StorkNet presents . . . Celia Straus'
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The Simple Connections Work Best
by Celia Straus
"I appreciate that on the beds they put a teddy bear and some letters from kids. I guess it's a way of showing they understand what you're going through . . ."
Firefighter at American Red Cross Respite Center, after three weeks nonstop work at the site, Ground Zero.
"In my opinion, the most important thing the people who run this place do is listen."
NYPD Policeman, Respite Center, after working 24 hours at the site, Ground Zero.
"I tell the mental health and spiritual care folks who come here to work to forget about what you think this job is and to just be there, just be there for these workers. It's really pretty simple.
Respite Center, Mental Health Volunteer, Ground Zero.
"It's like being a caring parent. I treat them like I would my own kids."
Mass Care Worker, Respite Center, Ground Zero.
One of the greatest challenges of parenting is choosing constructive responses that strengthen our relationships with our children instead of falling back into old patterns of behavior that we know don't work, but do anyway. As mothers and daughters, each of us has been conditioned in a certain way. Our conditioning becomes one of the guides or maps we use to journey through motherhood. The spiritual in our lives is another guide or map but a less familiar one for many of us. We see the spiritual in life if and when we look for it. If we can put our egos aside, and consciously look beyond the details of our personal experiences for the simple universals of life - beauty, love, goodness, grace and truth - that all around us all the time, we are choosing the spiritual to guide us. With the spiritual to guide us comes an ability to connect with others, from distraught firefighters at Ground Zero to our own children, through the same simple universals - beauty, love, goodness, grace and truth.
We are often presented with more opportunities to heighten our awareness of the spiritual during times of crisis. The crisis could be personal involving a parenting issue such as the persistent disobedience of a four year old, a pattern of lying suddenly apparent in a ten year old, or a thirteen year old's rebelliousness. Or the crisis could be national such as the acts of terrorism n occurring on September 11. But, no matter what the crisis, if we approach it through a spiritual dimension, we will expand, heal and unify ourselves and whomever else we encounter. To quote Ann Tremaine Linthorst, from her profoundly moving book, Mothering As A Spiritual Journey," spiritual seeing transforms our human identity into spiritual identity in both the seer and the seen."
This was most recently made clear to me when I was asked to do some additional research (Besides my work with adolescent spirituality I write training and documentary videos) for the American Red Cross Disaster Services. The job required several days of interviewing in New York City at various Red Cross disaster operations sites including the Respite Center for workers at Ground Zero, and the Compassion Center for families at Pier 94. It was an experience I'll never forget.
At Ground Zero hundreds of men and women, from firefighters, NYPD, National Guard to construction workers, stream from the debris site into the Respite Center around the clock for food, rest and emotional support. Observing and talking with them, I was overwhelmed, not only by the magnitude of their grief and exhaustion, but also by their determination to persevere. to accept the unacceptable. The support that they most valued, that most successfully met their needs, that brought these committed yet distraught men and women dressed in work boots and overalls covered with dust back again and again to the Respite Center for, well, respite, was a simple connection. Like parents and their children, people connected with each other out of their need to give and receive love.
Again and again I was told by mental health workers, a priest, a pastor, a massage therapist, a mass care cafeteria worker, that what worked in terms of meeting the needs of anyone who came into the Respite Center was to "be in the moment," to listen, to accept without any judgment whatsoever, a person's expression of their thoughts and feelings. Red Cross volunteers spent most of their time just hanging out, being open and friendly with no personal agendas, no preconceived strategies, and no "one size fits all" approaches. In other words, the same connections that work best in a parent child relationship such as unconditional love, listening, nonjudgmental acceptance, consistency, honest, openness and tolerance were being demonstrated all around me. What was also interesting was that the Red Cross volunteers whom I talked to all agreed that they had never felt so needed, so satisfied, so fulfilled by what they were doing.
It made me realize even more clearly than ever that these simple connections also expand our awareness of who we are. Simply listening, sharing the awareness of each moment as it unfolds with another, accepting a person without judgment are all simple connections of spirit. They also happen to connect us with God. Once we make connections between our spirit selves and the ever present love of God, we can take a deep breath, relax, and learn to let our relationships with our children expand. We can all use a little expansion in our relationships. As one mother emailed, "I am so tired of being called 'weird' by my twelve year old. Is this going to be her only response to what I have to say for the next eight years?" No, there are other ways to relate, these simple connections, that will help both of you feel better about each other and yourselves.
We can put our personal problems and crisis, particularly those parent child conflicts that repeat themselves until they become woven into the fabric of our daily lives, into perspective by looking within ourselves for ways to connect that offer balance and wholeness of Being. We can increase the number of loving and simple connections we make with our children so that we both live life to the fullest of our being. In the beginning we may need to actively look for those connections with our children when, like the Red Cross volunteers and the firefighters from Ground Zero, we are simply being in spirit, trusting and honoring each other's individuality and unique presence at that moment. But, with a little trust in ourselves, we can let these connections happen, and the more we let them happen, the more they do. It has taken me years of mothering to learn that simple truth, and I still must relearn it every day of my life. The more we experience the feeling of love that comes with each connection, the more we are able to connect again, receiving love and giving it back. One of the prayer poems in More Prayers On My Pillow expresses this thought.
I pray that I'll find
The love that is mine
Generous, trusting and pure.
It waits in my soul,
It's what makes me whole,
It's the answer, the key and the cure.
I hope that someday
I can share in some way
The love grown inside me from birth.
For the love that I grow
Is the gift that I know
I'll give back as I live on this earth.
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