Anyway

Mother Theresa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People are often unreasonable, illogical,

And self-centered

Forgive them anyway

If you are kind people may accuse you of

Selfish, ulterior motives

Be kind anyway

If you are successful, you will win some false

friends and some true enemies

Succeed anyway

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you

Be honest and frank anyway

What you spend years building, someone

could destroy overnight

Build anyway

If you find serenity and happiness, they may

be jealous

Be happy anyway

The good you do today, people will often

forget tomorrow

Do good anyway

Give the world the best you have, it may

Never be enough

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway

You see, in the final analysis, it is between

you and God

It was never between you and them anyway

-Frank M. Keith

 

This song had a profound impact on me as I re-invested in life and re-created myself following my year of depression. After a year lost in despair, I discovered a new sense of vitality. In the dawn of my recovery, I had the unbridled enthusiasm of the delivered – determined to live my life with spirit and passion. Having come out of a pit of darkness and into the light, I felt an urgency to live life to its fullest, invest thoroughly in my relationships, and to apply myself wholeheartedly to my work.

I was thrilled to be back in my professional field as a social worker. But it seemed my vibrancy was an affront to a couple burned-out and disillusioned people in my new workplace. It somehow made them want to become my detractors. They distrusted my positive spirit and questioned my intentions. They even did things that directly undermined my work. This is when the song Anyway took on a very personal meaning. It spoke a healing truth to me – helping me stay on track – despite the forces working against me.

I imagine many of you have been in situations in which, despite your best efforts, you were not embraced or accepted. Occasionally, life is like this. During these times we need to discover our strongest selves, and not just resort to what comes most easily – shrinking back.

Anyway is performed as a song by Suzzy and Maggie Roche on their CD Zero Church. There is a fascinating story behind it. Anyway was found posted on the wall next to Mother Teresa’s bed at her Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Calcutta after her death.

Mother Teresa was a humble nun whose vision was to extend dignity to the poorest of the poor in India. As her missions became successful and world famous, she faced many critics who questioned her goals and her motives.

I imagine the Anyway poem resonated with her, given what she faced and what she accomplished. Anyway has not only been an important credo for me since I came upon it years ago, I have played the song many times for others who were similarly touched. I have listened to it when I felt mistreated, misunderstood, or blocked in carrying out what I knew were good purposes. The message of the poem always renews a right spirit within me. At times, we all need regeneration. Even Mother Teresa needed that.

The song speaks about the power of forgiveness, kindness, and pursuing one’s purpose, despite the barriers the world throws in one’s way. It is easier and more natural to get even – to stick it to a person who has hurt you, when you have the chance to do so.

But there is a spiritual depth in rising above it, and not returning evil for evil. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals his head.” (Rom 12:20). I believe Forgiveness is the highest expression of a spiritual life. This song is about forgiveness. It also is clear about whom we answer to: God, not man.

Mother Teresa is known worldwide as an icon of compassion and tireless advocate for the poor, yet she secretly battled for years through a terrible dark night of the soul. She deeply questioned her faith, her value, and her purpose. Her letters to her superiors, which she never wanted published, reveal her interior life and painful spiritual journey, and the torment and disillusionment she endured. It was decided that her writings were too important to go unpublished, due to their capacity to reach people who struggle; and to provide them consolation and encouragement by revealing her internal struggles, even amidst a great and noble mission. They did that for me.

The book Mother Teresa; Come Be My Light, The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta was published on the tenth anniversary of her death. I read it and was deeply moved.

Consider this passage in which she asks of God, “What are you doing, my God, to one so small?” In a letter to her superior, Father Picachy she writes, “Thank God all went well yesterday, Sisters, children, the lepers and sick and our poor families have all been so happy and contented this year. A real Christmas.  Yet within me – nothing but darkness, conflict, loneliness so terrible …”

In another letter she writes to Father, “It has been so very hard. That terrible longing keeps growing – and I feel as if something will break in me one day – and then that darkness, that loneliness, that feeling of terrible aloneness. Heaven from every side is closed … gone is the love for anything and anybody. – and yet – I long for God.”

Another passage reads, “… Aloneness is so great – from within and from without I find no one to turn to. He has taken not only spiritual – but even the human help. I can speak to no one and even if I do – nothing enters my soul.– If there is hell – this must be one. How terrible it is to be without God – no prayer – no faith – no love.  The only thing that still remains – is the conviction that the work is His – that the Sisters and the Brothers are His. And I cling to this as the person having nothing clings to the straw – before drowning …”

Much of what she described in her letters sounds like a form of depression, but rather than impacting her like major depression, it was expressed in the spiritual realm.

I respect Mother Teresa’s humanitarianism even more, knowing the extent to which she suffered for years from utter desolation and self-doubt. She quietly carried a cross of interior darkness, yet never stopped doing her good work. Her goal was to bring light to those living in darkness, but when all seemed to be in place, she was faced with an internal darkness that became the greatest trial of her life. That trial ultimately fueled a fundamental aspect of her mission.

In the end, she understands that without her interior darkness, without knowing such a longing for love and the pain of being unloved, and without this radical identification with the poor, she would not have won over their trust and their hearts to the extent that she did.

Her darkness became her greatest blessing; her “deepest secret” was indeed her greatest gift. The depth and meaning of her mystical experience is portrayed in this book, and I recommend it.

I hope that, like Mother Teresa, despite how you feel at any given time, and despite what surrounds you …  you find the ability to forgive, be kind, succeed, be honest, build, be happy, do good, and give your best. Anyway.

 

Going Wild Again

I just returned home from my 30-year high school reunion in Minnesota. One of the highlights was reminiscing with my old girlfriends about our good times and outrageous antics as adolescents in the wild – hiking, camping, canoeing, running, tennis, snowshoeing, and skiing. What fun we had!

As we talked for hours and reconnected, our stories built on one another. Each of us remembered different portions, providing our own unique embellishments and observations. Pieced together, our combined memories created a patchwork collage of humor, personal development, and exploration … experiences that helped shape us into who we are today.

I had scarcely spoken with some of these friends for years. But, almost magically, as we delved into our recollections of our shared teen outdoor adventures … it was as if we had never parted. This was amazing considering the decades we spent apart, during which time we had all gotten married, had careers, and raised children.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the many psychological benefits of time spent in nature, and ways to avoid “nature deficit disorder.” My reunion trip helped me recapture some wonderful wilderness memories shared with old friends (five in particular) and what they have meant to each of us over the years. We 48-year old girlfriends have each faced various challenges in the years since. However, the time we spent together in nature strengthened our sense of selves and our friendship bonds, helping prepare us for life’s unexpected curve balls. Somehow, we have all survived and thrived. And I believe our friendship bonds and shared wilderness experiences provided a firm foundation to face up to and conquer life’s travails.

Our memories included a ski club trip to Thunder Bay Canada. We got our ski passes suspended for staying up too late – talking to the bell-bottom wearing Canadian boys who sprinkled vinegar on their French fries! We re-told brave tales of our canoe trips, late-night bonfires, camp outs in the Northern woods, and the boyfriends that seemed to generously pass between us through those times. As girlfriends, we grew up together and grew strong together. Now as an adult, it feels wonderful to have friends that go back so many years. The sense of connection is hard to define, but is truly one to be cherished.

My 19 year-old daughter, Grace, also has a profound love for her friends, and she treasures the escapades they share together. She was eager to see every picture from my reunion, hear about my old friends, and all the “classic 80’s experiences” we had.

“That’s how I want it to be when I’m your age, Mom. My best friends will still be my best friends; don’t you think?” Although it may not play out as she envisions, her commitment to staying connected with the friends she loves will likely make it a reality. And I don’t expect her bold spirit of adventure to ever be fully tamed. This is something I admire about her.

During this reunion trip I happened to be reading a memoir by Cheryl Strayed called Wild: From Lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is the story of a Minnesota woman whose life unravels in her early 20’s after her mother’s death from cancer, the resulting diaspora of her family, and the eventual demise of her marriage amidst infidelity and drug abuse. She seeks a re-awakening by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She forges ahead more through blind will than skillful preparedness, and writes about it with an earthy spirit and a poetic gift of description. I thoroughly enjoyed her story, and found it to be a wonderful testimony to the transformative power of a wilderness trek. Despite the fact that she suffered terribly on the trail, and at a few points, was lucky to have survived, the beauty and self-transformation made it worth the pain and sacrifice. It made me want to get out on that trail myself.

She writes of the Pacific Crest Trail’s history and its profound meaning to the hikers courageous enough to endure it:

“What mattered was utterly timeless. It was the thing that had compelled them to fight for the trail against all the odds, and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days. It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.  It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadow, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

The Pacific Crest Trail will be there if I ever choose to take it on. But even the smaller scale adventures that are available any weekend would be worth my while to make happen.

After the reunion, my old girlfriends and I agreed that we need more time with friends and more adventures. We promised each other we would plan one. They agreed to come and stay with me for a “SoCal Ladies Adventure.” Brainstorming the itinerary was exciting in itself. Just considering the possibilities made me feel young and alive – almost like I was 16 again! That’s what “going wild” can do.

Many of you have stayed in contact with old friends; those with whom you have shared “going wild” experiences of old. If you have lost touch, what is keeping you from making that small effort to reach out to someone who was important to you years ago?

Maybe now is the time to make that phone call, search on Facebook, or write that letter. You may find some real joy in re-connecting with an old friend. Perhaps remembering those times together will help you seek out some opportunities to explore like you did when you were young. It may seem a little unlike the current you, but it’s not against the rules!  You can go wild again.