Making Amends; The Joy of Reconciliation

Amends making, though often difficult, is a great equalizer and healer. The harm done by our words and actions can leave hurt feelings and deep wounds. If left unattended, they can destroy relationships. But when we are able to own our mistakes and take responsibility for damage done, we will experience the joy of reconciliation.

The familiar promise "first, do no harm" is attributed to the Hippocratic Oath which some doctors pledge in medical school. It isn't universally made by the way, and practically impossible to fulfill. How could any person live up to such a creed. We are human and fallible. At a time when other organizations seem to be adopting 'do no harm', we might want to step back and take a closer look at what that phrase might entail. If I was to create comic book characters for the no harm doctrine they would be Expectation Man and Assumption Woman. Their super power would be perfection in all things. Since we are not perfect, it's a sure thing that we will do some harm, inflict pain, and blunder from time to time. The difference between a brute who leaves life strewn with wreckage and a person of conscience who cleans up mistakes is the real-life super power of making amends.

There are plenty of mistakes, wounds and regrets that reside in the fog of yesterday. The promises of today will remain enshrouded in them without our active participation.

So how does one go about making amends? The folks of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) seem to have it nailed. Seven of their 12 Steps show how. A member of that organization once told me if one was to boil the steps down into six words, they would be Trust God. Clean House. Help Others. He went on to say that if there is no housecleaning the former and later are impossible. Anyway, the process comes down to taking a personal inventory, admitting the nature of your wrongs, and then going directly to the people who have been injured, accepting responsibility for damage done. Forgiveness along with the chance for restored relationships becomes a possibility. And the relief experienced on both sides is what I call the joy of reconciliation.

In this era of increasing polarization, name calling, and hate-speak there is lots of harm being done. Family members and friends are distancing themselves...each taking up their own assumed moral high ground. When those who have stirred up all of this divisiveness are long gone we will be left in isolated and lonely places. Perhaps adopting the 12 Step model would be a plan. Start out by admitting to yourself the mistakes which have done harm. Then try to make them right (or as AA people say ‘Do the Next Right Thing’). Remember, making those amends will result in the joy of reconciliation.

Mutual Respect; A First Dose of Healing

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There is a lack of mutual respect which fuels the misunderstanding, violence and hatred so evident in society today. The differences we have are strengths, not weaknesses. In fact, it is our rich diversity that makes this country so vibrant and unique. Our oneness looks more like a multi-layered quilt than a homogenized melting pot.

I'm always skeptical when someone quips that they are 'color blind' while discussing issues surround race. Saying such a thing strips the other person of their distinctive flavor and negates the special gifts we each have to offer. People don't have to want the same things. We don't have to worship the same way. In fact, we don't need anything in common at all to have mutual respect.

I was listening to an interview with Dee Margo, mayor of El Paso following the mass shooting in his town. In response to a question concerning gun violence, he offered some good home spun Texas wisdom saying;

"There's a lot goin' on in America right now. We’re gonna have to deal with it on all levels."

He is right of course. There are no simple solutions to the surge of hatespeak and horrific bloodshed we are experiencing. Much has to be done to change our direction and few options should be eliminated. But a first dose of healing would be to put away our measuring sticks. This will allow us to regard the sacred dignity of one another and generate an energy which flows both ways. The resulting mutual regard will transform into mutual respect. And it's almost impossible to hate or hurt someone you respect.

Have Hope; The Best Is Yet To Be

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Hope is never in short supply though we sometimes turn our faces from its light and stare into the darkness. This looking away invites gloom to our table. Fear and discouragement creep in as unwanted guests. But even so, there still remains a flicker of hope which cannot be extinguished. When we reawaken to its presence, the shadows of uncertainty will always withdraw.

Hope transforms every aspect of life because it is the essence of faith. Times of trouble will come and go. But those who carry the torch of faith and hope will light the path of recovery and healing guiding us to the place where love does not have to be proven. These beacon carriers are angels among us. They come in every size, shape, and color asking only that we open our hearts to join their quest of freedom from doubt.

For me, and for the clients I serve, doubt has proven to be the antithesis of hope. It is a faith killer for those who suffer with addictions and from childhood trauma. Doubt informs us that nothing will bring relief. Nobody will be able to help. It says that we will always be alone.

"Hope is not an idle, misty, sympathetic emotion. It is a faith-filled response to life." ~ Robert K. Jones

Even when sword rattling is deafening and all seems to be lost, we must choose to respond to life with hope believing that the best is yet to be. And we know this belief to be true because the outcomes are not relegated to darkness. They are in the hands of a loving God.

A Cry for Justice; When Mercy is Abandoned

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There is an almost deafening cry for justice nowadays. So many people feel like they have been treated unfairly. Certainly, the evidence of widespread child abuse, disproportionate incarceration along racial and ethnic lines, and all kinds of discrimination, are reasons for those who suffer to seek recompense. But is justice really what we seek? Too often those deafening cries sound more like angry rumblings for revenge.

When we desperately desire for those who have wronged us to get-what-is-coming to them, practically all notions of mercy are abandoned. There is a bit of the vigilante in the best of us. Isn't it strange that when we pray to God we always ask for mercy when it comes to our wrongdoings but never ask for justice. Mercy seems to be what we want for ourselves while justice is what we pursue for others.

The difference between justice and mercy is that mercy seeks forgiveness and justice seeks punishment. Both of them wish to make the victim whole again. Don't get me wrong. There must always be consequences to unacceptable behavior. Without rules, laws and impartial justice, anarchy overcomes societal order. I have served as an officer of the court, a probation officer, and a pardons/parole prison counselor. So I thoroughly understand the need for a system of judicial penalty. But maybe, just maybe, if we would first apply The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) the difference between justice and mercy might blur a little bit.

In the midst of current conditions while seemingly surrounded by chaotic suffering, we could easily miss seeing the presence of God in those who have wounded us. We must remember that when mercy is abandoned, the heavy hand of justice can destroy us as easily as any shadowy external enemy. May our guardians of justice always consider the flawed nature of all people and balance their decisions with fairness. May we, in turn be merciful as God is merciful to us.

We Can Be Better; We Can Do Better

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We are all good people.

That is a very bold statement. It is bold because there are undeniably so many examples of deplorable human behavior. It manifests in ever-expanding acts of violence, evil and hatred. However, we are all just as undeniably born as good people. Things happen along the way that harden our hearts and minds. But each of us continues to be a work in progress with a God-given capacity for good and an ability to become much better. Nobody is perfect. When these truths are recognized, we can finally begin to embrace the fundamental goodness in others and in ourselves.

Our whole mission and purpose in life is one of love.
— Robert Kenneth Jones

We have slipped into a dangerous and slippery place lately, where lines are drawn and walls have been built between those who are most like us and those who are different. Skin color, ethnic background, gender, religious beliefs, language, sexual orientation. and socioeconomic status are among the many ways we are dividing ourselves (most often in the name of safety and security). By so doing, we disown the ones who need us most. Those who suffer are held in contempt and blamed for their poverty of substance and spirit as if it comes from some inborn lack of initiative or laziness. Then, life becomes a contest of the strong against the weak which ultimately leads to wholesale persecution.

Where do we encounter God if not in the faces of one another? How can we know God at all if we establish a hierarchy of worth?

In short, we cannot.

The only God that can exist under those circumstances is more akin to Santa Claus who continually makes a list of the naughty and nice. Judgment and punishment are the hallmarks of how that kind of God relates to us. This cannot be. If God is Love in one breath, God cannot be executioner in the next. But since God is Love, and we are God's children, then our whole mission and purpose in life is one of Love. Jesus makes this clear in The Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) when we are told above all else, to Love God, our neighbors and ourselves.

And so, good people, we are empowered. We are better than we thought. We can be better. We can do better.

The Bondage of Worry; Setting Yourself Free

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Worry is a jailer who keeps us shackled. He forces us to peer ten steps ahead while reminding us of how inadequately we are prepared for what might come next. I have seen the effects of this in my counseling offices day after day for the past four decades. It manifests in substance abuse disorders, depression, anxiety, and hypochondria. But regardless of diagnosis, the result is that life (which is going on in the present moment) rushes by unappreciated. And hope is stifled. The worry prison makes sure of such things.

Worry is a liar. Studies show that most people spend anywhere from one to eight hours every day worrying about things when only 8% of those problems ever actually materialize. What a waste of time and energy! Freeing ourselves from bondage requires acceptance of this reality.

I'm always comforted by the way Jesus addresses worry. He gives perfect guidance to listeners in what is known as his Sermon on the Mount. In this message of how to live, pray and serve one another, he gives special attention to worry telling us simply not to do it. (Matthew 6:25-34). He asks if anyone can add a single hour to their life by worrying. Of course, the answer is a resounding NO. For if we are to be free and if we are to live fully...life demands an even more resounding YES. The fact is that our control over outcomes is limited no matter how much we would like to be in charge of them. What is required is that we do what needs to be done and address whatever concerns crop up. After that, we just have to 'Let go and Let God'.

Here is a little slogan I offer to my clients. It's a great reminder when worries show up and try to imprison us.

This is the only moment available to me. This is it. Just this.

Finding the Pony; A Full Embrace of Abundance

Our load will be lightened and spirit renewed when we delight in the fullness of life.

We have become such a people of more, bigger and better...quickly tossing aside treasures of yesterday in favor of today's bling. Our sense of lack has obscured the presence of incredible abundance surrounding us.  It gets pretty ridiculous.  Someone I know owns a perfectly good, late model smartphone, but is champing at the bit to spend nearly $1,000 for the newest release. Really. We seem to be chasing headlong after some distant pleasure that, when finally obtained, provides such transient comfort that we must start the pursuit all over again. I'm reminded of the story about two little boys being tested by a psychologist:

A researcher took two subjects, an eight-year-old privileged boy and an eight-year-old marginalized boy, placing them in two separate rooms.  The wealthy kid was seated among dozens of brightly wrapped gifts and the poor kid was enclosed with great ceiling-high piles of horse manure.  When the scientist returned to see what was happening two hours later, he found the boy with the presents wandering around his room with the carnage of opened presents strewn about.  When asked what he was doing the child replied, "I'm bored.".  Arriving in the second room, the researcher found an eight-year-old throwing horse manure all over the place.  When asked what he was doing, the child replied, "Hey mister, with all of this horse manure, there has to be a pony in here somewhere."

We can do better than this. We are better than this.  Our own great privilege will be revealed if only we could take a personal and corporate inventory.  We will surely rediscover that the cup runneth over.  In fact, there is so much extra that we could probably never be without. God has given us an abundance of love that we might do good for those who struggle and suffer.  He implores us to appreciate what we have and to share our rich blessings.  Jesus and every prophet make this clear.  Now is the time to embrace our abundance. It is delightful. Look. There is a pony in there after all.

Good Intentions; A Paving Project

The good we do lives on forever.  But our intentions disappear with the early morning mist.

There is a great little pub near the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois named Murphy's. Famous for its cheeseburgers and fries, it has been a haunt of graduate students and alumni for the past 50 years.  It is also known for the graffiti carved on its tables and written on other surfaces.  One of my contributions once graced a booth.  Some of the words reflect the transformation of hearts and minds.  But my favorite one said this;

No regrets. No more apologies

This poetic wall-thought still speaks to me.  It tells of mistakes, excuses, explanations, and justifications offered up over the young life of one embarking on a new journey, seemingly free of external pressure and expectations.  It was a promise made which probably couldn't be kept for very long. So it goes with most good intentions.

I know what is implied when they say "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." But it seems rather counterintuitive that there would be a well-paved highway to fire and brimstone.  The suggestion is that Old Scratch somehow uses what we fail to do for his benefit.  Though all of that mythology is interesting, it is more likely that the paving project of good intentions falls under auspices of The Department of Individual Neglect. Everyone suffers when we allow the infrastructure of our hopes and dreams fall to waste.

Like hopes and dreams, good intentions require legs and wings.  They have to be implemented with passion and hard good work.  They cannot be compromised by expedient distractions but must be cherished, nurtured, and developed with discipline. Good intentions can be a cranky bugger. I guess this is why we let many of them go.

Oneing; Our Undeniable Kinship

There is so much talk about how divided, tribal, isolated and separate we are becoming.  At a time when science, technology and authentic religion point to our obvious interconnected oneness, voices cry out that there must be some kind of mistake. But there is no mistake. We are all cut from the same cloth.  We are kin, woven together with everything and everybody.

The problem with accepting the truth of our undeniable kinship is that it is always followed by a sense of civil responsibility.  It is far easier to go with the lie of separateness.  When we recognize brothers and sisters in one another, there comes a call to compassionate action restorative justice, and mercy. It no longer makes sense to hate, to seek retribution or to find a scapegoat.  Good families work together to find solutions for differences because our relationships have a firm foundation of love.

"We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all people, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to." ~ Sister Joan Chittister

It wasn't until I discovered the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that the full realization of my oneness with the struggles of others really hit me. Although my lifework had been working with children who suffered unimaginable abuse, none of my counsel seemed to apply to me or connected to my own woundedness. Forced by the consequences of drowning my sorrows in booze, I stumbled into AA. It was a remarkable experience. Men and women freely and intimately joined in a common oneness surrounding their most devastating tragedies. They forged an alliance and healing community. I left with a sense that everyone on the planet should join AA whether they ever had a drinking problem or not. The result for me was that I became a better counselor and a better human being.

This acceptance and acting out of our undeniable kinship is often referred to as "oneing", a term first used by Julian of Norwich in the fifteenth century. Bill Wilson and AA figured it out in the 1940s. Once pursued, nothing short of it will ever satisfy you again. When fully embraced it will change your life and it will change the world.

Here and Now; Just One Moment in Time

We have one brief shining moment. And this is it. Here and now.

Do you remember how easy it was to savor those endless moments of summer when you were little? A big black ant trying to carry some ponderous treasure several times its size would captivate us. We could lay in the cool grass watching clouds in the sky finding shapes of dinosaurs (and lions and tigers and bears). Impatient parents would ask if we hadn't anything better to do. It was hard for us to imagine what in the world they were talking about. But soon enough, the languishing comes to an end. Jackie Paper no longer comes to visit Puff. We start growing up and put more value on future goals than on miracle moments. Eventually. worries about the future and regrets about the past consume us. Though, as any psychologist will confirm, something of the child remains. I've seen toughened men weep when they read or hear Rumi's poem Red Shirt;

Has anyone seen the boy who used to come here?
Round-faced troublemaker, quick to find a joke,
slow to be serious.
Red shirt, perfect coordination, sly, strong muscles,
with things always in his pocket.
Reed flute, ivory pick, polished and ready for his talent.
You know that one.
Have you heard stories about him?
Pharaoh and the whole Egyptian world
collapsed for such a Joseph.
I would gladly spend years getting word
of him, even third- or fourth-hand.

Since some of that boy or girl lingers beneath our adult busyness, maybe God is trying to implore us to reach inside for something we thought was lost. Perhaps the truth we knew so well as children is a key to living life fully. For what we have done is finished, and what we might accomplish someday only dwells in the mist. Gordon Cosby, the beloved mentor of so many servant leaders taught me that all of eternity has conspired to bring us to this very moment.

Be quiet and think about his lesson. This sacred moment is the crossroad of time, space, and eternity. They coexist as marvelous works of creation. We certainly might not perceive it during painful and tragic situations. We might not even 'get it' on a vacation beach walk at sunrise. But during this one moment in time, taken from the perspectives of each living creature, contains every one of God's brush strokes. Birth, death, love, hate, peace, war, anguish, and ecstasy are all happening here and now. And as Gordon Cosby said; "We have been waiting for you for a long, long time."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96aAx0kxVSA

It is at this crossroad, if we allow the child in us to speak of ants and clouds, that we will encounter Immanuel...God-With-Us.

Knowledge at Our Fingertips; You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

We have spent the first half of June exploring concerns and dangers of our ever-emerging digital world.  This is the first of four articles which looks at the incredible benefits it brings us. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Learning things, gaining knowledge, and wisdom which came with great patience and effort only a few years ago now lies at our fingertips.  Information once stored away at libraries and museums is just as easily accessible as your favorite television show.  Poetry, literature, art, science, and technology can be studied and explored at a whim from the comfort of home. How miraculous and exciting to live in such an age.

Some of my grown children and spouses make a living in the technology fields.  One is a Data Quality Manager, another Director of Technology Recruiting and a third is an Account Executive Manager of Cloud Technologies.  Our son, who just came back from an international convention in Nashville, was explaining to us how a new program solves logistic problems as easily as organizing Lego's.  His father-in-law, an accounting professor, chirped in that he was lost in whatever Steven was describing.  Though not exactly lost myself, our techy pro was telling the story of languages and applications which mystify me in so many ways.

I am no neophyte to computers.  My experiences began with them back in early 1971 when, as a young behaviorist working with troubled boys, I learned Fortran in an effort to use computers to predict adolescent behavior.  It didn't work.  My guess is that even the newest programs and languages explained by our son couldn't accomplish that heady task.  But you never know. Long story short, I was hooked on the burgeoning technology right then and there.  Over the years I have modernized hospital communications between treatment teams using personal computers, created programs to diagnose the severity of addictive illness while inventing individual strategies for recovery, and on and on.  But here I am today, swimming in a sea of technological evolution which overwhelms my head, heart, and gut.  Extraordinary wonders await us which are just around the corner...and we are at that corner already. It is developing at lightning speed and not a single aspect of life is devoid of tech influence and guidance.

Five Awesome Digital Wisdom Revolutions

  1. Human Brain Project: Research neuroscientists are mapping the brain creating a 3D atlas stitching together thousands of brain cross-sections showing details as small as a human cell. This will advance neuroscience medicine in ways unimaginable a decade ago.
  2. Three Dimensional Printing: Architecture, engineering, medicine, aerospace, and the auto industry (to name a few) are all using this amazing technology to make things in new and innovative ways.  Home users are creating projects that are mind-blowing.  You can get an industrial grade 3D printer on Amazon for $1,500 and have it shipped with a guaranteed delivery date in four days.  Yikes.
  3. E-Learning for Anyone: It's not just for school kids anymore.  E-Learning (technology-based learning) is an industry that has been embraced by schools, corporations, teachers, and students of every ilk. Lee Ann Obringer, Communications Director of The Walking Classroom Institute says that "E-learning is to classroom learning as cell phones are to a pay phone at the bus station." It provides self-paced programs at low cost in convenient locations with continually updated content. What a benefit for traditional and non-traditional learning milieu.
  4. Artificial Intelligence: AI is the replication of human intelligence by computers.  The technology allows machines to learn from experience in part by recognizing patterns.  New Deep Learning software recognizes speech, identifies images and makes predictions.  Self-Driving cars, medical diagnosis, nanorobots, design/security systems, and personal assistant robots (here comes C-3PO) are all on the AI horizon.
  5. DNA Engineering: Gene editing technology is giving scientists the ability to change our DNA. They can add to, edit or remove genetic material.  There is such great interest in this miraculous medical engineering as it offers new hope in curing diseases such as cancer, sickle cell, mental illness, and HIV among many others. Ethics concerns are valid of course and have halted research in many countries.

There is a seemingly endless list of dynamic digital technologies happening and developing right now.  Managing them in our micro and macro lives are daunting.  Each of us is responsible to the extent of digital impact on ourselves and our families. But one thing is certain...our reality is changing dramatically and will continue to change regardless of any effort to slow it down.  I suggest this...Hold on and enjoy the ride.

Getting Soft; Casualties of a Digital Age

At the turn of the century, Theodore Roosevelt preached the gospel of the “strenuous life; of toil and effort, of labor and strife”. Over one hundred years later, American’s lead increasingly sedentary lives.Bob Jones explores the cost both physical and spiritual of the digital age.

Digital Life; Challenges of A New Frontier

The topic we are investigating in June is "Mastering Our Digital; Recovering the Real World."  In a series of four articles and four follow-ups, our hope is to better grasp the nature of this barely charted course before us in order to maintain at least one firmly planted foot in the material dimension where we live and breathe.

We have a dilemma. Portable screens, social media, internet gaming, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and cable television have intruded to a point that we seem beyond the control of them and of ourselves.  Even elections are compromised by dark forces bent on influencing who we are and what directions governments should take.  It's all pretty overwhelming, especially to skeptical generations which lived most of their lives without these machines. Though the dilemma may appear insoluble, it is not. Or at least it doesn't have to be.  After all, these 'things' are designed to make our lives better.  The quandary is whether we should fully embrace, begrudgingly accept, or run away screaming as this New Frontier of Digital Life looms before us.

There is a wonderful story about President Eisenhower which circulated among my IBM friends back in the early 1980s. Ike had commissioned an early supercomputer for the Pentagon.  When completed, an entire section of one subterranean floor was devoted to the machines.  A master control station was set up behind impenetrable glass walls.  According to legend, the President came to see his creation and asked to be alone with it for a minute.  He typed out this question, "Is there a God?" and the computers all started flashing and whirring.  After several minutes, a single card spits out of its' slot toward Eisenhower.  It said, "There is now."

Bill Moyers queried renowned author, historian, and professor, Joseph Campbell during a 1988 PBS documentary called "The Power of Myth." concerning computers and the role they might play in the future.  Campbell looked over at his computer screen and said: "To me, that machine is almost alive. I could mythologize that damn thing." but went on to say, "The first time anybody made a tool, I mean, taking a stone and chipping it so that you can handle it, that’s the beginning of a machine. It’s turning outer nature into your service. But then there comes a time when it begins to dictate to you." It seems that Joseph Campbell had already foreseen thirty years ago what might happen in a computer age.  But there is no reason to rage against the machine.  With the Eisenhower story and Campbell's warning in mind, what we must take charge of is the extent to which we allow the digital world to dictate our daily life.

Trying to find a good perspective of the digital era involves looking at some of the negative and positive aspects of its landscape as we experience it today.  This is an early stage of technological development really. We have a better chance to guide and adapt now than if we wait very much longer.  I am reminded of the popular modern myth "Game of Thrones" which just finished its' final season on HBO.  Despite a chorus of voices that warned "Winter is coming" everyone procrastinated.  Old ways of dealing with conflicts, security, and enemy threat persisted even when the almost invulnerable White Walkers were in plain sight and civilization seemed doomed. Myths like this one have the power of validating or maintaining a society while providing a path forward (as Campbell tells us). Now is the time for action as we master our digital and recover the real world.

This is the direction we will take over the next four weeks together.  Hopefully, our eyes will be opened a bit and we will be able to better navigate the seas ahead without too much upheaval. Follow the content link on each of the 'concerns and celebrations' below as you experience one of the many wonders of the digital age.  Instant information.

Four Areas of Concern
There are plenty of areas in which we can focus our concerns about modern digital life. These are four which stand out as ones deserving of our attention:

  1. Digital Addiction/Electronic Screen Syndrome
  2. Personal Privacy and Security/Real Stranger Danger
  3. Global Cyber Crime/Hacking our Future
  4. Physical and Mental Health/Soft Brains and Bodies

Four Areas of Celebration
It's a small world after all.  Our digital world has connected us in ways we could have never imagined.  People who are not like 'us' become potential friends as we forge into this new frontier.  Here are four of many reasons to celebrate our screens.

  1. Wisdom at Our Fingertips; The Future of Research, Learning, and Education
  2. Alternative Environments; Family Enrichment by Work-at-Home Providers
  3. Social Media; Staying Close and Keeping In Touch with Old friends and Family
  4. Medical Miracles; From Diagnosis to Treatment OnLine.

Grief Transformation; Cocoons and Butterflies

We have spent a month together this May delving into grief. From the Five Stages, to coping, and even celebrating.  There is always more to say. But one point always comes to the surface, as it did for my friend Elisabeth Kübler-Ross twenty-five years after an awakening she had three miles from Lubin, Poland at Majdanek Concentration Camp in 1946. The story she told me and recounted in a short book she wrote, The Cocoon and The Butterfly, provide perhaps the best understanding of the transformative power and nature of grief.

In 1992, while helping my patient and friend, Michael, through the struggles he was having with terminal illness and alienation from his family, I had a long conversation with his mentor Kübler-Ross. Her straightforward advice was that he should come back to her ranch in Head Waters, Virginia for a retreat.  Our talk then took another turn as I asked her why she chose to work with death and dying, particularly with children, which had been the focus of her medical career.  For the first time, EKR elaborated with me about her life.  Her initial one-word-response was this; "Butterflies." Then she went on to tell me a story.

In 1946, Elisabeth, one of three triplets born to her parents in Zurich, Switzerland, had at age 19, decided that she would become a physician.  World War II had ended in Europe the year before.  Elisabeth told me she felt compelled to join the International Voluntary Service for Peace in an effort to help decimated communities and provide assistance to countless refugees.  It was her visit to Majdanek Concentration Camp that changed everything.  The SS killed tens of thousands of an estimated 90,000 Jews deported to Majdanek.  Three gas chambers were used to choke the life out of prisoners, many of them women and children.  It was in the children's barracks and at one of the gas chambers that Elisabeth saw the butterflies.  She was sorting shoes on the floor of one of the gas chambers when she noticed the drawings.  Children had used their fingernails and rocks to carve butterfly images on the walls.  Hundreds if not thousands of the etchings were in the barracks as well.  She was shocked, shaken, and bewildered.  How could these little people, condemned to forced labor and death find a place in their hearts to draw butterflies....and Why? Though she did not have an answer, EKR made a decision then and there to become a psychiatrist and to work with children who were suffering and terminally ill. It was in 1971, as she recounted, after sitting at the deathbeds of many hundreds of children that her answer to the Holocaust puzzle came.  She told it to me in these words;

"The little ones were no longer in cocoons.  Now they were butterflies.  They would be set free from the hellish concentration camp. No longer prisoners of their bodies.  No more torture. No more separation from their mothers and fathers.  This is the message they were leaving for me and for all of those left behind.  I have used the image of the butterfly for the past twenty years to explain the process of death and dying."

The pain and suffering of horrific losses have the power to change us and to shape our lives like no other force.  After we descend into the darkness there will come a possibility of liberation.  We see this in the lives of people like Elie Wiesel, a child survivor of concentration camps, who went on to "combat indifference, intolerance, and injustice through international dialogues and youth-focused programs".  We witness the incredible work of John Walsh whose little son Adam was brutally murdered in Fort Lauderdale at the hands of a child molester.  John has gone on to expose every kind of crime as he advocates for justice with his television shows and writings.  Of course, there are many more like Elisabeth, Elie, and John.  They each have been transformed, taken from predictable lives, thrown into a cave of darkness, and have emerged with wings.  They point us to the possibility of new beginnings. They also give us a message that there is something more. Like the children of Majdanek, they signal to us that there is something more powerful than death.

When a caterpillar begins to spin her cocoon the most incredible things begin to happen.  Woven into what appears to be a shroud, the little creature starts a cycle of death.  Then, in an unexplainable moment, it becomes a goo of nothingness.  From that goo, a form appears and new creation begins to take shape.  Soon, with an incredible struggle that empowers its wings, a butterfly breaks forth from the cocoon.  She loosens, exercises, and then flies into the sky.  What a miracle.  So it is for each and every one of us.  EKR saw it happen without exception when her young patients transitioned from life.  As she was so fond of saying; "Life doesn’t end when you die. It starts.”