The Graceful Swallow

For another step in the process of going to Chile for ten months, I have to submit an FBI background check. That requires fingerprints to be taken, a letter written, a payment included, and prayers sent that all arrives and it’s treated in a timely fashion.

As I write this, I just got home from being fingerprinted at 1 Police Plaza downtown
and hearing someone try to jump the turnstile there. Naturally, given that this is police headquarters, the gentleman was subdued–but he did not go gently into that good night. This brought about a fascinating sociological moment.

Before the hoo-ha, there’d been half a dozen or more of us in the room waiting for various services. When escalation was apparent–the man was clearly yelling multiple varieties of obscenities and audibly flailing about while the police were trying to contain the incident–everyone except me left the room to go watch. I was the only one left in the room. And I wondered what possessed them to go.

What makes people do that? I do not have that gene…to want to go witness someone’s suffering/violence when made apparent in that way…when the going would be for its own sake. Given looks on people’s faces, it was more of a “fight-fight-fight…” sort of gleam, rather than concern for an individual who was clearly over an edge of some sort. The women behind the counter said the same man had already
tried to gain access several times today.

A disturbing insight into human behaviors and inclinations.

Later in the day…

I have spent time since this morning trying to understand why this event has stuck with me so potently. Some of it came from a conversation with a friend who spoke of spirits who are manifest not physically of themselves but through actions of another. I can go along with that in concept. I know evil exists. I know that there is darkness that seeks to overcome the strength of light.

But, I also know that for reasons of illness, chemistry, and/or mystery, people lose the capacity to straddle realities sometimes. I think there are those who can walk the line. People who are sick, who might or might not not know it or choose to acknowledge it, but who live in two places…somewhere where they are alone in their understanding of reality and in the present moment with the rest of us. Sometimes events occur–predictable or not–or choices are made–that remove the ability to fight for the tensioned balance. When that ability to straddle is compromised, chances are it is the here and now that loses.

I have seen that happen to someone I love. Because I believed I could, and believed I was compelled to try, I have reached across the border and groped, hoping to find the solid flesh of the person I wanted to reach. I reached with direct speech, I reached with love, I reached with the grace, the absolute grace, of God.

I wasn’t reaching for evil, I wasn’t reaching to cure or even protect from outcomes that would arise from the situation. I reached for the real. I reached for love. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy. And it didn’t change any of the surface reality. Things were still unfortunate, things were still messy and tenuous. To do that was one of the three biggest lessons I have ever known about the true potential for love.

While I sat in the room, I prayed for the man, for the police, for the family of the man. Did they know where he was? Did they know that he needed someone? Had they lost track of him? What would his day be like from here on out? Would he get the help he clearly needed to draw him back? Who would know where to reach? Who would be the voice and face of love for this man?

These are questions I am left with at day’s end. Questions I will sleep with and not answer. Not directly, anyway.

I learned once that a swallow bird is biologically incapable of flying in a straight line. Seems like grace is often like that too.

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