Saturday, September 03, 2011

Comment Worth Foregrounding

BR writes:

Looking forward to reading the book. Your mention is a good excuse to ask the question I've been meaning to:

We agree that religion is a mess. And the story you've told from Pillars of Flame to Writing the Icon to this blog has resonated for me. But what to do about, well, church?

I ask because I've been out of church for years, and am moving to a new city. So I want to ground myself in faith again, find some people, and find something beyond silent prayer and reading heady theology in my garret. Yet I have little idea what to do. With your work, religion is rooted in silence, and I won't find that in almost any American church. Pillars of Flame suggests the whole enterprise is mad. I understand this, but I also can't bear to go it alone much more. Impossible to answer such a question for a stranger, I know, but thank you for your time and your work.


Thank you for writing, for your kind remarks, and for asking this very difficult question.

You give voice to what many of us feel, myself included. People like us don't wish to be apart from the community, but there is no community to be part of, not only in America, but in a lot of other places. Having said that, it may offer a modicum of comfort to know the following:

Last year Blogger—unbeknownst to me—put a counter on this blog, which, being a techno-dork, I only recently discovered. I was dumbfounded to learn that in the last 14 months there have been just under 40,000 hits from more than 77 countries, and, judging from the search information, these are not random accidents but intentional.

So, weirdly, those of us who feel as you do and find themselves in the same dilemma are numerous, but we have no way to form a community except this ephemeral one in the ether, a community of solitudes. This is only to offer cold comfort, but you are not alone.

I wish I had something helpful to say. I can only tell you what I do. I've sampled many of the churches in Oxford and the only one that is bearable is the cathedral. Of course there is no community there in the sense that the English don't do that in the way that Americans think of it—not that I ever was able to be a part of any American parish community, either. And then there is the English class system and the rest of it. In addition, there's something about people like us who understand about religion and silence that sets off everyone else's alarm bells, especially those of the clergy. What makes it worse is that a lot of the clergy know we're offering something they need to look at.

I can't tell you how many times a vicar or rector has said to me, 'I know you're right, but I could never do that in my parish'. This of course says volumes about the disdain in which the clergy hold their congregations, their reluctance to give up micro-managing, and also the fact that they don't want to expend the enormous amount of energy it would take to figure out how changes could be implemented—the most effort being the need to realise how they come across and to change their own attitudes. If they would listen to the laity and look in the mirror the laity are holding up, they might be pleasantly surprised and discover that there is far less effort in letting go the wrong kind of control.

At the cathedral there are several canons who understand the need for silence but they are caught up by their context and have this dreadful liturgical book—Common Worship—that they have to use. They also are stuck with the mostly cack-handed NRSV ("the sound of sheer silence" in the story of Elijah is one of the few strokes of genius). I don't understand the ins and outs of English canon law; there is freedom of choice but also draconian restrictions on when those choices can be exercised. And of course the congregation is inherently conservative.

Anyway, I try to go weekdays for the 7:15 AM Matins and the Eucharist. I go early to have time to sit in quiet. Sometimes one or two of the canons are there, too. But, to say we are community would be rather stretching it. Being a cathedral, and particularly an English cathedral, and particularly an Oxford cathedral, there is an even greater gulf fixed between the clergy and laity than normally obtains. Having said that, the cathedral clergy here have an unusual level of humanity, and the cathedral is a far more welcoming place than other churches in Oxford I have sampled.

This situation can't be helped; it's the nature of Oxford, and those who are both canons and full-time academics are all under tremendous pressure and need to protect themselves. American academics who come here are shocked at how hard Oxford academics work. I try to be silently supportive and sympathetic (except on occasions like last Thursday morning), but in fact, I have reached the point, now, where I am in fact glad of the gulf: as far as the institution goes, I don't want to be caught up in a hopeless and deluded situation—as you put it, 'the whole enterprise is mad'; I don't want my vision clouded with upset; I am reconciled with my exile, although that doesn't mean it is ever comfortable, and I'm quite sure that Christianity is most definitely not about being comfortable.

To complicate matters, the cathedral clergy know what I have written so that even if there are those who are sympathetic, they keep their distance. Although it was not my intention at the time—I was too new and naïve then to know how things work in Oxford—the temerity of writing a book like Pillars of Flame while living within the walls of an institution that has produced thirteen archbishops of Canterbury, John and Charles Wesley, etc. etc. etc. has left its mark of Cain, as it were.

At the same time, although it is painfully hard, I have been encouraged by more than one bishop to go to church precisely because my merely being there makes the situation uncomfortable. It's an aspect of my life I wish weren't there but I have no choice. How this came about is a tale unto itself not to be told at this point in time; it is not a role I sought but rather one that the dark underbelly of Oxford wished on me: a classic example of the fearful creating exactly what was most feared.

Long ago I realised that for all practical purposes the church that was the context thirty-two years ago when I was professed is dead. Nonetheless I go weekdays because I miss the monastic Office (especially the Night Office) and it's one way to dribble a little balm into that wound. (Monasticism, too, is dead; for all practical purposes, what is left is, for the most part, form without content.) I try to immerse myself in the Office and shut out all the rest. Or if the rest intrudes, I tell myself that it is good for me to go weekday mornings at least for the exercise (it's a two mile walk round trip), and that it's a painless way to keep the internal concordance alive, which I need to do for my research. Or if all of these rationalisations fail (as they did on Thursday), I skip a couple of days so that I don't get too depressed.

On Sundays during Term I go for the music, pure and simple—and also to people-watch, trying to fathom how other people cope with this dilemma. I know that there are many, many other people who feel as we do because in a critical meeting some years ago, a rare occasion on which I was permitted to lament all of these problems, I was, of course, challenged. The challenger called on the diocesan ombudsperson to contradict me, but she told the challenger that what I was saying was exactly the way ordinary people in the pews feel. That was twenty years go; things have become much worse. But people seem feel that the situation is hopeless, that there's no point in trying to address the entrenched status quo. I have a friend who has been doing clergy evaluations for the diocese for many years and she is quitting for precisely this reason.

Outside of term, on Sundays, I go to 8 o'clock at Mary Mag's, depending on who is celebrating. If it is someone who is intrusive instead of effacing, then I check out who is preaching elsewhere and try at least to find a good sermon. The cathedral has some preachers I will go especially to hear, which means I might go to two or three services on a Sunday.

I suppose I am getting ever more picky in my old age, but old age makes one more aware of silence. I can't stand folksy liturgy; I hate it when a deeply misguided organist drops the hymns by a third so we are all growling around at the level of the natural break in the voice; few people are trained singers with a seamless and comfortable passagio. We need to reach for the head tones as well as the chest tones to accomplish what hymns set out to do. I like full-blown liturgy and the smell of incense; I just don't like what far too often goes with it and spoils it: the posturing, the poncing, the preening, the noses in the air, the infantilizing of the congregation.

Unfortunately the rule that the squeaky wheel gets greased does not seem to apply to the churches; as you know, clergy do not listen to laity. It seems as though there are two classes of people to which the institution pays attention: in general the clergy pay attention to themselves as an in-group, and to those whom they patronizingly classify as 'the poor'. The rest of us, the majority, give the term 'the excluded middle' a whole new set of meanings. We're tolerated only for body counts and money. In the face of these attitudes, while it may seem like beating one's head against a brick wall, it is nonetheless worth suggesting alternatives to the clerics, recommending books, theologizing—and you will know soon enough if you are dealing with the sort of clergy who don't want input. A friend of mine was recently called obstructive and disruptive by her rector for simply participating in a bible discussion and departing from the script. The levels of conformity that American culture now demands are absolutely frightening.

In my own situation in the UK there are little flickers of hope here and there. Rowan Williams is one. Oxford has at least two very good bishops (I don't know the other area bishops) who are sympathetic to the problems but are also hampered by clergy attitudes, the very noisy and intransigent closed-minded evos, not to mention the other cultural difficulties peculiar to England. Another sign of hope comes from the growing interest in Iain McGilchrist's work on brain hemispheres (The Master and His Emissary), which eventually could be useful in showing how various doctrines and practices and developments in the church appeal to the side of the brain that does not have the tools for 'religion' in the sense of a sense of opening to real spiritual maturity, to what is unknown, the part of the brain that processes layered language and metaphor, symbol and ritual and so forth. The work of Andrew Shanks also holds out hope, although in my opinion he is far too optimistic about the possibility of changing the attitudes of the clerical status quo, though I applaud him for trying.

In terms of the USA, however, I am now so far removed from the American church—by choice—that I don't know what to say. I do know of a few, a very few, clergy and others who are swimming upstream, but they can be counted on one hand. It may or may not be significant that the book I published here in the UK in May—and which is selling very well—has not yet found a publisher in the USA, where only formula books, self-help and established pop spirituality authors seem to get published these days. Of course there's the excuse of the economy and publishers are running scared. But it's more than that. Fortunately enough people in the UK are still open to critical thinking on these matters and people here still read books.

I spent seven months in the USA last year running a chapel at a retreat centre, meeting hundreds of people from all over the country. It was an alarming experience because of the mindset that kept reappearing, and a set of cultural parameters that spoke of an increasing divergence between the blinkered way even educated Americans seem to interpret the world, and the way the British and Europeans do; the difference in goals and values. (Perhaps symptomatic was the group of Americans this past summer, who rented a house one street over from ours here in Oxford—they have now, mercifully, departed. Their noise levels, ordinary conversations as well as frequent parties, disturbed the entire neighbourhood at all hours of the day and night; their loud, penetrating voices woke everyone in the middle of the night when they walked back from the pub. It was their complete obliviousness to their impact on the surrounding community that was all too believable and, from an English point of view, inexcusable—but they're Americans, so what are you going to do?)

The bottom line is that those of us who are in the same boat with you have to do the best we can in our individual situations and contexts. It's pointless, however, to go to church and come away angry and depressed. The institution may deplore church-shopping but in the end that's what you have to do. Since institutional Christianity decided to be a business it can't expect its 'customers' not to respond accordingly. It may be that you will not be able to find any community of the sort you are looking for—in which case you will need to decide if you can settle for what is least offensive, or if you will have to continue your exile and mourning in your garret—and yes, the sense of isolation and loneliness is unbearable, whether or not one has found a place of worship one can stomach.

I suppose my basic attitude is that I know it's over, it's finished, and that in the end this may be a good thing, but the losses will be incalculable, not just cultural and scholarly ones, but what it means to be a human person. Even though I know I am probably whipping a dead horse, I keep on writing (thanks to the encouragement of people like you and the readers of this blog) and on the very rare occasions I am invited to do so, speaking up about what Christianity once was, is not now, and what it could be. Even the most oblivious cleric does not like to be bitten by a mosquito. I am impelled by the knowledge of centuries of Christians who have been cheated of their spiritual birthright, and even more by the spiritual suffering I see all around me. But of course this means I will always be in exile. If that is the price, so be it.

It's with this painful detachment that I simply go on doing what I know I have to do to be open to the peace of God—which, as the hymn reminds us, is 'strife closed in the sod'. Like so many other aspects of life, it's a matter of finding the balance. What, realistically, will feed your life in God?


Anonymous J. A. Frazer Crocker, Jr said...

While there is a certain inbredness about the Society of Friends, they are also (at least the one's with 'unprogramed' worship), a community with and in silence.
I think that an early said eucharist,
either on Sunday or a weekday, and silent Meeting for Worship might do
for your correspondent.

9:05 pm, September 03, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a retired Episcopal (USA) Priest and wish to remain Anonymous. I resonate with what you write in all of your books and on this blog. Where I live, there are perhaps eight or nine parishes within a radius of 20 or so miles, and ones I mostly attend are Rite II and contemplative. But the parish seems to becoming more and more evangelical as are some of the others (a few are happy clappy and a several rigidly on the Right), and while there is some silence in a few services, there is not much, and talking in the congregation before and during the Eucharist is so distracting I can barely endure it. Intellectually I am not challenged at all. Liturgy at best is mediocre. I feel as if I am in a desert, and not a spiritual one, in terms of churches. The one I do attend I do so because there are people there I love and care for as friends, and some are in need of friends, as am I. So for the most part, I find my Study is mostly my sanctuary for the daily offices as well as reading and prayer. We are in a very sorry place. I love God and I love people, but there is an enormous absence as well.

4:07 pm, September 05, 2011  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thank you for your comment; there is curious comfort in hearing from someone like yourself, though your account of life in the wasteland is heartbreaking. There are a number of clergy who read this blog, and it's comments like yours that can have real impact

6:49 pm, September 05, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am "Anonymous" who commented on the Eucharist on 19th August and as I said then, I have not been part of the church for many years. I suppose that I drifted away as a busy family life engulfed me but the truth is that there was nothing really to keep me there as I felt so out of place with it all.
For me, living as a Christian outside the framework of the church is liberating but at times very lonely.
Encounters with others via this blog are indeed a comfort, as is my membership of The Fellowship of Solitaries (which can be found via a Google search). My attempts at finding similar companionship locally have not yet been fruitful, but I am blessed with having a very dear friend who does understand my situation and feels very much the same as me. She is still very much in the church environment, but feels increasingly unhappy and isolated. For her to leave would be a huge step, so at least for the moment I think she will remain, albeit very unhappily. In her words, ours is a "sanity saving" friendship which she thanks God for.
My last visit to church was on Boxing day when I was staying with my brother and his family. There was a nice period of silent contemplation and I loved singing the familiar hymns (how seductive is hymn singing!). But the sermon! How I sat there I don't know. My inner voice was screaming "this is not how God shows himself to me".
So, I have no great hope of it ever being different for me now. I have something of a gulf between some family members who are still in the system and I must accept that I will continue to be seen as someone who needs to be brought back into the fold.
But I am happier dwelling uncomfortably in the place where I feel that God wants me to be, than compromise just for the sake of a quiet life.
God bless you all

4:27 pm, September 06, 2011  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

There are "voices" in this wilderness.

I am smiling with pure recognition at all of this!

At the idea that I am all "alone."

At the relief that it is sometimes so.

At the church as absurd? Just how much sanctity can one condense into one Sunday morning hour?

Apparently quite a lot.

However, once in a while, midweek, the church we attend practices an unembellished Taize. Sometimes a flute or cantor singing counterpoint.

Attendance is always sparse and quite frankly I find this easy to take in precisely because it is so.

Contemplatives, unite! Or would that be contradictory, an oxymoron.

Sit deeply. Then can say I am all alone? Perhaps not so easily.

6:47 pm, September 06, 2011  
Anonymous sgl said...

perhaps some encouragement:

Isaiah's Job
[This essay first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1936. ]

The prophet's career began at the end of King Uzziah's reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however — like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington — where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are." He said, "Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."


10:49 am, May 13, 2012  
Anonymous sgl said...

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity
@14:55 in the video:

And the third thing about intelligence is, it's distinct. I'm doing a new book at the moment called "Epiphany," which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there. It's really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of; she's called Gillian Lynne -- have you heard of her? Some have. She's a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera." She's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet in England, as you can see. Anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, "Gillian, how'd you get to be a dancer?" And she said it was interesting; when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the '30s, wrote to her parents and said, "We think Gillian has a learning disorder." She couldn't concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they'd say she had ADHD. Wouldn't you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point. It wasn't an available condition. (Laughter) People weren't aware they could have that.

Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother, and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it -- because she was disturbing people; her homework was always late; and so on, little kid of eight -- in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, "Gillian, I've listened to all these things that your mother's told me, and I need to speak to her privately." He said, "Wait here. We'll be back; we won't be very long," and they went and left her. But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, "Just stand and watch her." And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, "Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school."

I said, "What happened?" She said, "She did. I can't tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think." Who had to move to think. They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company -- the Gillian Lynne Dance Company -- met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She's been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she's given pleasure to millions; and she's a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

7:57 am, May 15, 2012  
Anonymous sgl said...

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 from a gunshot wound, generally accepted to be self-inflicted (although no gun was ever found). His work was then known to only a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still. [....]

Together with those of Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh's works are among the world's most expensive paintings ever sold, as estimated from auctions and private sales. Those sold for over $100 million (today's equivalent) include Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Portrait of Joseph Roulin and Irises.[190] A Wheatfield with Cypresses was sold in 1993 for $57 million, a spectacularly high price at the time, while his Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear was sold privately in the late 1990s for an estimated $80/$90 million.

The Myths of 'Yes, Virginia'

Since the editorial’s first publication in 1897, a fair amount of myth and misunderstanding have surrounded it. One common belief is that "Is There a Santa Claus?" was an immediate hit and was enthusiastically reprinted in The Sun every year until the newspaper folded in 1950.

In fact, The Sun republished the editorial just twice in the 10 years immediately following its initial publication. And when it did reprint the editorial, The Sun was a bit snippy about it, saying on one occasion: "Scrapbooks seem to be wearing out."

But readers’ persistence eventually won out. Over the years, thousands wrote to The Sun, imploring the editors to reprint the editorial. Finally, some 25 years after its first appearance, "Is There a Santa Claus?" began appearing regularly every Dec. 23 or 24.

the author of the editorial, Francis Pharcellus Church, died in 1906, so he would have only seen his response published 3 times, and would never have realized his response would become an annual tradition that was ongoing a hundred years hence.

on a forum once, someone started a thread on teacher's comments that inspired or hurt you. it was amazing to hear people's stories, and how simple both the inspiring and damaging words were. ie, most of the examples were not like being the teachers pet, or the teacher spending an entire semester picking on the student, they were often a single off-hand comment. you could easily see a teacher making a cutting comment and never even remembering making it, and yet 4-5 decades later, it's still a painful memory for someone. or a teacher that complemented a child on some particular talent, and inspired the student to overcome a bad home-life and continue on to college.

the point of all these stories is we often cannot see what good (or harm) comes from what we do. (and sometimes a conscious desire to "do good" can be detrimental. as thoreau said "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.")

7:59 am, May 15, 2012  
Anonymous sgl said...

think about the specialist dr perspective in the gillian lynne/choreographer story above. as a specialist, he probably never heard back from gillian's mother how Gillian was doing in school or in dance. he may have died before she became famous, or paid no attention to theatre and was unaware of her even if she was famous in choreography circles. even if he saw the performances she choreographed, he may not have known who the choreographer was for that performance. even if he did, he may not have recognized the name as a one-visit patient of his decades before, amongst thousands of patients. in short, it's more than likely he never had a clue as to his impact of this one incident.

and one can also image this continueing to ripple onward. among the millions in the audience. imagine some 5 year old child with their parents or grandparents watching Cats, and being bedazzled and inspired to get into some form of artistic expression without every being able to remember or identify which particular performance inspired them, or who the artists and performers where that created the work.

so, likely without intending or ever knowing about it, the awareness of what was really going on, and the single comment "Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school." inspired a brilliant career and the choreography for this:
The Best Of Cats The Musical (7 minute video)

7:59 am, May 15, 2012  
Anonymous sgl said...

in earlier comments i mentioned maggie doyne, who took a gap year after high school and ended up founding a orphanage and school in nepal.
(towards the end of the second comment on "Culture of Dependence" post, and also "IV The Human Experience of God at Turning Points", comments 1-5)

i can't find the source now, so perhaps i'm remembering incorrectly, but i recall reading/hearing once that her high-school guidance couselor tried to talk her out of taking a gap year before college. part of the reason? it would make the school's "% of students who go to college" statistics look bad.

here's an excerpt from one of maggie doyne's blog entries (or, follow the link and see the complete text which includes pictures too). would we ever have heard this story if she'd followed the couselor's advice and gone directly to college?


“Do you have children?” I asked.

“Yes I do. I have a daughter and three sons. My daughter is beautiful and bright, I was working there up the road and someone said you were keeping children here and I wanted to ask about keeping my daughter.”

We have women walk into our compound every day but I noticed something different about her, something in her eyes that resonated with me. I wanted to hear more. [....]

“And your husband?”

“My first husband was a Maoist. He was killed in the uprising. Then my parents gave me to another older man. The month after our marriage he got really sick and he went blind. It’s been about eight years.”

She told me about her two older boys, nine, and seven and then her little four-year-old girl. I noticed how her face lit up again as she spoke about her daughter. And then there was the youngest son, a nine-month-old.

“I do some labor work to support us, but it’s not enough to put them into school.”

We talk a bit more. She tells me more about her life, more about her little girl, and her hopes and dreams of giving her a new life, an education, learning to read and write. I sigh because I know we can’t keep her with us and I know that’s what this woman desperately wants.

“How old are you,” I ask.

“I’m 22.”

I look back at her and our eyes meet again.

“I’m 22 too,” I say.

She smiles a little and things are quiet. I can see in her eyes that she’s struggled. Her life has been so unimaginably different from my own– yet there we were two 22-year-old girls sitting on the front porch. [....]

While I was going to my first high school dance in the ninth grade, Mangali had been forced into her second marriage and pregnant with her second child. I shuddered at the thought of being forced to marry someone. [....]

[....continued in next comment....]

8:01 am, May 15, 2012  
Anonymous sgl said...

[....continued from prior comment....]

I wondered about her parents as I thought about my own– my dad who packed my school lunches every single day for years, took me for bike rides, and scheduled his life around my soccer and lacrosse games. In high school my mom used to come home after a 12-hour workday and help me with my grueling A.P. biology homework. She taught me from the time I was about eight to, “wait to get married.” I thought about my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins who are too many to count even on all my fingers and toes; all of them have made my life so rich and so love-filled. I thought about my sports coaches, who taught me that I was stronger than I knew, and my remarkable, extraordinary, and passionate teachers who had given me the best education a girl could wish for.

And then I saw this young woman exactly the same age standing across from me and wondered what her life would have been like if she had had just one person like I had had, who believed in her, who taught her to dream, who taught her that she could do anything and be anything. What if she had lived even just one day in my shoes? What if she had been given one chance, one break? How might things have turned out differently for her? [....]

Looking at this 22-year-old girl, with four children. I felt a deep tenderness. She shook something in me. But, most of all she made me feel grateful. Maybe it was just the fact that she was 22 or maybe it was that I saw something inside of her that reminded me so much of myself.

Mangali turned up again yesterday morning through the front gate, this time, with her husband and her four children behind her. She was holding the documents I’d requested in one hand, and her husband’s guiding stick in the other. Her husband and the baby stayed back at our house, while we went to the market and bought school uniforms, book bags, and shoes, and bargained over prices with shopkeepers. I got to hear more stories about her life. We laughed a lot and came home for lunch, and washed up and then signed paperwork and I handed her 600 rupees, ($8) to enroll her two older sons into school. We’ve decided to put her beautiful little daughter, into nursery school in the same class as Maya, Shanti, and Santosh, even though we can’t keep her, with us here in our home.

It was a good day. I was reminded just how much I believe in the work I do here. I am so grateful.
And you know that look in Mangali’s eyes? That look that pulled me in?
I think it was hope.

(i have no affiliation with the organization, nor do i know any of them personally.) if you want to see how far a donation would go, see the following post on her father's blog:

8:02 am, May 15, 2012  

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