Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘pray’

Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus

Guest blog for Washington Post
by Vineet Chander, Valarie Kaur and Najeeba Syed-Miller
12 August 1012

In Conversation: Sikhism, Islam, and Hinduism

One week after the Sikh shootings in Oak Creek, Americans have learned more about the Sikh community, many for the first time. A brief introduction to Sikhism has caused people to wonder about the relationship between Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam.

Each religion is a distinct tradition with unique sets of beliefs, practices and values, and at the same time, all three have coexisted for many hundreds of years in the South Asian region of the world. India is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and the birthplace of Hinduism and Sikhism. Of course, it has often been a complex, difficult and troubling history. But we have also seen moments of solidarity between these communities. We recall the slogan some of our grandparents used to sing in India: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaee! Hum Saray Hai Bhai Bhai! “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. We are all brothers (and sisters).”

In the U.S., Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs share similar challenges in our pursuit to live, work, and worship in caring and safe communities. Hindu and Muslim Americans across the nation have reached out to Sikh neighbors to express their grief and support. In that spirit, we three authors – a Hindu American chaplain, a Muslim American peacemaker, and a Sikh American advocate – engaged in a conversation about the similarities and differences between our faith traditions.

How We See God

Vineet: Hinduism is the oldest of the three faith traditions, made up of diverse practices and beliefs that all approach the divine differently. In fact, Hinduism itself is so diverse that it is difficult and even misleading to categorize it using Western frameworks like “monotheistic” or “polytheistic.” Still, most Hindus say that, ultimately, they believe in one Supreme Being who is both transcendent and imminent. Some Hindus emphasize God’s oneness with the universe, seeing the divine in everything and everything in the Divine. Others emphasize God’s distinct personality and form, seeing Him as our divine parent and us as His eternal servants. Hinduism also recognizes the presence of devatas (often translated as “demigods”), celestial beings who manage the affairs of the cosmos. Hindus see devatas similar to angels or partial manifestations or energies of the One Supreme. Hindu teachers often speak of God as a great flame from which small sparks (all beings) emanate. In this sense, Hinduism holds that the divine is inconceivably one with His creation and yet always infinitely more vast and powerful. Hinduism suggests that Divinity can thus be manifest in the natural world, and that an important part of spiritual wisdom is learning to recognize it.

Najeeba: As a Muslim, I believe in the divine presence of God. Often you might here this referred to as Allah, which simply translated into English means “The God.” Islam is founded on the belief in tawhid, or the oneness of God, a monotheistic divine entity with no particular form and not in the image of a person. The Koran describes God as the light of the heavens and of the earth. God is also described with 99 attributes including the one we as Muslims call upon before any act, “the Most Merciful.” Muslims follow a tradition of prophet Muhammad that states, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” God is viewed as deeply connected to the spiritual consciousness of humans and accessible through prayer. Even the plants and trees of this Earth are considered as part of the forms that adore God according to the Koran. Oneness of humankind emanates from the belief in one God, and the diversity of humankind under the umbrella of a common humanity. The basis for relations with other humans is mercy. Prophet Muhammad said “God does now show mercy to those who do not show mercy to others.” The holy book of the Muslims is the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad are the hadith, which are important sources for religious understanding. Muslims share with Christians and Jews many common prophets, from Adam to Jesus who is viewed as an important prophet but not the son of God. Muslims also highly value education; prophet Muhammad instructed Muslim women and men to pursue knowledge from “the cradle to the grave.” Thus, individual Muslims are also encouraged to learn for themselves and insure that they are always intellectually and spiritually improving themselves throughout the course of their lives.

Valarie: Sikhism is the youngest of the three religions. The Sikh religion was born in 15th century Punjab (now northern India and Pakistan), a rich meeting place for Hinduism and Islam that oversaw the rise of devotional (bhakti) traditions on either side of the Hindu-Muslim divide: Sufi Islam called for inward love for Allah, and Hindu Bhakti traditions advocated personal devotion. The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, established a new devotional tradition based on direct loving devotion to one divine, Ik Onkar, and a commitment to social justice. As a Sikh, I see God as infinite, formless, creative, without fear and enmity, timeless, and self-existent. The unity of all that we know – human and divine – forms the basis of all of our relationships. “God’s in the self and the self is in God,” says Guru Nanak. “The fire is put out through knowing the One is within and without.” God is called by hundreds of names in the devotional poems of our scripture: Vaheguru, Hari, Allah. Through constant remembrance of the Divine, we silence the ego, realize mystical union beyond language and thought, and experience the interconnectedness between self and all. The experience is mukti, liberation: the feeling of freedom and ecstatic bliss when “the breath sparks and the sky thunders.” It produces an unending flow of compassion for all beings, fulfilled through seva or divinely-inspired service.

How We Pray

Vineet: Hindus engage in spiritual practice (called sadhana) in a variety of ways. They engage in ritual worship, formally in temples or informally in their homes. Such worship may involve reciting prayers or chanting sacred mantras, observing periodic fasting, or offering gifts in charity to the less fortunate. In addition, Hindus may practice their faith through study of sacred texts, through regular meditation and introspection, and even (or, we might say, especially) through performing their day-to-day duties in a selfless and generous spirit, in a way that uplifts themselves and others. While Hindus may occasionally emphasize some of these practices over others, most Hindus see them all as interconnected pieces of a singular, cohesive engagement with their faith. One of the most often misunderstood Hindu practices, at least in the West, is the use of visual representations or icons of the divine. Many Hindus (though not all) believe in connecting with God through forms, called murtis, considering them to be manifestations of the supreme in tangible forms that we can relate to and render service to. This allows Hindus to focus their meditation, have a more personal exchange with God, and to express their devotion to Him through rituals.

Najeeba: Ritual prayer is prescribed five times a day and in addition, zakat, or alms giving to the poor are key practices at the core of a Muslim community. Muslims may worship communally at the masjid, and congregational prayer accompanied by a sermon are regular features in the life of a Muslim community held on the designated Jum’ah of Friday of every week Muslims perform rituals of fasting during the month of Ramadan which is our current 30 day spiritual exercise in self-regulation and avoiding of food, anger and arguments during the day light hours Muslims also avoid consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substances with the understanding that clarity of the mind is important to utilize the gift of aql or reason to make good decisions in life. Muslims are always concerned about their internal state as it relates to honesty, good works and kindness to others. “Every act is but its intention,” is a teaching of Prophet Muhammad and so reflecting on why one is doing even good acts becomes important so that one’s ego is not inflated. Contemplative practices such as dhikr (ritual chanting), dua (supplication) and other spiritual practices are utilized to bring one’s higher self into consciousness and work to reduce the ego. Family is the organizing unit of a Muslim community and honoring mothers, fathers and the elderly is considered a righteous act.

Valarie: Sikhs pray together in houses of worship and learning called gurdwaras [doorways to the divine] where we recite and sing devotional songs or shabads from our scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Through music and poetry, we meditate on the name of God in order to taste the bliss of divine union. In our devotion to the divine, Sikhs wear five articles of faith, including kesh (uncut hair), meant for women and men equally. Men traditionally wrapped their long hair in turbans. Some women wear turbans too, but most simply cover their heads with headscarves when praying. Our faith teaches equality between women and men and people of all classes and backgrounds. Our tenth leader requested us to drop our surnames (a marker of social status), and instead, embrace a shared surname: all women adopted the last name “Kaur” and men took the last name “Singh.” “Sikh” literally means ‘to learn,’ calling us to learn our whole lives.

How We Serve

Najeeba: Muslims are constantly admonished to perform sadaqa or charity for people within our community and for those who are not Muslim as well, especially for neighbors. The teaching regarding neighbors is not only for Muslims, it extends to the greater community whoever they may be and the circumference of neighbors is considered nearly one’s whole city by some scholars. According to the Koran, Muslims must give charity to many categories of individuals including: the poor, the needy, orphans, widows, those traveling and without homes. Charity is in many forms, it can be in actual money or comfort. Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims that “The doors of goodness are many… removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” Inherent in this structure of offering charity is to also ensure that those who are in the situation of potentially being abused must also be given justice in terms of their rights. Many second generation Muslims in the United States have become engaged in civil rights work, environmental justice and social work projects because of the emphasis on caring for those who have little access to resources or power to change their circumstances for the better.

Vineet: Hinduism has traditionally championed extending charity and justice to others as an inseparable part of living a life of dharma. Classical texts, such as the Upanishads and the Gita, describe that one the fundamental virtues to aspire towards is the awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings. Thus, these texts teach, the wise share in the joys of others and work to alleviate their suffering. More recently, the saints of the Bhakti movement—a movement of spiritual and social reformers renewing Hinduism’s devotional tradition, spanning from the 12th century to the modern day—have echoed these sentiments, and have even taken them further. “The truly devout Hindu,” one teacher declared, “is known best by this quality: he cannot tolerate the suffering of another.”

Valarie: Sikhs often recite the line from scripture: “Truth is higher than everything else; but higher still is truthful living.” We express our devotion through living an honest life of service to all. Sikhism has three pillars in our practice: Naam Japna, remembrance of the divine; Kirat Karna, earning an honest living, and Vand Chakna, sharing all resources with society. Every gurdwara serves langar, a free communal meal open to all people, and this practice encourages a commitment to divinely-inspired service or seva. A new generation of Sikh Americans is engaging in seva through various forms of service: making films, running social action campaigns, becoming lawyers, public servants, scholars, and more. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Oak Creek, Sikh Americans organized vigils, worked with law enforcement, and in a time of grief, found the courage to call for an end to hate and violence – not just against our community but all people.

What Inspires Us

Vineet: I draw my inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred Hindu text which means “the Song of God”). The Gita is a dialogue between Arjuna, a great prince, and Lord Krishna, who is revealed to be the Supreme in human-like form. Throughout the text, Krishna teaches about dharma, one’s right way of living. He suggests that one should perform activities in a spirit of service and detachment, and especially emphasizes love and devotion as the essence of all religious practice. In the Gita, Lord Krishna displays his awe-inspiring majesty as the creator of all that is. And yet, he asks us to choose to be his instruments in this world. I am struck by this beautiful and seemingly paradoxical reality– that we can be so humbled and small before the Divine, and yet so radically empowered to reflect his love. In my own life and work, I aspire to be an instrument of this love, compassion, and justice in all that I do.

Najeeba: I am a peacemaker, a Muslim and an American. Deeply embedded in my beliefs is the saying of prophet Muhammad that Muslims were commanded to “make peace,” with others and that we are to be a mercy for others. In every facet of my life I seek to make peace between people and to save human lives, my faith guides me in the Koranic injunction that to save one human is as if one saved all of humanity.

Thus, whenever violence occurs, I find ways to make peace between people and to contribute to my country, my neighborhood and my family. Fidelity to my nation is also a key belief for Muslims, when one takes an oath, adhering to it is a central tenet of Islamic teaching and for me the basis of my commitment to my country.

With Vineet and Valarie I share a love of South Asian cultural heritage and the many common values we share as Americans to work together to build stronger ties between all communities with peace at its heart.
Valarie: The Sikh ideal is the warrior-saint: one who walks the earth devoted to God and committed to fight injustice in all forms. In the 17th century, a Sikh woman Mai Bhago became the first female warrior-saint and led Sikhs who had abandoned battle back into battle herself: she became the warrior-saint she was waiting for. Inspired by Mai Bhago, my modern-day sword and shield is film and law: using storytelling and advocacy, I am grateful to be able to fight and serve my community alongside my fellow Sikhs and Americans.

Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker, legal advocate, and interfaith organizer, is founding director of Groundswell, a multifaith initiative. Her documentary “Divided We Fall” is the first feature film on hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Follow her on Twitter at @valariekaur.

Vineet Chander is coordinator for Hindu Life at Princeton University, a Religious Life Leader at the Lawrenceville School, and adjunct professor at Farleigh Dickinson University. Follow him on Twitter at@vineetchander.

Najeeba Syeed-Miller is a professor at Claremont School of Theologyand director/founder of the Center for Global Peacebuilding. She is two-time recipient of the Jon Anson Ford Award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and a leading figure in the establishment of Claremont Lincoln University, a jointly owned university with Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Jewish and Christian partners. You can fol. Follow her on Twitter at @najeebasyeed

For additional photos and links, go to Washington Post.

What’s Up Elizabeth?

The Butterfly’s Kingdom by Gwendolyn Geer Field
Excerpt from inspirational novel.

What’s Up Elizabeth?

THE HOUSE WAS SILENT, an abandoned stage set. The occupants and all traces of the lives they lived seemed to have completely vanished. There were no pushed back chairs, no scattered partially-read newspapers, no misplaced drinking glasses, sticky with finger prints. There was only pristine emptiness draped with long flat squares of moonlight. As I passed Annie’s door, I paused and wondered if I should knock. I stood quietly, listening for a sound, but there was none — no breathing, no creaking floorboards, no whispering voice inviting me in. So I tiptoed down the hallway to my room.

As I opened the door, a sleepy voice whispered, “Elizabeth, is that you?”

I fumbled for the bedside lamp as Betsy wrestled with the sheets and sat up, rubbing her eyes. “What time is it?” she yawned.

I glanced at the clock. “It’s after midnight, sweetie,” I sank down on the bed beside her. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you.” Her eyes blinked in the sudden brightness.

“I can see that,” I reached over and rubbed her shoulders as she sat shivering in a thin cotton nightgown. “But why are you waiting for me?”

“Because I was worried about you, I didn’t know where you’d gone.”

“I’m sorry, Bets. I did phone your mom and let her know I was okay.”

“I know,” the large brown eyes were smudged with sadness. “But mom seemed really mad, and she wouldn’t tell me what was going on, except that you were with Jackson, and that she guessed you’d come home sometime.”

I kicked off my shoes and stretched out beside her. “Yeah, she was pretty irritated with me.” I turned to look at her. “Do you have any idea why she doesn’t like him?”

Betsy wriggled backward and leaned against the headboard. “It’s just another one of those secrets we live with around here. I know something major happened a long time ago, but no one ever talked about it, not to me at least. I knew dad had a really close friend and they had some kind of fight, but I never even heard his name. When we had Jackson over the other night, I kind of put two and two together and figured he was the guy.” She stared wistfully at me. “What do you think it was?”

“Lordie, I have no idea. You’re right, something big happened, but we’ll just make ourselves crazy if we try to imagine what it was.”

She looked chagrined, and I was afraid that my choice of words had upset her. “Sorry about the word ‘crazy’. I just meant that it’s never a very good idea to try to figure out what other people are thinking. I’m always wrong, and then I just start making a bunch of bad decisions based on a faulty premise.”

“You don’t have to baby me like that and cut the word ‘crazy’ out of your vocabulary. Who knows,” she shrugged, “maybe that is what made everybody nuts around here — the secrets, the doing everybody’s thinking for them.”

I ruffled her hair and tugged her close to me. “You’re a pretty smart cookie, Bets. Lets us promise to never do either of those things to each other — have secrets or try mind reading, okay?”

She sat quietly for a moment and then laid her head on my shoulder. “So if we’re not going to have secrets, tell me what you and Jackson were doing tonight. I thought you were going out for a walk by yourself.”

“Well, I did. That was the problem. Apparently, I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t even notice it was getting dark until I suddenly found myself down by the creek in a thicket of trees and I couldn’t see lights anywhere. I got kind of panicky, but I made myself calm down enough to think clearly, and I remembered that I couldn’t be too far away from where we were the other night. So I turned around and groped my way back to the restaurant.”

“You were scared?” she interrupted, tilting her face to look up at me.

“Yeah, pretty scared. The dark does that to me.”

“So how did you calm yourself down?”

“I said a prayer.”

“You just said a prayer and you felt better?” She sounded incredulous.

“Yes. Actually the prayer kind of said itself. It floated into my mind out of nowhere, and I grabbed hold of it and held on. I just kept saying it over and over, and it made me feel better.”

“What was it?” She stared at me suspiciously.

“‘I am safe, I am sound, all good things come to me as God’s beloved child.’”

“That’s it? That’s the prayer? You didn’t ask God to show you the way home or come rescue you or anything?”

“No, I think all that’s in the prayer already.” I saw the skepticism in her eyes. “Don’t you ever pray about things? What kinds of prayers do you say?”

“I never pray. Nobody in my family does. My dad said God was for fools — something they thought they needed, so they just made Him up.”

“Yeah, well I think I felt that way for a long time myself.”

“What changed?” She asked.

“What changed is that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand being the only power I relied on, being my own God. I got to a place where I wasn’t enough.”

“And so you just made a God up because you needed one? Just like that?” she snapped her fingers.

I smiled and kissed the top of her head. “I like you so much, Bets. You’re my kind of gal. You ask all sorts of questions, and you don’t settle for half answers. When I was your age, I used to drive everybody crazy,” I flinched instinctively. It was as though the word ‘crazy’ had become radioactive. “They used to say I was way too intense because I kept asking and asking until I got an answer I could understand. It didn’t always work and not everybody liked it, but I do. So keep it up. I think it’s healthy.”

She grinned. “Okay, explain it then. How did you go from wanting a God to getting one? Why isn’t that the ‘wish fulfillment’ my dad always talked about?” She grinned impishly. “Aren’t you impressed that I know that term? I think I even know that it was something Freud said.”

“I am impressed, although I must confess to you, in the spirit of our new found honesty, that I don’t think all that much of Freud. How’s that for heresy, saying that to the daughter of a psychiatrist?” I grinned back at her. “But getting back to your question, just because you want something, need something, and then you get it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I mean on a very basic level, you want food, you need to eat, but that doesn’t make the food you get somehow unhealthy or unreal. In fact, some philosophers say that God placed the desire to know Him in us, so our wanting Him is a sign that He exists.”

“That’s interesting. But maybe I don’t like philosophers anymore than you like psychiatrists,” she jousted playfully. “What I want to know is what happened to you. I believe you, I don’t necessarily believe some old philosopher guys I’ve never met.”

“Fair enough. What happened to me, is happening to me, hasn’t been a sudden kind of thing. I spent almost an entire lifetime trying to fix myself — trying to learn enough, do enough, understand enough. Trying to be enough. I always felt I was missing some vital part of me, but I guess I thought I could make up for it if I worked really hard. So I got good grades in school, and I went on to a good university and I got a good job and built an important career. I kept thinking that the next thing I did would make me feel safe and make me happy, give my life meaning.”

“Meaning?” She looked confused.

“You know … a reason for being here on the planet, my special purpose, that kind of thing.”

She nodded.

“Well, a few years ago, I had everything I ever thought would fix me. I had an exciting job, lots of money, important friends. Everything I’d been aiming for was in place, and I still felt lost and frightened. The worst part was that I couldn’t think of one more thing to do about it.”

“What about getting married and having a family?” Betsy asked eagerly.

“That’s a whole different story. Maybe we’ll get to that another time. The point is I just ran out of things to try. It’s easier when you have some big dream and you can pretend that if you get it, then you’ll be happy, but all my dreams had come true. And when that still wasn’t the answer, I was …”

“Sad?” She suggested.

“Sad’s a good word. Yes, I was very sad. One day about a year ago, I took a walk on the Lower East Side. I was restless and I needed to get away from the office. I don’t know why I ended up where I did, but I found myself outside this old stone church. It was almost like I’d stumbled into a time warp. I found out later it was built in the 1600’s, so it really was like something from another world. Anyway, I wandered around it until I came to these massive wooden doors. When I saw that they were open, I went in and,” I paused. “Well, it was amazing. It just kind of took my breath away. There was this huge white wall up at the front, and in the middle of it, way up high, a window — a little portal actually — flooded gold light across the wall. It looked like a painting, like a gorgeous abstract portrait of light. I don’t know what it was, something about that wall just reached out to me and invited me in. So I sat down in one of the old wooden pews. I stayed there for a very long time, all by myself, and while I was sitting there that prayer, the one I just told you, floated through my head. I don’t know where I’d heard it before, or even if I had heard it before. But it penetrated me. It pierced through my despair. And I felt the presence of something other than myself that was loving me and taking care of me right in that very moment.”

I looked over at Betsy. Her intensity had given way to a kind of focused stillness. She sat motionless, as though she were transfixed. “So, did you know it was God?” she whispered softly.

“I think I did. I think I really did.”

She leaned forward, her young face both serious and sweet. “I believe you, Elizabeth. Thank you for telling me.”

I hugged her in a tight, fierce grip. “Thank you, Betsy, for letting me tell you. I’ve never told anyone else about it, ever.”

She looked so sleepy. I felt a pang of guilt at keeping her up so late. “Bets, it’s nearly two-thirty in the morning. Your mom’s going to kill both of us if she finds out what we’ve been up to.”

She slid under the covers and curled into me like a kitten. “Can I stay here with you?” She was nearly asleep before she finished her sentence.

“Of course.”

“And, Elizabeth, what was the name of that church you went into?”

“The Church of the Good Shepherd, why?”

Her voice was thick with sleep, “I just wanted to know.”

I stood up and smoothed the sheet over her shoulders.

MORE ABOUT THE BUTTERFLY’S KINGDOM

Nicholas Lives On – Part 1

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!
Grief’s Wake Up Call
by Gabriel Constans.

Nicholas Lives On – Part 1

In the fall of ninety-four, Reggie and Maggie Green were on holiday in Italy, driving peacefully through Messina with their children Nicholas and Eleanor (seven and four years old) sleeping soundly in the back seat. Out of the dark night a vehicle creeps alongside. They hear angry shouts and demands to pull over. Terrifying gunshots slam into the body of their car. Reg outruns, what turns out to be, Calabrian highway bandits. Upon arriving safely at their hotel they check the children, who they believe have slept through the traumatic incident. As they try to arose Nicholas they discover a horrible gunshot wound to his head. Two days later Nicholas is pronounced dead.

Without hesitation the Greens decide to donate his organs. This act, which to them is the only choice imaginable, soon catapults them into national and international attention. Nicholas organs go to seven people. Organ donations increase dramatically. Surprisingly, revenge is not in the Greens’ vocabulary, only the reporters ask about retribution. Reg Green says, “There is no sum of money that could give me back my son. Whereas justice heals, vengeance just creates new problems.” The Italian Ambassador Boris Biancheri tells them, “Your names and the name of Nicholas have become for Italians somehow synonymous with courage, of forgiveness and compassion.” Upon their arrival back in the U.S. they continued to advocate for organ donations and speak frequently in public about the importance of turning personal tragedy into life for others.

REGGIE: Nicholas was a very gentle and intellectual boy. He had the usual tantrums every kid does, but he was unusually well behaved. I was already in my sixties when we had him and was astonished at how easy he was growing up. He didn’t seem to cry much.

One of the great things was he was such good company. He seemed to be interested in everything. Going out with him on my back or with him sitting next to me in the car was very fulfilling.

He was rigorously honest. When we came back from Italy, after he’d been killed, Maggie said, “I never remember him telling a lie.” I said the same thing and thought, “We better not tell anybody, because they’ll think it’s too much.” But of course now we’ve told everybody. I just couldn’t resist . . . I wanted to do my best. I didn’t want to deify him . . . because there’s always that temptation. Whenever I’m asked to describe Nicholas, that always stands out . . . his honesty.

He loved games and dressing up to play different roles. Robin Hood was his most enduring . . . he kind of owned that role. Maggie always made a big thing of Halloween, getting dressed up and all. They’d make things from scratch weeks beforehand. Nicholas was terribly proud of his costume. Everything had to be exactly right . . . he was awfully fussy. His gentleness was very pronounced . . . he wasn’t a rough boy.

MAGGIE: He was quite comfortable playing alone. He was a little bit different from the other kids but it was never a problem for him or the kids either. They liked him. He was different but he wasn’t a stranger. He was very friendly and willing to play with anybody. He never noticed that people did things differently then he. When he wanted to wear his bowtie, that’s what he wore. He never got caught up in Ninja Turtles or that kind of thing. He was more interested in reading Robin Hood with his dad or Treasure Island.

REGGIE: It didn’t strike him as strange that he was doing this. Like Maggie said, he never noticed that they weren’t doing the things he was. He wasn’t a leader exactly, but he had such good ideas that people often ended up doing what he was doing. Eleanor (Nicholas’s younger sister) still misses him. Early on she would say, “It’s not so much fun anymore without Nicholas to play with. He isn’t here to show me what to do.”

She was four when he was killed. We haven’t gone out of our way to talk about him but we haven’t closed off either. If the conversation turns that direction we let it go that way. Her attitude is sort of wistful. She says, “Do you remember when Nicholas did this? Wouldn’t Nicholas have liked that?” Her memories are surprisingly accurate. She spoke of an incident that occurred in Canada, three or four years ago now, and her memory conformed to what I recall as well.

She was on the backseat of the car at the time Nicholas was shot but slept right through it . . . which is what we thought he had done. She awoke to find that he’d been shot at the same time we discovered it. She doesn’t remember the horror of it . . . the loud angry voices and the shots themselves, which could have been quite terrifying.

When we came home she went back to sleeping in the same room where they’d both slept. She’s had no nightmares and no more tantrums than her father has. There are no obvious, as far as we can see, major psychological scars.

MAGGIE: I’ve heard of families who lose a child and then never speak of them again. They don’t dare say the child’s name to the mother for fear of upsetting her. I can’t understand that. We have many pictures of Nicholas around. Coming across an unexpected photograph can be difficult, but most of the photos are comforting.

REGGIE: One doesn’t want to forget. I mean, if the price of reducing the pain is to forget, then I don’t think it’s worth it. I always remember as much as I can. Day by day the memories fade a little. I try to write things down on paper. Those photographs to me . . . although there is a shot of pain about coming across one unexpected . . .or you know, a piece of clothing . . . something that has a special significance. I saw some of his books the other day and it is hard . . . but they’re very precious also.

MAGGIE: Eleanor has adopted Nicholas cowboy boots. They were an important element in many of his costumes. She wore them until she finally outgrew them. Either they mean something to her or she just felt, “Now they’re mine and I can do whatever I want with them.”

REGGIE: I don’t think of Nicholas being “present” in a spiritual sense. I’m agnostic, which means I don’t know, but it’s very unlikely that he’s somewhere, as it were. To me his being lives only in my memory. I sometimes try to think about something that happened, because it’s a precious memory for me . . . just as it would with other things as well. You know . . . like, “What did my friend and I do that weekend back when? What did he say?” I like that. I play with those old memories.

MAGGIE: In some ways I’m quite childish about it. On important occasions I sometimes credit Nicholas with arranging the weather . . . that he would be delighted with such. Like when it rained after the drought or when we had perfect weather for the dedication of the bell tower (a memorial for Nicholas) after worrying about it for several days. I kind of indulge myself in not being rational about it.

There are some things I feel I ought to do, like put together some photographs and write down memories for me and for Eleanor, which I still plan to do.

In a way we’ve been given a gift by being able to talk about Nicholas to a lot of people. With Reg giving speeches to groups or people like you, we get a lot of opportunities. People say, “I’m sorry to intrude”, but really it’s an opportunity for us to speak about him. Everyone likes to talk about their children and I think everybody whose lost a child would love to, but some people don’t get a chance or don’t know that it would be good . . . how helpful it would be.

REGGIE: It was thrust on us. As soon as Nicholas was shot the hotel was crowded with journalists from Rome, from all over Italy, to ask about the story. It was the lead story on the television for a number of days. It was even bigger news when we decided to donate the organs, which we thought was a purely personal decision. After the first days of questioning about what we might have done to be unsafe or draw the robbers to us, etc., the only question then was, “Where have you donated the organs?” From the time it took us to drive back from the hospital to the hotel they had already heard about the donation. They also asked, “Don’t you hate Italians?” Or, “Does this mean you forgive the killers?”

It was obvious to us over the first few days that this was a major thing for Italy and it could have major effects. We were seen by the Prime Minister. Everybody we met said something about it, particularly in that part of Italy. It was quite clear that we were seen as a symbol for change . . . certainly in Italy. When we came back to this country there was a mass of people at the airport as well, with the same questions. It wasn’t just an Italian issue, it was worldwide and it was obvious that we were in a position to do a lot about it.

Every year five thousand families donate organs in this country, even though it’s far less than needed. A lot of people have gone through what we have.

We simply thought, “He’s gone, there’s no way of bringing him back. Anything we do can’t possibly hurt him, but it can help other people.” To donate just seemed so obvious. We didn’t even have a discussion about it. One of us just turned to the other and said, more or less, what I just said and we both agreed.

There’s a sizable minority of people that donate, but it is difficult. People tell me that parents come into the hospital distraught or angry. A lot of them are angry at whoever “did it” or at the hospital for not somehow “saving them”, or at their husband, wife or self, for not having prevented it. Anger is often a powerful deterrent. People kind of lose their minds on occasion. They can’t cope with it.

We had a couple days to get used to it. Nicholas was in a coma for two days. We didn’t give up hope, but he was obviously not going to live. In fact, as soon as I saw the bullet wound I thought, “This is very, very serious.”

Our overwhelming feeling was of sadness, not anger. I was just so sad for the world . . . that it could do something like this to such an Innocent child. Nicholas had never hurt anybody in his life. He had no malice in him. It seemed like such a sad thing to have happen. That was my emotion throughout. I don’t ever remember getting angry about it . . . not even at the trial.

The reason I reacted this way must have been due to the influences of my childhood . . . mothers . . . fathers. I was an only child and had the right kind of books and lessons. My mother was very strong and sympathetic. She didn’t like to blame other people or look around for a scapegoat. School . . . all the books one read . . . everything gave me messages about the person I wanted to be. I always regarded railing at fate as being a weak sort of response. I’ve never believed that fate singled me out for blame or praise. I always had a happy life.

MAGGIE: I always thought that Reg was very intellectual about virtue and those things. I don’t know how he’s done it, being agnostic, but he seems to have done so very thoughtfully and established a code of behavior for himself . . . of some deep truth. It struck me when I first met him that he was one of the most virtuous people I knew. And luckily, we didn’t have all the religious talk. So, I don’t know if he used the power of intellect at that time to deal with it or not, but he already had a strong foundation.

I was raised as a Presbyterian but have always been quite casual about it. But I found at that time that it was quite necessary to pray and I found that being in a Catholic country . . . with all the trappings of faith around . . . was very comforting. (She mentioned later during lunch that she repeated the Lord’s Prayer when he was killed, as well as, “Do unto others and forgive them their trespasses.”) It didn’t send me back to church, but the comfort and support . . . of what lay beyond and what hope there might be.

My father died when I was eight, so I expect my mother was quite an example of dealing with that. The strength of raising a family by yourself and being very poor. And I suppose it was kind of a shock to find out that things can go wrong. I’ve always expected the worst. I find that a help really. Reg can be out for a walk and I’ll start to wonder if I can hear ambulances. That’s just the way I am.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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10 Exercises for Living With Loss

Mourning the loss of someone you love, adore, respect, hate, despise or have any combination of feelings towards takes time and attention, but you don’t have to just sit there and take it.

Sometimes grief can cause such lethargy and exhaustion that it may seem impossible to “do” anything other than get through the day. The irony is that once you get moving, emoting or acting it usually increases your motivation, energy and health.

Once you have taken the time to acknowledge your loss (whatever it may be), feel it’s full impact and the changes it is causing in your life, you can then find ways to relieve, release, expel, create, explore and/or honor those feelings, sensations, thoughts and beliefs.

Though there are thousands of ways to release the pressure cooker of emotion and suffering that death can cause, here are a few possibilities. You can duplicate these actions in your own life or use them as a catalyst for your own unique creations and manifestations of grief. The only precaution is that you do them in a safe environment and/or with people you trust (where you don’t have to censure yourself) and that they not cause others or yourself harm.

1. Scream, wail, moan, sob, laugh hysterically, play music, sing, howl or cry out loud, in the shower, on the floor, into a pillow, at the beach, in the woods or with a trusted friend. After the death of his wife, a friend of mine said he would face the ocean and cry and scream for a few minutes every day where nobody could hear him.

2. Walk, run, swim, workout, hike or bike at least two to three times a week by yourself or with others. A man whose sister died in an automobile accident said running every day is what saved his life and made his loss bearable.

3. Play, listen to and/or dance with music to release and let go of emotional pain and get outside of your ego and transcend your mind. Music and/or dance, in whatever form, can bring you into the moment and decrease thoughts of the past or worries of the future.

4. Breathing exercises, visualizations, relaxation, stretching and yoga have all been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and positive endorphins to help the body heal. After my uncle committed suicide I found that deep breathing and yoga helped give me more energy when I felt sad or depressed.

5. Meditate, chant and/or pray using whatever practice, tradition or belief system you have or hold. Many women and men I know have found that looking at their inner life closely and honestly and surrendering what they see to something (a higher power, god or consciousness) outside themselves, reduces stress, anxiety and sadness and provides deeper acceptance and meaning.

6. Relax in a hot tub, hot bath, shower, sauna or sweat lodge and let the emotions seep from your pores and evaporate with the steam. A colleague whose mother had died suddenly said he attended numerous sweat ceremonies and found that he was transformed with new release and understandings each time.

7. Put together a collage, altar, memory book, picture frame, treasure box, video or audio tape/CD about the person who died. One family made a video of their father/husband before he died, which brought them great comfort in later years. A child I know routinely goes to the memory book she made after her father’s death.

8. Write, talk and/or have a verbal conversation with, too or about the person who has passed away. Many people find that talking to the deceased helps soften the effects of their physical absence and supports them in maintaining an ongoing (though different) relationship and connection with the person who has died.

9. Create a memorial, plant a tree, make a donation, volunteer or dedicate an event, an action or your life to the loved one who has died. Some folks I know have created organizations or make a point of helping a neighbor or relative in honor of the person who died. To do so helps them keep the person’s memory alive by embodying the attributes they admire and wish to hold onto in their own lives.

10. Time does not heal all wounds, but time and attention can help transform the pain of loss. Take a close look at all the facets of your life that have and are being effected by separation and loss and remember that who you are is not defined by your suffering or past experiences. You are not your stuff.

Don’t let this list stop you from finding your own way to act, walk, crawl, run, jump or dance on your unique, individual journey of living with the reality of loss. You don’t have to ignore or try to “get over” grief and mourning by avoiding or suppressing it. Use it as a catalyst, as fertilizer, as and open door for change, growth and transformation. Don’t just sit there, DO something!

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