There is a term that I have come across that at first seems as obscure as the Jamaican use of the word ‘follow’. It is to ‘hold space’ for someone. It is a very healing action, yet for the one who is doing the ‘holding’ it requires doing little more than being present for another person. This is not always easy. We all have experienced the ‘monkey mind’, that inability of the mind to be still and focused on one thing at a time. When listening to your story I am likely to be reminded of a dozen other similar stories that I want to share with you, and stop listening halfway through, knowing how much you will appreciate my story. But ‘holding space’ for another requires you to pay attention to that person, being willing just to listen and support while they talk through their problem. Sometimes all that is required of you is to sit with them in silence. Some grief cannot even be expressed, no words are enough.
We often rush through our days whether at work or at home, filling every moment with tasks, must-do items. ‘Is it that time already?’ we ask as we think of all we still have to do. A few weeks ago, I spent an interesting hour with a small family group in one of those ‘escape rooms’. This is one of those challenges where you are placed in a room with a story and a problem to solve (we had to find and identify a hacker who was about to bring the world’s banking system to its knees!). In the small room are various clues, and occasional helpful tips disguised as riddles. And on the huge TV screen a large clock counts down the minutes and seconds.
If you are clever like me, you make sure that the group you are in has some bright sparks who figure things out and recognize the clues and persist when you are ready to say, ‘oh well, never mind!’. In our case each person contributed something (some more than others!) and we were released from the room having found the hacker, with minutes to spare. What was profound about the whole entertainment was how aware we needed to be. If we didn’t examine every item in the closet, if we didn’t read every newspaper clipping, if we didn’t pay attention to small details, we would not have solved the puzzle.
How often do we go through our days missing clues, not paying attention to details? I often declare that I did not receive an email on a certain topic only to go back and find that, yes I was copied on the email and it even appears that I read it. Too busy scanning to take note of important information.
This week I heard about a short story written by the 19th century Indian poet and Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore. He wrote a short story (Kabuliwala) about an Afghani immigrant to India. It has been used in high school literature in India for years, and has helped to humanize the immigrant’s story. It is as timely today as it was then. The other day I was reminded of my own family’s history of migration by a text from my grandson: ‘Have you migrated before?’ and I was able to share my own story, and those of several generations of my family to various parts of the world. My great-grandparents migrated to Argentina in the 19th century (in fact my grandmother was born there), a fact which triggered a ‘?!?!?!’ from my grandson. He then told his mother ‘We’re Argentinian!’ which completely baffled her as she did not remember every hearing that story.
It is a beautiful thing to picture ourselves on a journey through our life, picking up and dropping off fellow passengers along the way. Sometimes being the one who leads the way, sometimes being the one ‘following’. Sometimes just sitting with someone who needs you to ‘hold space’ for them, sometimes being the one who needs that comfort.
On this long weekend, a time of thanksgiving and reflection, I hope that immigrants everywhere find kindred souls along the way, and a place to rest and call home. I hope you are able to tell your story, and listen to the story of another so that we can all realize that although our paths may be different, we are all just ‘walking each other home’.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!