I have been thinking about how a woman can hold life in her heart.
A few weeks ago at the daytime center for homeless women, I arranged the chairs in a circle, lit a candle, and waited for the arrival of the women and my colleague.
The first to arrive was the daughter of one of the women who attended last year. She told me, as she was walking in, that she needed her mother’s love, she needed her mother’s faith in her. The next woman, from Mexico, sat down, holding her purse tightly on her lap. Several other women arrived, and then came a young woman from Micronesia.
As we went around the circle after meditation, the quiet young woman from Micronesia sat opposite me. She rarely speaks. But today, she said, “You know who I am.”
She said this because the first time she came to the circle, she asked me, struggling to find the right words in English, what did I want from her? Nothing, I replied. I said that she had a good heart, and to take care of her heart. I sensed such an innocence in her.
Today, her words flowed easily as she told a story about prayer. Her story revealed how she lives – that when she’s ready to make a step she knows how to do it. She feels a door open, an opportunity arise, and that is how she recently left a harmful relationship and found work.
This opened a space for others to share. It seemed that each woman had experienced change in the last few weeks, as if a door opened after it seemed so tightly closed.
The woman from Mexico spoke next, telling a story about renewing her relationship with her daughter and how life gave her daughter help just when she desperately need it.
It was something so random, an incident that seemed to come out of nowhere. She explained that she needed to share it so that she could realize “that this was a miracle,” in her words. It reminded me of what author Elizabeth Gilbert describes as, “Our great capacity for wonder.”
A few days after this circle, I was driving to town. I hadn’t had a moment quiet for several days and felt the need for solitude, like an urgency that couldn’t wait. I just had to stop the car. At that moment I was passing the Laguna Trail, which meanders through fields and open space. That was what I needed.
I took my sandwich and sat on a bench under the shade of two large oak trees. A gentle breeze came in from the coast, and I could smell the ocean. I breathed in the quiet. This is what the ladies at the shelter often tell me. How they long for quiet.
I too need this open space. I prayed in that moment.
This warm wind moved through the thistles and dry grasses, soothing my agitation. I greeted the oaks, particularly the larger one. Then, there appeared two ravens sitting on a thick limb, their beaks touching, as if passing food to one another. I watched as I ate, and these birds softened me with such a tender love. I realized that I needed to hold this quality of love in a difficult situation in my life.
I had a dream in which I was told, “We have access to something that can help life.” As a woman, there is a particular way that we feel the sacred. So it is in our life, and also in the greater Circle of life.
“You know who I am,” is what the shy young woman in the shelter said.