Two seemingly very different moments have come together powerfully for me today.
First, I was messaging online with a friend about how we make decisions in the midst of outside pressures. Both of us are in the process of choosing to do things that from some perspectives could look like a mistake--choices that mean changing significant outer elements of our lives.
In talking about this I made a joke to my friend that I wanted them (I'm being gender non-specific on purpose here) to know that if they changed their mind and chose NOT to make a big change, I still supported them. That, in fact if they decided to become a puppy, for god sake, only because they knew it was what was right for them to do with their lives, then EVEN THEN in the midst of SUCH radical change, I still supported them. It seemed to me, I said, that becoming a puppy would be a real challenge, but that the point of all this, as far as I could tell, was learning to choose what is right for ourselves even, and in fact especially, in the midst of outside pressures.
Later, the friend wrote me back describing some of those outside pressures. Their experience left me saddened--saddened that people sometimes find it appropriate to respond to each other in ways that intentionally diminish the other person, rather than in ways that could be seen to bolster each other EVEN in the face of decisions we might disagree over. I mean, we can disagree about something and seek to dialogue in the midst of it for the sake of BOTH coming out of it better and clearer people, rather than taking an approach that includes attack or discounting either person. It seems too often that real change happening in one person's life appears as threat of some sort to another person, and so the change is met with defense and attack, instead of the open-hearted stance of understanding, or at least striving to understand.
But, in the midst of thinking on the unfortunate response one person took up with my friend, I had an epiphany.
That is: turning into a puppy is actually no significant challenge at all. Really. Because, you see, what a puppy really is is simply a being with a wiggling heart SO CERTAIN of its own sources of joy that when in proximity to those joy-making-things, the puppy's heart can't help but warm SO GREATLY that its entire body vibrates in pure expression of that joy. In this way, a puppy is an incredible, adorable, infectious barometer of love and joy (that, admittedly, sometimes makes messes in the midst of its uncontrollable determination to explore the world in happy exuberance).
Heck! Put that way, I can be a puppy indeed!
In fact, I AM A PUPPY.
I've decided. I made a decision to change the rest of my life today. From this point on, I am a puppy. Voila!
Second, I was emailing with a friend of mine about the upcoming funeral for Elizabeth Edwards. Though I have no real attachment to the idea of Edwards, still, it is an event that holds sadness.
We were discussing the confusing, and hurtful response by a small but determined baptist church group led by Reverend Phelps that intends to picket Edwards funeral with messages of hate. My heart was pained over such an idea--the idea that there are such strong pockets of hatred in the world that people would choose, for example, to enact it in the midst of someone else's most tender grief. Focusing directly on these negative realities can be incredibly demoralizing. Sometimes it feels at worst hopeless, and at best confusing about what can actually be done to respond.
Eventually, the friend emailed back with a link to a salon.com article about this same group picketing outside Matthew Shepard's funeral back in the late 1990's. At that event, however, an incredible thing happened. Here's a quotation taken directly from the salon article,
"But Phelps' contingent was surprised by a parade of Shepard sympathizers dressed in white angel costumes 7 feet high, with 8-foot wingspans. The "Angels of Peace" quickly surrounded his group and smiled silently at the crowd, which enthusiastically cheered them on."
Reading that, I was overwhelmed, and I realized--that is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to remember that hate, diminishment, and disregard for each other really can be overcome by an earnest enough expression of beauty, and love, enacted through grace. Sometimes it takes a number of us banded together in our commitment to be such angels on earth to make that difference. Often we can inspire such earnestness in each other, thus finding that band of loving angels more readily.
How to do that exactly changes depending on the situation at hand. But I appreciate the example the "Angels of Peace" offer. None of us should ever have to be confronted with signs of hatred as we face our deepest grief, as we must in the midst of a funeral for a loved one. What Phelps group is doing is simply wrong. It takes up, unfortunately, a common misconception of what morality amounts to--a twisted exercise in control and damnation, when the more heartfelt reality of ethical considerations is simply that our moral choices are a reflection of the genuine grace we can share with each other. Finding such a creative approach as enacting a vision of divine love through enormous angelic group costuming is a brilliant expression of how the only demand on us really is to simply think and act beyond the expectations outside pressures have placed upon us.
I am grateful to take up the dramatic example given by the "Angels of Peace" here--that in the face of others skewed and hurtful responses to our own best choices for our lives, or our own painful moments struggling with grief (both examples of our own human reality, in other words), it is possible to respond with overwhelming, humanity emboldening love, stepping out like an angel here on earth, which incidentally sometimes really does look just like a 7-foot tall, 8-foot wide, white feathered angel, or other times just like a puppy.