I talked to her on the phone several weeks before. I wonder if you remember me, she asked, of course I remember you. She hadn’t been around in a while. I wondered where you’d gone off to, I said. She was smart, older than most of the others in the group, and well informed.
She described to me on the phone what she took away from the teachings, the music, the approach we took and it was as sensitive a profile of what we were doing as I have heard. She had been paying attention. She had more background than most of my students and knew the language to describe what she took away.
When I called back, her daughter told me she had been bouncing in and out of a series of institutions. They say she’s depressed now, her daughter said with weariness in her voice, she asked me to call you.
I went up to see her. They buzzed me up to the second floor. I was familiar with the building.
I hadn’t seen her in about ten years. She was sitting near the door by herself. I stood in front of her and called softly her name.
Oh sir, you came she said, she repeated that several times ascending in enthusiasm until she reached a pitch that was a little more than polite. Oh sir, she repeated, you came, you really came. She moved over several seats away from the other person who was sitting near. Come with me here, she said again: you came to see me.
She put her hand on my sleeve, I moved to hold her hand. I don’t want to hold your hand, she said, I just want to lay mine on your sleeve. It was a modesty thing I think.
We talked and she filled me in that she felt alone and abandoned, that they told her she was depressed and she supposed she was, but there was so much in her life that was overwhelming. She moved quickly through time, now the indignity she felt in being carried around to so many institutions in such a short time, her inability to look after herself properly. She felt as if she had no one left.
I gave her a booklet I made for her of teachings I had written about the approaching holidays. Oh sir, she said, thank you thank you. I’m not reading right now, she said she couldn’t focus her eyes, will you read some to me?
So I read to her some of the poems I had written based on the seven messages of consolation from Isaiah.
As I read she stopped me and asked to repeat a line, which I did. Each time she commented on the line in the intelligent, informed, sensitive way I remembered from her. What she didn’t understand she said right out: I don’t understand that. What does that mean? And the lines she thought especially beautiful she stopped to comment: I love that phrase. Oh that word, so good.
Every valley a high place, that’s so beautiful she said, so optimistic. Lift up your voice from low places, yes she said, that is so hard to do. Give yourself a name, give everything a name. I don’t know what value that is, she said with weariness, I know Adam gave out names but what does it mean? What does it mean if you can name it? Does that really change anything?
What to do, where to start.
I felt some urgency in bringing these stories out, we have been too secret with our stories of ascendance and recovery, and our stories of descent and tragedy, we have been too secret all around. I searched out ways to reach more people, to lift the shame curtain on our addictions and our depressions and our imprisonments and our secret illnesses when the inner world goes dark.
I felt that our spiritual and our social institutions were like gated communities behind which stories are kept for ourselves. I think we could work better together to serve our communities with more intelligent strategies. The first step: tell the stories.
Some of the stories are triumphant, some difficult. All are true. Though the stories are stripped of details, names, identifying qualities, almost all the individuals mentioned are heroic meaning they value the necessity to serve. They want to turn their experience into benefit for someone else. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is part of the problem.
Thus this series: These Are The Stories.
james stone goodman