Polishing the Soul
My friend Brenda posted this song last week, and I have listened to it everyday for a week. Sometimes music grips me in mysterious ways, and all I can say is that there is something going on inside of me that resonates with a song.
Have you ever struggled with feeling good enough? Chances are, if you were an addict or alcoholic, you did. My friend Christi warned me in early recovery, to pay attention whenever that feeling came over me, because it signaled danger. I was making comparisons, which were always dangerous, and most often not helpful. Not to mention, inaccurate.
What struck me about this song was the idea that “we are the sum of the choices we make..and to never lay down at the mercy of fate.”
To this beautiful woman, being good enough was about asking these kinds of questions:
- Did I trust enough?
- Did I risk enough?
- Did I give enough?
- Did I ever give up on anyone?
I don’t know about you, but hearing her belt out those questions made me feel better about myself. She opened the arena to a whole new ball game and took it to another spiritual level. I wasn’t a powerless victim, and I had the right, and responsibility to make choices. She defined the questions in the song, and I don’t disagree with them. I would only say that the questions matter if you want to feel alive and know anything about love.
I grew up with the mistaken notion that one could really be good, and the arrogant idea that I would figure out what it took, and do it. Then, the world would make sense, and I would get what I needed. I wasn’t conscious of the ego driven demon that was scripting my reality. And, I had not yet learned that only God is good. I experienced God, then I knew it for sure. Trusting, risking, giving and loving, are all about pushing the emotional and spiritual envelope, so that God can move. That is real power. And I believe that is why I resonated with this beautiful song, because it is full of power.
This orientation has literally changed my life, for the better. And, it has saved my butt too, because I have lived through situations that look like massive failure. I learned that I could always give something, no matter what was going on. Knowing God oriented me to the good because in the presence of God, I was complete. No performance necessary. Actually, not allowed.
How liberating. I stopped being so fearful and dependent on others. I became dependent on God, and giving became almost automatic, and without conditions.
I’ve been thinking about my friend Bill O’Connor this week too. Bill was an extraordinary man that I met when I was only 21, in college, and driven by the need to be good. He wore thrift store clothes, traveled the world in the summertime, and rode his bike all year long, even through the winters in Marquette. He was very bright, but he hardly went to class, and he usually borrowed my notes. I borrowed his adventures, vicariously. I was smitten with him, but I was hitched, and he was always involved with some beauty from another country.
Bill came to see me when I was a student in Law School, and he was still going to school, traveling the globe, and rolling his own cigarettes. The divide in our lifestyle had gotten larger, but our affection for each other never waned.
I was thrilled to see him at a party in Marquette in 1998, and astonished to learn that he had three gorgeous children, a lovely wife, and a house. He was driving a Subaru, and still had his Schwinn bike that he used to ride me on. We promised to catch up, over a cup of coffee in our old haunt.
Just after Memorial day of 2001, I got a call from his family, asking for help. Bill was dying of liver cancer, and he didn’t have much time. He wanted my help to get his legal affairs in order.
I saw him three times before he died, and I paid attention to everything he said. His smiling Irish eyes still shined, and his hugs almost took my breath away. Our last visit was at his bedside, while he cried over the atrocity of September 11,2011. He was more moved by that, than his own impending death, and I’ll never forget that about him.
I asked if there was anything else I could do for him and he said no. He thanked me for our friendship, and told me that he believed that everyone would take care of his family, and help to raise his children. I asked him if he was scared and he said no. I was relieved, but I wanted to hear more. Bill and I had never talked about God, and I wondered where he fell in the spectrum of believers. He continued,
“It feels like my soul is being polished. I’ll see you again, in whatever that reality is, at a Third World Cafe, and we’ll have a cup of coffee.”
I kissed his hand, and then his forehead, and then I walked away. He had gifted me, and I could feel it.
Imagine the faith of a man that was about to die describing the loss as his soul being polished. Bill obviously knew God, because he was very peaceful and clear.
Bill didn’t talk about regrets and he didn’t talk about what he hadn’t done. This sad turn of events felt like a process that would make him more radiant than he already was, and he had surrendered to it. I would think of Bill fondly over the years, especially when I was in the middle of something that felt really hard, impossible or downright terrifying. I would think about my soul being polished, and I could feel love in that gesture where my mind may have conjured resentment or blame. It was a beautiful perspective that always brought me back to the reality of being. We are always a work in process and it is a more graceful one when I continue to trust, to risk, to love and to always give.