In a world where you can be anything be kind
“We should remind ourselves that we are not saviors. We are simply a tiny sign among thousands that love is possible… I am struck by how sharing our weaknesses and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”
Walking the long way home can help us find perspective and frees us from the clutches of all the world can throw at us. It’s hard to go through life unscathed. Sometimes you just need to draw breath and take a ‘time-out’ to help you make sense of it all. People can let you down when you least expect. On the Camino of life, the elements can conspire to ridicule you and lash torment on you making the journey home all the more testing. The way appears blurred and our own coordinates become dimmed. A voice cries out in the wilderness reminding us that we are not alone.
The key to life is to keep your head regardless of what is happening around you. Composure in the face of adversity is hard earned. You nearly have to go through the storm to come out the other side. I remember at one time in my life when things were particularly scary, staring out the window in search of a sign to help me move beyond my deepest fears. I could see a small bird on a ledge not too far from my humble abode surveying its surrounds before it took flight. 4am, as a faint hue of light creeped slowly across the shaded canvas above, there we were just me and this bird.
I began to visualise the bird leaving the sanctuary of its lofty perch, its fragile wings yielding to the vagaries of the wind as it soared through the skies. At that moment, it felt so real. A once captive creature was free once again to re-claim its place in the universe. The reverie lingered and lulled me back to sleep. When I awoke, the bird was still there. It had stayed exactly where it was. As if aware of my curiosity from afar, the bird nodded gracefully before descending at pace into the darkened space below. Minutes later, it reappeared, and rose steadily to embrace the freedom beyond the narrowed walls it had left behind. This dive into the underworld took me by surprise. It gave me hope when I needed it most. I too would rise but not without first navigating my way through the depths.
A small, miniscule creature had unearthed something in me I never knew existed. Its mystery echoed deep within and appeased the simmering pain of a broken man. Light seeped through the once dimmed skies opening up horizons previously unseen. A fragile hope stirred in my veins. Nature had reached me in a way that the world at that time could not. It was strangely liberating!
“When the light around you lessens and your world is a cloud of darkness, steady yourself and see that it is your own thinking that darkens your world. Search and you will find a diamond thought of light. All you need is one spark to nourish the flame and take away the fear.” (John O’ Donoghue)
We’ve all had moments in life when we’ve been tossed about by forces we have very little control over. Yes, fate and misfortune can deal a savage hand at times that makes you wonder. We question a life force that seems to stand idly by in blind indifference to our plight. Life is a mystery that can bestow moments of great happiness and tragedy in equal measure. I’m always intrigued by people who somehow find hope when all around seems bleak. To be circumspect in times of great suffering takes real character. It’s as though these people can step outside the immediacy of their own pain, no matter how crushing, and allow their brokenness to become a gateway to truth. Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz wrote in her book ‘An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943’,
“I no longer shut myself away in my room, God. I try to look things straight in the face, even the worst crimes, and to discover the small naked human being amidst the monstrous wreckage caused by man’s senseless deeds…After this war two torrents will be unleashed on the world: a torrent of loving kindness and a torrent of hatred. I know that I should struggle against hatred.”
Etty’s voice rises from the mire challenging us to heed her cry. Listen carefully and her soft lament can still be heard. Against the savagery of the camps, her stoic courage shines like a beacon to inspire us all. At a time when we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, it is good to remind ourselves that there comes a time in all our lives when we have to decide between hate and kindness. There’s a world of difference between people who genuinely care about others and those who cannot see beyond their own vested interest. Your life is very much determined by your outlook. Choose the right people to have around you. Let the others go. Simple as! To quote Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl,
“They could torture me but could not take away my power to choose… Everything can be taken away except ONE – to choose one’s attitude, one’s own way.”
Ultimately, you and you alone can shape the course of what is to come. Believe in yourself even when storm clouds gather and the way is not so clear. Strive to be the best version of you, complete with all your strengths and limitations. For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. The peace we seek along the way doesn’t come from superiority and might. It flows from the deepest, most vulnerable part of our being, that unmistakable core within that makes us unique. So do not be denied your rightful place in the universe.
“If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines within… Since a price will be exacted from us for everything we do or leave undone, we should pluck up the courage to win, to win back our finer and kinder and healthier selves. There is no failure as long as you learn from your experience, continue to work, and continue to press on for success.” (Maya Angelou)
In his book ‘Live While You Can’, Fr Tony Coote reflects on how he felt in the immediate aftermath of being with diagnosed with MND. He returned home to the relative sanctuary of his sitting room, and, somewhat numbed by the news he had just received, watched kids at play as it snowed outside. Their laughter was all the more striking against the backdrop of his inner turmoil. In this, his darkest hour, Tony unravelled the layers of mystery and arrived at a key truth. When you’re stripped of everything, you have to find something.
“I don’t know how long I spent praying but eventually those sounds of laughter and screams of delight penetrated my consciousness and stirred in me a strong desire that I have still not lost – the desire to live, no matter what the illness will bring.”
Tony lived out his final days as he’d lived his life in quiet obedience to the life force that sent him into this world. He had every reason to give up, to become embittered, to hide away. His firesome crusade to raise awareness and funds for Motor Neuron research culminated with the epic ‘Walk While You Can’ odyssey from Donegal to West Cork, a feat rendered all the more amazing given his deteriorating condition at the time. His legacy ripples out beyond the €800,000 raised over those few days. Anyone who knew Tony speaks of his boundless compassion and unwavering belief in all that is good. His song echoes out into the universe long after the last note was sung.
“I realise now that I have been able to transform some of the more difficult times of my early life into a positive way of living… I’ve always looked at situations and seen a way to accomplish what I wanted to do; therefore my earlier life and sometimes sad events have not the final word. Rather they are the means through which I have learned that I always had a choice – either to allow what others had done to me to crush me, or to decide that they would not determine how my life would be, that only I would do that.” (Tony Coote)
When you show vulnerability, you give others permission to do the same. Vulnerability is not weakness; it is our most accurate measurement of courage. This truth once discovered changes everything. Your hour of uncertainty creates an opening for the light to shine through. The storm clouds part and the landscape, though somewhat tinged by pain, glows with a hue you may have never noticed before. No bird soars too high if she soars with her own wings, no matter how broken they may be.
We have recently updated our website to reflect our new range of Waterford Camino options for 2020. Hope we get to share the path with you in the months ahead. For further information check out www.waterfordcamino.com or email Phil and Elaine directly at firstname.lastname@example.org