November 4, 2018

We were Born for this Human Dance of Radical Courage. 

Sometimes, even the most radical courage does not roar.

Sometimes it’s the gentle light that says “good morning” through the cracks we were brave enough to endure, as we rise to begin another day.

From our very birth, courage is demanded of us.

Think about it. We leave a safe womb, pushed out into an unknown world. We cannot survive without caretakers to feed us, shelter us, or teach us to walk until we are strong enough to stand on our own.

Dying takes courage too. The ultimate test of “letting go.” A lifetime of identities, ripped off our bodies, leaving us naked and vulnerable, just like the day we were born. Dependent once again on caretakers to hold a spoon, manage our pain, and change our diaper and sheets.

We all have radical courage shaking through our human being bones. But how can we access this superpower birthright in the space between—in the inhale and exhale of this very moment?

My greatest teacher has been a small AIDS hospice in Washington, D.C.

In this brownstone row house, I have learned that the very power of life and death can exist in the same day—through ordinary and extraordinary experiences.

I have learned that kindness, gratitude, and paying attention can create a language beyond mouth sounds. That you are no different from me—we are deeply connected and wired to take care of each other.

Even as our culture celebrates individualism, competition, and independence above all else. An ego bravery that roars, “Look at me! I am here! I matter!”

But one day, death will whisper for you too. Will you be ready to say yes?

I share with you a story of an ordinary, and yet extraordinary weekday morning at an AIDS hospice, filled with radical courage.

I slid into the wooden chair by your twin-size bed.

A dark room, heavy with the kind of silence a knife could cut through. One single lamp, illuminating your sunken cheeks.

Mouth wide open, I imagine you must be dreaming. Somewhere between sleep and wake, where nothing makes logical sense, and yet we “dreamers” hold the power of immortality.

I look out the row house window. Signs of people rising, hustling through a rainy morning called Monday.

The quiet inside is penetrated by the measured beat of a wall clock, your occasional gasps for air, and the swooshing of street cars moving fast to get somewhere—anywhere but this.

In the middle of the chaos, we are still here.

The dresser beside your bed is adorned with paper cups filled with water, pink mouth swabs, a straw sticking out of a green 7-Up can, and a painting of wolves hangs next to your feet by a bouquet of fresh flowers—because beauty is important “in times like these.”

The smell of bodily fluids mixes with bacon wafting from the kitchen. Laughter and music travel to the second floor, becoming “smoke signal”—reminders of the living world. The TV murmurs from the room next door, but cannot fully break the sound barrier of deafening silence.

I’ve been here before in the same room, a kaleidoscope of faces, some names I have forgotten, and yet how could we ever forget?

The tender moments we spend together, at the edge of life and death, etched into memories, haunting echoes whispering, “I’m coming for you too.”

Trying to shake this reality, we see leaves changing colors, falling to the ground, and yet we remember.

Remember who we are. Timeless souls, packaged in mortal meat vehicles.

You and I have never met, but as I watch you sleep, I am drawn into your labored breath, as it moves the bright yellow hospital gown up and down your wasting chest.

What was your life like when you were able to bathe yourself and go to work on a Monday morning?

What words did you speak, when language came easy?

What made your soul come alive when you lived outside these four walls?

What stories could you tell about the people you loved and broke your heart?

Of all the places you’ve been, and the failures you overcame?

Of the dark nights when you thought you may never get up, and the simple mornings when drinking a cup of black coffee was enough?

Others are waking up to just another Monday, with checklists, money to make, goals to crush, lovers to find, children to feed, and seasons to follow—all while marking time.

But here we are, two strangers.

As I watch you sleep, it does not feel strange at all.

We were meant to be here, bowing in reverence to the mystery of death.

I close my eyes and feel the hardwood floor beneath my black boots.

And then you open yours.

For a moment, the intimacy is too much, I have to look away. Your deep brown eyes see through me. I shift in my seat, smiling with awkward insecurity.

I close my eyes again and take another deep breath.

We were born for these authentic connections, simple and profound.

I lean toward you, a stranger wrapped in woman clothes you’ve never seen before.

We take another deep breath in sync. You reach your long fingers out to touch mine, worlds crossing with a squeeze of foreign hands.

I whisper, “Hi, I am Angela,” and you whisper back in your Lebanese Arabic accent, “An-ge-la.”

I watch your fingernails, longer than mine, drape comfortably around my unmanicured presence.

Your eyes fall shut again, as you cough, choking on the bodily fluids no longer moving in the right direction.

I take the suction tube next to your bed, wrap Kleenex around the hole, and gently offer a moment of temporary relief, as you seal your lips around the lifeline I hold.

Your words are few and difficult to understand. We have to create our own language.

You point to the 7-Up can and I place the blue straw in your mouth as you suck it empty. You want more. You motion me to the dresser drawer, where four more cans are stashed.

We fumble through. You are frustrated and I am eager.

We meet in the middle of our human mess—seeking unknown treasures.

I replace pillows under your head, when you wanted them under your knees—charades that burn the precious bridges of vulnerability between us both.

You welcome my bed bath with snoring sleep, as well-intentioned hands scoop the lemon-scented elixir to soothe your toothpick legs. Mine is an artistic expression of shaky confidence, sometimes not knowing what to do next—following an unspoken lead.

Yet we were born for this human dance.

On the most ordinary and extraordinary Monday morning, two strangers meet in the dark, shrouded in a silence that could be cut with a knife.

One human inhabits the “living” world, with language to speak freely, hands and feet operating without effort to pick things up and decide which clothes she wants to put on today. A system of internal organs working together, involuntarily and self-sufficient.

The other human inhabits a “crossing-over” world. No longer able to communicate in accustomed rhythms. A body that has lost control of basic functions, trusting other people to clean him, feed him ice cream, intuit his comfort level, and make sure he can still breathe.

Together, an intimate encounter unfolds, simple as a bed bath and 7-Up, cocreating the essence of why we are here.

We need each other.

But what if we lived like this every day?

If we paused to see the magic of two young sisters, twirling together in identical dresses they can make fly.

If we can see through the suit and title of our stressed-out coworker, and instead of raising armor, we shed a tear for the scared human being just trying to make it through another day.

If, when calling our dad we remember he was also once a little boy who cried when he was hurt.

If in the middle of the night when we wake up in terror, we say hello to darkness and trust it will be okay—even when the world feels like it’s crumbling around us.

If, when standing in front of a crowd to speak, instead of hiding we let our light shine—believing the story we have to share is enough.

If the Monday morning cars are rushing toward “somewhere, anywhere but this,” we stop ourselves to take a deep breath in and out.

Feeling our feet on the ground, we welcome the sound of deafening silence—the kind a knife could cut through.

And we remember who we are.

Our way home was always written on our bombshell hearts, and can be found in the spaces of courageous listening.

Listening to ourselves, to each other, and to our world.


“In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, movable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans…

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.” ~ David Whyte

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