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The Weakness That Is Truly Strength

In one of the classes I teach we are reading Annie Proulx’s A Lonely Coast. It’s a great but grim story, as is Proulx’s wont. I kept bringing the students back to John Balaban’s poem Words for My Daughter, which we looked at last week. Who are the victims, I ask them? Who is hurting and who is being hurt?

And who is going to save us – any of us? And how?

It is important to look closely at violence, at conflict. It’s hard when you’re in your late teens or early twenties to make a lot of headway on that subject, but still. I push them as hard as I think they can stand and they almost always rally. On some level, we all want to find peace. We all want to end conflict. We just don’t know how. Or we know and we’re scared to do it. I’m not sure.

Anyway, the discussion got around to what it means to be a man in a culture that honors strength. It’s a tricky space. Some of the young men I teach move in rough circles. The women, too. One of the young men spoke very movingly about how he wants to cry but can’t because who will let him? But then he told us that he has a trick – he snuggles with his girlfriend and they watch romantic movies and he cries in the dark. A little, he does.

How grateful I was for his courage in sharing that! And for the class which honored his sharing by responding to it with graceful vulnerability. His comment opened a rare space and we stepped into it together. Truly, there are moments when it seems we are not such a hopeless tribe. We are here for each other – we just need to be reminded of that.

After class, some of the students asked me if I cry and I told them the truth: not as much as I would like but I am getting better. I am finding my way to the weakness that is true strength. I told them about my song for finding tears, and I am sharing it here, too. It reminds me of my beautiful dog Jake who saved me in ways I am still discovering. It breaks my heart.

How do we beget peace? I think we start by talking to each other: by listening: and by going to those places inside that scare the hell out of us. We’re one. We are.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Cheryl September 10, 2013, 8:13 pm

    We are, indeed. What comfort there is in that. I’m beginning to truly trust (there’s that word again) that we become invulnerable only by being totally vulnerable. Only problem is, most of us like to say “you first!”

    • Sean Reagan September 10, 2013, 8:20 pm

      Yes – it is like the course says (can’t move to look up the precise book & page) but our safety lies in our defenselessness. And then, as you say, we are apt to wait on others to go first. This is the thing I keep coming back to – why is that? It’s clear to me that we want conflict to end, that we want to be kind & loving, and yet . . . There is always this “and yet.” And all it does is bring us and others pain. It persuades me as little else does that we need divine help to pull this off – not the external God or Christ that I grew up with, but the interior Christ – the fully-merged Christ – that ACIM implies. I wonder if we want others to go first because we haven’t done the internal work ourselves? I think I have mentioned to you, in one of Tara Singh’s classes he urges his students to begin each day with a declaration not to be affected by what which is external. Only then, he said, can we begin to do the real work of service and love. Frost’s road is long indeed . . .

      • Cheryl September 11, 2013, 8:25 am

        I read this again and “allowed” myself to watch the video…

        …there was this dog, MY dog, a chocolate lab named Mash. I loved him in a way that would have remained unfathomable to me until, well, I loved him. And there was no doubt this beautiful, pure energy was reciprocated.

        I remember one time sitting at the kitchen table weeping for reasons I can’t recall. I looked over and he was looking at me and whimpering very quietly, as if to say, “you are not alone.”

        We walked daily, he brought in the paper, loved apples and peanut butter, had two knee surgeries, incurable skin allergies and dramatic, but thankfully infrequent, seizures. Still, there was nothing that was not beautiful about him.

        On July 22, 2011, when he was not quite 13, we had to let him go. I had written this poem three months earlier. This seemed like the place to share it. But before I do, in response to your response, perhaps we could be peaceful, loving and kind without expectations of any sort if we truly Believed we were unconditionally loved and eternally safe.

        A simple matter of faith …. and trust.


        My dog is old,
        and well loved.
        Each day as I bend
        to stroke the top
        of his head,
        a place my palm
        knows intimately,
        my hand
        memorizes the texture,
        a curve
        of warmth
        and softness.
        But my heart –
        my heart –
        with natural grace
        and wisdom
        born of the eternal
        and infinite,
        simply opens up
        to the blessing
        of the moment.
        ~ccw 4-16-11

        • Sean Reagan September 11, 2013, 11:51 am

          Thank you, Cheryl. I share that sense of reciprocal love when it comes to dogs: all animals have special virtues (in my experience) but that of dogs is their utter love and loyalty. And trust perhaps? I wonder. Jake (and Song, who is still with me) will do anything I ask. Perhaps it is a question of obedience only, but perhaps too it is simply that they trust the (nominal, bipedal) leader of the pack the way we are to trust God . . .

          I think you are right that we do not believe we are eternally safe and unconditionally loved, and that that is what hinders our own efforts to extend and share peace. Hence we place our faith in our own meager and fragmented resources. And this insight – that we don’t believe – is really what we have to look at. It is beyond words, really. I mean, we can talk about it but most of us are just repeating what we’ve heard. Somebody – Eckhart Tolle, Oprah – says we’re really One and so we say it, too. But it doesn’t help. So I think the other piece is that not only do we not believe, but we are also scared to make the interior journey to find the source of our unbelief and go beyond it. It is really a personal process.

          Thank you, too, for sharing your poem. I have written so many love poems for dogs . . . I love in yours the repetition of heart, which renders it so much the more poignant and the movement from gentle pats to the Infinite.

          Grateful . . .


  • Janet Acquilano September 10, 2013, 9:17 pm

    Hi Sean, This one brought tears to my eyes at the end. This post was loaded with life. Thanks again

    • Sean Reagan September 10, 2013, 9:27 pm

      You’re welcome Janet! Thank you for reading . . .

  • sally September 10, 2013, 9:21 pm

    All that I have read here, brings back memories of my working in a Rehab Residential Center, as the Office Appointment Coordinator for the residents, 12-18 years old, who had been admitted by parents or police. The biggest advantage for their rehabilitation was the daily times the Group, led by a Therapist, that deliberately brought up sensitive Topics for daily discussion. These sessions of talking and exchanging hugs and sobbing tears, did more Healing for these Children than all the Discipline Training in the world. I remember a young man there who had shot and killed his unexpected dad, as he exited his auto in the dark garage as he arrived home; stopping by my home many years after his Graduation. As I opened the door, I was amazed at the handsome, well dressed young man who smiled and the twinkle in his eyes, warm gentle voice in our conversation told me, as he did, that he had cried out all his anger and hate for his dad, and he now has forgiven him. I still wonder if that Treatment is what our cities need today, the Opportunity to BE REAL from our Heart….something we could all use.

    • Sean Reagan September 10, 2013, 9:26 pm

      Thank you Sally . . . . that is so true, the need to be real and to come to one another and be there for one another in a real and heartfelt way. So much healing is possible when we simply make space in which to let it happen. Maybe all we really need to do is get out of the way and let Jesus handle it . . .

    • Sean Reagan September 10, 2013, 9:27 pm

      Oh and Sally it’s so nice to hear from you – thank you for being here . . .

  • Joel September 11, 2013, 7:11 am

    So grateful for you, Sean. Well-wishings to you and your beautiful class.

    • Sean Reagan September 11, 2013, 11:39 am

      Thank you Joel – best to you as well –


  • Xavier Nathan September 11, 2013, 3:29 pm

    A wise man once told me that there are three types pf teacher. Those who complain. Those who explain and those who inspire. I have tried to be a source of inspiration to my students ever since and I can see you have already succeeded. This is a truly beautiful post on may levels and I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Sean.

    • Sean Reagan September 12, 2013, 2:16 pm

      Thank you, Xavier.

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