Mr. Michael O’Toole

April 2012

“Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible.”
Charles Haughey (1925 –2006) former Taoiseach of Ireland

 

Ballyvaughan is a tiny village nestled on Ireland’s west coast, overlooking Galway Bay. I adopted it as my home away from home, having enjoyed many stays there before and after my Ireland tours. That’s where I found myself in April 2012. Without a car at my disposal, and limited bus service, I discovered that I was getting a bit antsy, feeling kind of stuck. One day, while at the tiny market (which also serves as the post office and petrol station) a notice on the community bulletin board caught my eye. Every Tuesday morning in Ballyvaughan a 10-seater bus collects an assortment of seniors and delivers them to the closest big town of Ennistymon, and then returns them three hours later. Myself being a young 59, I wondered if I was suitable company. “Yes,” I was informed. Anyone could take the weekly bus to Ennistymon and back, for a mere two euro.

It was a soft weather day, meaning the temp was mild and the breeze light. I arrived at the market to find two elderly women chatting with each other. I inquired about the bus to Ennistymon. They assured me that I was at the right place, at the right time, and that the bus would arrive soon.

I was very much the center of attention on the wee bus, obviously new to the area and a couple of decades younger than most of the passengers. I loved being questioned, as I knew it was coming from a trait shared by the Irish—a lively sense of curiosity.
Together we sat in silence, until the Irish thirst for information got into one of the women. With narrow eyes and a tilt of the head, I was asked, “How do you come to be here in Ballyvaughan?”

I replied, “I lead tours to Ireland and like to take a break by staying on my own in Ballyvaughan.”

Both women looked at each other, somewhat shocked that a lady like me would be roaming about Ireland on her own. I gave them a smile and added, “I’m a Reverend, very interested in Celtic Spirituality.”

By their expressions, I sensed that I had passed a moral code of some sort.

“Did ye know of John O’Donohue?” one woman asked.

“Oh yes,” I replied, “He greatly inspired my ministry.”

“Johnny grew up here, you know,” a woman said, “just a wee bit down the road. Oh, his death was so shocking and sad.” With that both women nodded to each other, with hand over heart, followed by making the sign of the cross on their ample bosoms.

Friends at last, I learned their names were Mary and Maureen. They loved my Irish name of Kathleen and my mother’s birth name of Connolly. Together we bounced along as the wee bus negotiated the narrow roads full of pot holes. Already on board was an elderly gent, quite decked out for a casual trip into town. He kept to himself.

Suddenly Maureen announced, “This here lady is a Reverend from the States. She liked John O’Donohue.” Mary silently echoed with a vigorous nod. The old man replied, “You know Johnny grew up around here. Just down the road.” Now all four of us were nodding in agreement.

We traveled on in silence for several minutes, my eyes soaking up the beauty of this wild and rugged area of Ireland. Soon we made a stop in the tiny village of Fanore when on the bus hopped a jolly fellow more my age. He looked to be a rugged farmer type, with deep grooves on his forehead and red lines on his puffy cheeks. He nodded to the driver, to the elderly gent, then to Mary and Maureen. They all nodded back. Suddenly the new man, the one more my age, locked eyes with me. “Well, now, who are ye and where do you come from?”

Maureen blurted out, “She’s a Reverend from the States. She liked John O’Donohue.”

The newly arrived man chimed in, “Did you now! Well, Johnny grew up around here, just down the road. Fine lad he was. He used to do my religious home work for me.” With that he introduced himself as Mr. Michael O’Toole. We shook hands, and our bus ride continued. Mr. O’Toole interrupted my thoughts with his own inspired thought, “Ye know Johnny is buried in the cemetery up ahead.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, “I have visited his grave.”

Without a pause, Mr. O’Toole shouted to the bus driver, “Tommy, pull over at the cemetery where Kathleen here can visit John O’Donohue’s grave.” Mary and Maureen nodded in agreement and then chimed in, “Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely!”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I tried to graciously reply. “I’ve already been there. You needn’t pull over for me.”

Pull over, Tommy the driver did do. Everyone was staring at me, in eager anticipation. I slowly stood up, gave the obligatory nod, and disembarked the little bus.
I walked through the cemetery gate and then climbed up on the cement wall in order to make the trek to John’s grave. When I arrived, I turned and looked at the bus. All eyes were on me, peering through the windows like they were about to witness John’s resurrection.

I hadn’t a clue what to do. With my back to them, I said aloud, “Okay, John, I’m paying my respects. Again. I can see how loved you were and are, and not just by me.” I stood long enough to give my witnesses a thrill. Down over the cement wall and back through the gates, I again boarded the little bus to Ennistymon. My group of newfound companions remained silent the rest of the way, each wearing a smile as soft as the weather.

We arrived Ennistymon and parted ways for a few hours. While the ladies shopped, I enjoyed a luxurious foot massage at a fancy hotel spa. Ever mindful of the clock, I returned to the little bus several minutes before the declared departure time. I was surprised to find Michael already on the bus. Now my Irish curiosity kicked in. “So, Michael, I see that our elderly friends come to town to shop. What is it that calls you to Ennistymon?”

“Well, you see, it’s a bit of a tale,” Michael replied. “I was arrested for drink driving.” That’s Ireland’s equivalent of a DUII. With that bit of news, I tucked my chin, cocked my head and looked over my glasses as I said, “Ohhhh, so you don’t drink anymore?”

“Oh, hell no. I drink like crazy. It’s driving I no longer do.” He seemed very pleased with himself. “Next time you take the bus to Ennistymon I’ll buy ye a pint.” He punctuated the invitation with a wink.

With all travelers back on the bus, we began the ride back to my little village. Soon, Michael interrupted my wandering thoughts as he shouted to the driver, “Hey, Tommy, can ye make a detour and show Kathleen here where John O’Donohue grew up?”

Mary and Maureen thought this to be a fabulous idea. One of the women chimed in. “His mum still lives there. Oh, the sorrow poor Josie has had since her Johnny died. How she lives with a broken heart, I don’t know.” Again the two women shook their heads and crossed themselves.

I did indeed get a look at the O’Donohue homestead in rural County Clare. It was a little yellow house on a hillside covered with spring flowers and surrounded by miles of rock walls. It was an extra treat to realize we were driving on a very narrow road that John used to walk to school. Once again, I heard Michael’s story of forcing a young John O’Donohue to do his religious homework. It was obvious that the ladies did not approve of this behavior, and it was equally obvious that Michael got a kick out of it. With a grin he said, “Oh, I did him no harm, ye see. It was all good fun. But Johnny sure knew his Bible!”

We all sat in silence the rest of the way home. Arriving in Fanore, Mr. O’Toole stood up, made a grand bow, and proclaimed, “God bless ye all on this fine, fine day.” With another wink he was gone. In another ten minutes, I was back at my B&B in Ballyvaughan, wondering if I’d ever see Mr. O’Toole again.
 
 

April 2013

“The secret of forgiving everything is to understand nothing.”
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish writer

One year later I was back in Ireland, again enjoying private time at a quaint B&B overlooking Galway Bay. Mostly out of curiosity, I decided to take the Tuesday seniors bus into Ennistymon. I was delighted when I recognized Mary and Maureen, one up in her 80s, the other low in her 90s. Smart as a whip these two! I re-introduced myself. They remembered that I was from Oregon and that I loved the writings of John O’Donohue. When they called me Kathleen Connolly, I didn’t correct them.

Soon we made the stop in the coastal village of Fanore and onto the bus came a man looking a bit disheveled. I recognized him as Mr. Michael O’Toole from the previous year. “Oh, I see we have a visitor!” Michael shouted with glee. I said a proper hello and then reminded him that we had met before. “Oh, yes, it’s John O’Donohue that ye’d be after. He was raised here and is buried just up the road a ways. He used to do my religious homework for me. All it took was showing him a fist.” Michael gestured while I grimaced at the thought of John being bullied. “Oh, ‘tis only a bit of fun we were having back then. You see, Johnny boy loved the Bible. I’d like to think I helped him in his studies.” A sudden outburst of laughter rang through the little bus.

This year, on the ride back to Ballyvaughan, Michael asked me to sit where we could chat. That would be him chatting and me listening. Soon he told me that he had had three drink driving offenses. With the third he permanently lost his right to drive. “That was fourteen summers ago,” he said. He’s never driven since, and nor will he ever again. This is because the last offense put a young woman in a wheelchair for life.

Michael has carried this heavy burden every day for fourteen years, he says, and will for the rest of his life. Each summer he makes a pilgrimage by train to Dublin to visit Ann and her family. He brings them gifts and buys them supper. “Ann and her family have forgiven me,” he said. After a long silence, Michael shook his head as he spoke. “How they can do that I just don’t understand. I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I could have killed that young woman, and nearly did so. I have to live with that the rest of my life.”

It was then that I remembered something I was carrying in my purse. It was a round clay medallion with a spiral etched on one side. A friend made these for my Ireland travelers that year. Each received one upon arrival in Ireland.

All had words on the back that became literal touch stones for our journey. The leftover medallion was white. On the back was etched the word “forgive.” I took it out of my purse and showed it to Michael.

“I want to give this to you,” I said, “because now you must learn to forgive yourself.” He scoffed at that notion, saying it wasn’t possible and that he didn’t deserve it. Knowing that Mr. O’Toole was likely a devout Catholic, I subtly played the God Card, using a tone of voice similar to Roma Downey on the Touched by an Angel television show. I’m pretty sure a golden halo emerged at the tips of my black and silver hairs.

“Do you think, Michael, our Creator would want you to suffer like this? You were made in the image of Him. You are a child of God, just like me, just like Ann, just like the ladies on the bus with us. Ann is showing you that God has forgiven you through her. Now, can you Michael, just believe for a moment that God can forgive you so that you can forgive yourself?”

After a long pause, I then placed the white medallion in his hand. “Hold onto this, Michael, and remember this moment. Our healing sometimes doesn’t happen in a day, a week or even a year. But with God’s love moving in and through us, forgiveness is possible. Can you believe that, even if for a moment?”
Looking like a lost little child, Michael nodded his head. He clasped the medallion in both hands as if in prayer. “I’ll hold this every day until summer, and then I’m going to give it to Ann.” I added, “That’s a grand idea. Let it connect you as anam caras, as soul friends, as your buddy John O’Donohue wrote about.”

With a grin, he replied, “Ohhh, that’s what John O’Donohue would say. You know he lived just up the road here. His mudder died a year or two ago. Dementia, a terrible thing.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mary and Maureen again shake their heads and cross themselves.

And on and on he went, sharing stories, pointing out landmarks in the rugged Burren landscape, and, occasionally, with a wink, showing me the clay medallion. I’d like to think that Mr. O’Toole was changed that day, but only he and God know that for sure. What I know is that I was changed by the encounter on the little seniors’ bus to Ennistymon. Mary, Maureen, Michael and I plan to meet up again on a spring Tuesday in 2014. Praise God, let it be so!
 
 

April 2014

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish writer.

One year later, for the third time, I again hopped aboard the little senior’s bus destined for Ennistymon. Maureen was there, greeting me with a grand smile. Mary, she said, was on holiday in England. Then Maureen proceeded to introduce me to a new lady I had not met. Maisy is a good friend of hers. The three of us enjoyed a good chat while savoring the sites of the lush and rocky landscape. It was a glorious day, spring effortlessly easing into summer.

I wondered if Mr. O’Toole would join us as in previous years. “Yes,” Maureen said, adding, “I hear he’s no longer drinking or smoking.” Tommy, the bus driver, let out a loud guffaw just as he pulled over. There was Mr. O’Toole, leaning against a rock wall, with cigarette in hand. He looked neat and tidy in a leather coat and dark sunglasses. Kind of movie star like. Mary whispered to me, “I’ll bet he’s into the drink again, too.”

So on the bus came Mr. O’Toole followed by a lingering trail of smoke. He nodded to everyone, including me, as if I was a local. “You’re back, just like ye said you’d be,” he said to me. I smiled and continued to enjoy the bus ride.

Later, when everyone had finished their chores in Ennistymon, we again boarded the little bus. This time I said to Mr. O’Toole, “Do you remember what we talked about last year on the way home?” He nodded, quickly adding, “And I still have the little coin you gave me with that word on it. I see it every day. Some days I pick it up and hold on to it like there’s no tomorrow. Other days I feel like throwing it. It’s a choice, you know. Do ye think that’s reasonable?” My reply was a simple nod of the head.

After a few bends in the road, I smiled and said softly, “You’re looking well. I can tell there’s something different about you.” He wanted details, so I continued, “Your eyes are brighter and your smile is softer. I can tell you’re no longer carrying the double burden of guilt and self-hatred.”

The rest of the journey home was filled with idle chatter and gentle laughter. It was like we were all lifted by Mr. O’Toole’s new found freedom. “To be honest with you,” he said before departing, “I did have a Guinness at the pub in Ennistymon, but look at me—I didn’t drive!” I asked for a photo. Just as Tommy the bus driver snapped the camera, Mr. O’Toole gave me a peck on the cheek. With a wink, he was gone.

Sometimes I wonder if Mr. O’Toole is real. Our brief encounters on the little bus to Ennistymon have been filled with unbelievable mischief and magic. I can’t wait to see what the next bus ride reveals.
 
 

April 2016

“If suffering brings wisdom, I would wish to be less wise.”
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish prose writer, dramatist and poet

My 2015 springtime travel plans for Ireland did not find me in Ballyvaughan. Having skipped a year, I wondered if, a year later, anyone on the wee little senior’s bus would remember me. Come to find out, I am quite memorable, as are the jovial and kind hearted seniors once again headed for shopping in Ennistymon. My trio of elderly lassies greeted me with glee. That would be Mary, back from London, plus Maureen and Maisy. Even Tommy the bus driver asked me how things were in Ore-e-gone.

As always, the enchanting landscape of The Burren captured my full attention. “Do you ever get tired of looking at where you live?” I inquired. All three agreed. “We never get tired of God’s blessing of this most beautiful place on earth to live.” Tiny little Mary squeaked, “And I’ve been here 92 summers.” I love how people in Co. Clare often measure time by the passing of seasons. It caused me to reflect on the many spring times that have passed since my first solo pilgrimage to Ireland in May 2000.

Before we reached Fanore to fetch Mr. Michael O’Toole, I was told that he was again into the drink. All heads shook in sadness to the tune of the soft clicking of the tongues. This time Michael looked disheveled but his spirits (not the drinking kind) were in full bloom. “Well, helloooo, Kathleen. Why were ye not here last year? We missed you and were worried about you.” I explained that my tour group concluded in the east of Ireland, therefore preventing me from my annual visit to the west.

There was the usual conversation about the late John O’Donohue. Remembering how Michael used to make John do his religious homework, I couldn’t help but inquire as to what stopped it. “Well,” he said, “It seems Johnny Boy’s mudder called my mudder and told her all about it. Oh, did I get a whupping that day! “

“So you stopped making John do your homework?” I asked.

“Oh, hell no. All I had to do was add a fist and he got the message.” With that Michael lifted two fists as if he were a world class boxer from Donegal. Again, laughter wafted through the little bus to Ennistymon.

This time, on the return journey, I sensed that there was something Michael wanted to tell me. “So,” I asked, “What’s new in your life?” His bushy eyebrows lifted as his lips twisted into a sly smile. “Shhh,” he whispered, “This is only for you to hear because you’re a reverend and will understand.” I calmly waited for whatever confession he was about to make.

“I’m seeing someone, all the way in Dublin,” he whispered.

“Oh, Michael, I think that’s fabulous. Why is it a secret?”

“Well, you see, her husband doesn’t know.” With that he threw his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed. I never did know if he was telling the truth.

We took another photo together and said our goodbyes. He again sneaked in a quick peck on my cheek. “Until next time,” he said over his shoulder as his disembarked from the little bus. That would prove to be my last encounter with Mr. Michael O’Toole.
 
 

April 2017

“Better pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.” – James Joyce (1882-1941) Irish writer

When my yearly tour concluded on April 30th, I returned to Ballyvaughan. A local business man once declared that I was the American ambassador to Ballyvaughan. I rather liked the sound of that. I arrived on a Monday feeling very tired, but I knew I could not pass up the nearly annual Tuesday bus ride to Ennistymon.

I arrived at the usual pickup point on an unusually sunny and warm day. It was outside the only petrol station in the village, situated right next to the only church. To my delight, I discovered dear Maisy sitting alone at a picnic table. The sun was in her eyes as we greeted one another. “Hello Maisy. It’s Kathleen, the reverend from Oregon.” Her face lit up as we clasped hands. “Oh, Kathleen, you’ve come back to us. Mary, now 95, has gone back to England to live out her days. Maureen, thank God still with us, will be very happy to see you.”

Soon after that Maureen joined us at the bus assembly point. It was then I inquired about Michael O’Toole. “Will we be seeing him today?” I asked. I premonition told me that we would not.

Maisy began, bowing and shaking her head. “Oh, it’s very sad news. You see he died, last November, I think it was.”

Maureen chimed in. “Yes, I do believe it was November. A rather dark and breezy day.”

Tommy the bus driver confirmed it. “Yes, it was Tuesday in November. When he got off the bus he bid us all farewell. Those were likely his last words. His body was found the next day. They think it was a sudden and massive heart attack.”

I felt that drop in the belly that comes with sad news. “Oh, no,” I managed to say, adding, after a pause, “I hope his passing was swift and painless.”

“Oh, likely it was,” someone said. “But you know, Kathleen, that man lived a life of hell. It was his own pain and the pain he caused others.” This was followed by dead silence.

It was then that I realized I had only encountered Michael in the mornings, presumably before he had a first drink. That was on the way to Ennistymon. On the bus rides back, after a couple of pints, he was full of the craic, the Irish word for fun. He was, you know, the funny kind of drunk. But there’s nothing amusing about the pain and suffering caused by alcoholism.

In my four brief encounters with Michael, aboard the wee little bus for seniors, I always came away inspired.

First, by him taking responsibility for nearly killing someone due to his choice to drink and drive.

Second, by never again getting behind the wheel of a car, whether sober or drunk. I believed him.

Third, many times I imagined what it was like for him to make his yearly trek to Dublin—by bus—to make amends to the wheelchair bound young woman and her family.

Fourth, and finally, it’s that word: Forgiveness. Michael made it very clear that he hated religion for all the bad things it had done to good people. Forgiveness of the Church would never be uttered by his lips, he once told me, “…as long as I live.” Well, Michael is no living in human form, so I will utter that word for him.

I ask God to forgive you, Michael, for all of the transgressions you committed while alive. John O’Donohue, who passed as suddenly as you nine winters ago, forgives you for being a bully. The woman you maimed has already forgiven you. It is my deepest belief that now, in spirit form, you have finally forgiven yourself. I like to think that the medallion with the word “forgive” was your touchstone. To the past, to the present, and now the future of your eternal spirit. In memory of you, I shall gaze with wonder at the moon and bow in reverence to the dawn.

“Yes, I am a dreamer, for a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
Oscar Wilde, Irish writer

 

RIP Mr. Michael O’Toole

 

Written by Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin
May 4, 2017
Ballyvaughan
Co. Clare
Ireland

Religious Assumptions

April 10, 2017

“You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.”
Denis Waitley, American motivational speaker, writer and consultant.

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

Someone told me that there are fifty churches in our new home town of McMinnville, Oregon. That’s a lot of worship centers given our modest population of 33,000. Upon our arrival last September, I thought it would be easy to find an open, inclusive and liberal congregation to join. This because our county skews conservative while the town of McMinnville skews liberal. After some research, the community that stood out was First Baptist Church. Baptist? Eeegads, I thought, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Baptist church. But then I kept noticing in our bi-weekly newspaper events that FBC sponsored. Like the former mayor of Silverton, a trans woman, speaking last September about LGBQ rights. At a Baptist church?

As I began to meet spiritual women who share my passion for earth-based and feminine respected spirituality, I again heard positive things about First Baptist Church. One woman said, “If you’re looking for liberal church, go check it out.” I was hesitant and put the idea on hold. Until I met my new chiropractor.

I noticed on his bio that his wife is the pastor at First Baptist Church. A coincidence? As I got to know the doctor, who himself seemed open minded and open hearted, I mustered the courage to inquire. He had all good things to say, reminding me that FBC is American Baptist, not Southern Baptist. I had no idea there was a difference! I thought all Baptists were holy rollers and conservatives, with closed minds and hearts. Wasn’t that loving of me?

 

Comparison of Southern Baptist & American Baptist Beliefs

By Janet Mulroney Clark

Southern Baptists follow a statement of beliefs contained in “The Baptist Faith and Message” as a guide for following Christ’s teachings. American Baptists embrace individualized worship not bound by creeds or statements of belief. They encourage diversity of thought in allowing a Christian to interpret scripture and develop a relationship with God.

The next Sunday found me at the First Baptist Church, sitting in a pew at the 11:00am contemporary service. It felt good to be there. Nothing offended me. Believe me, I tried to find reasons to be offended to confirm my righteous condemnation of all Baptists. It was then that my mind opened and my heart softened. I’d lived my whole life believing Baptists were bad, separate from My Loving God, and not worthy of my presence.

The word Baptist means “…one who baptizes.” At that first service I attended, I left feeling baptized, cleansed and forgiven for my error thinking. I was made whole again. My judgment was gone. I’ve returned a few times and each time my heart softens more. Palm Sunday was beautiful. I greatly look forward to Easter Sunday. Bottom line, I love and respect all beings who pursue a spiritual path that embraces and practices the religion of kindness, love and inclusivity. I don’t care if it’s Baptist, Buddhist or Bahá’í.

In closing, I apologize to all Baptists, and Christians in general, whom I have judged. I forgive myself for my assumptions. This Holy Week, may we all remember that We Are One, and we’re all in this together.

Want to learn more about the difference between American and Southern Baptist? Check out this website: http://classroom.synonym.com/comparison-southern-baptist-american-baptist-beliefs-5797.html

Ambivalence

Ambivalence is a wonderful tune to dance to. It has a rhythm all its own. –Erica Jong

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

We’ve all been there. Caught between yes or no, stay or go, do this or do that. Wafting between sensing and knowing. Between listening to the voice within or the calling from the outer world. Some say this is ambivalence, what the dictionary defines as “simultaneous conflicting feelings.” The origin of the word ambivalence comes from Latin: ambi- “both” + valentia “strength.” What if both yes/no or stay/go is where we find our strength? Not in the polarities, but in the third aspect that draws the two together? This is the core teaching of The Anam Cara Journey whose pathway is the Triple Spiral. For example…

A mentoring client once came to me confused and distraught over a long-time relationship. She was caught in the tug of push-pull. Push him away or pull him closer? Is this relationship right or wrong? The ultimate question was: stay or go? Her ambivalence was intoxicating, fueling the monkey mind to keep spinning a story of confusion. No wonder she didn’t know which way to turn. I felt dizzy just witnessing her inner turmoil. This is where the Triple Spiral became the teacher.

For this exercise, I asked her imagine a triangle. One point represented go, one represented stay, and the third represented ambivalence. I gave her 3 tissues with the instruction to place on the floor, one at each of the 3 points. Then I asked her to identify which point was which—go, stay, ambivalence. From a distance, we observed the dynamic that was spinning in her head. But what shifted the spinning was when I asked her to stand at each of the 3 points. To step into her monkey mind.

GO – Stand in that place and look at Stay and Ambivalence.
STAY – Stand in that place and look at Go and Ambivalence.
AMBIVALENCE – Stand in that place and look at Go and Stay.

She did this, at first in a jerky kind of way, almost marching between points, scowling the whole time. But soon her face softened. The movements between became a dance of sorts. Eventually jerky eased into flow as her frown softened into a smile. It was a joy to witness, reminding me of my own monkey mind when I’m dwelling in ambivalence. We are not caught or held hostage by any of the 3 points. So why not bring them together? Invite ambivalence into the dance. Do this with curiosity and wonder, letting go of any outcome.

We purposely didn’t process what happened. I wanted her to embrace the dynamics of the experience. To integrate what just happened. No one spiral holds the power. It is the three spirals together that hold the power which will ultimately lead to an informed decision.
A few months later she did leave the relationship. She believes the Triple Spiral exercise helped her come to that conclusion. Both parties flourished after the breakup. “Why didn’t I leave sooner?” she wondered. Haven’t we all asked that question, whether about a relationship, a job or a move?

So today, on the New Moon, I ask–Why didn’t she leave sooner? Why didn’t you leave sooner? Why didn’t I leave sooner? Perhaps because we find an odd comfort in ambivalence, “…simultaneous conflicting feelings,” because it’s known. By making a decision, stepping out of ambivalence, we make ourselves vulnerable. And remember this. We cannot flourish without being vulnerable. Love, of the other and/or self, requires vulnerability. What supports us is being rooted in our Truth, and living from that place of knowing. We all know what we want and don’t want. What step are you willing to take today?
Check out this short YouTube video of one of my favorite songs from childhood. Do you see the three trees, and how lassie and laddie roamed? Crazy!!!

Did You Ever See a Lassie? | Song for Kids by Little Fox
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4uWfs3sH7s

Spring Cleaning

March 12, 2017

“It’s time for a spring cleaning of your thoughts, it’s time to stop to just existing it’s time to start living.” ― Steve Maraboli,  Speaker, bestselling Author, and Behavioral Scientist

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

Years ago in a metaphysics class, we were studying the scientific principle that “nature abhors a vacuum.” It is also a spiritual principle. If we want something new in our life, we must make space. When we create the open space, we must be vigilant about what we fill it with. Because it will get filled, either by more of the same, or something gloriously new.

In the spring, our class assignment was to clean out a closet, a junk drawer, a messy glove compartment, or whatever area in our life where there was serious clutter. This sounded silly to me, but I was willing to do it.

The assignment arrived at a time when I desperately wanted to be released from my long-time job producing a live morning television talk show, while longing to write and produce documentaries. I had taken a summer off to write and produce a documentary on child sexual abuse. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, including an Emmy Award nomination. Bitten by the documentary bug, I begged and pleaded with my bosses to allow me to work on documentaries full time. I created a proposal that demonstrated why this would benefit the television station, and not just me personally. Still, my bosses said no. I was growing despondent. Doing the cleaning out ritual couldn’t hurt.

I chose the closet of my guest bedroom. It was small, and had a built-in chest of drawers. It was my expanded version of a one junk drawer. All drawers were stuffed to the gills with stuff. Random clothes were hanging on the rack, while a waist high pile of junky items cluttered the floor. It took a good half day to complete this project. I took a load of stuff to Goodwill, and put much of the other stuff in my garage for a future garage sale.

Once the closet was emptied, I then cleaned it–sweeping, dusting, and wiping it down. In its empty and clean state, the closet looked huge. My voice echoed in the emptiness. Throughout the rest of the weekend I would step into the cleansed closet from time to time, wanting to feel the good vibes. As Sunday evening approached, I remembered that I would likely face again a rejection regarding my desire to be a full-time documentary producer. In utter despair, I stepped into the closet and closed the door. There I stood, alone, in the dark, in a totally empty closet. I said aloud, “Okay, Universe. I’ve done my part. Now you do yours. Provide!”

I went to bed that night and slept very well. At the very least, I had cleansed my negative thinking. Early Monday morning, arriving at work at 6:30am, the first person I saw in the Channel 2 hallways was another early morning producer. He knew of my desire to leave the morning talk show grind for wider pastures in the world of documentaries. His eyes brightened when he saw me. He walked fast towards me and said, “Have you heard? Channel 8 has an opening for a documentary writer/producer?”

Ah, the Universe had provided, I inwardly chuckled. Not only did I eventually get the job at Channel 8, I also enjoyed the satisfaction of a clean closet. Note that this guest room would eventually be a bedroom for my young step-kids, with the closet drawers filled with their clothes and toys. An even bigger dream had manifested!

The Void

February 27, 2017

“Worry not if you are in darkness and the void sucks you in further. This is not the place we go to die. It’s where we are born and our stories begin.” ― Kamand Kojouri, writer/poet

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

As Easter approaches (April 16), I am reminded of a Sunday mass in the little Irish village of Ballyvaughan.  I heard the priest remind his flock that Easter is not a day, it is a season. Whether or not we choose to celebrate Easter through Christian practices and traditions, we are dwelling in a resonate field that recognizes renewal. By definition, renew means to “restore to freshness or vigor.” By the laws of nature, to renew, something must first die. To die means that something must enter The Void. The trick is to not get lost in The Void.

My first conscious encounter with The Void took place twenty-some years ago when I resigned from a long-term job to pursue a new vocation. A minister friend encouraged me to take time off between the jobs. “You need to spend some time in The Void before jumping into the new,” she said, and recommended I read the book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. The author’s last name was perfect, as he demonstrated how to cross the bridge from the past, showed us how to not get stuck in The Void, before we successfully landed on the other side of the bridge. Sounds simple, but for most of us The Void is something to be avoided. But, as Bridges said, it can be a rich time of self- reflection and personal growth.

This academic year was the first time since 2006 that I have not offered my nine-month women’s program. I felt the need for a break. Not because it wasn’t fulfilling work, but because I wanted to step back and re-evaluate. I purposely entered The Void, knowing it would be uncomfortable at times but also a time to renew. The big move last summer from the city to the country was part of that process. In order to renew, I had to withdraw. To do that, I had to take the risk of shaking the spiritual container that holds the body of my work. I knew that some of the events and ceremonies I have traditionally offered would go away. My mind often spun thoughts of concern that my work was done. Maybe I’ve gone as far as I can go. Maybe I’ve fulfilled my sacred contract for this lifetime. Maybe I should retire and fade into the mists. Maybe, maybe, maybe. What if? I don’t know. Maybe. Ugh.

Remembering the relevance of The Void, when I had those thoughts I immediately shifted my thinking and intentions. That’s the key to crossing the bridge. To engage with The Void. To look it fully in the face. To dance with it. To sing to it. To pray into it. But don’t forget to name the necessary feelings that arise as a result of engaging with The Void. Then, remembering the idiom “nature abhors a vacuum,” we imbue The Void with something positive and regenerative.

All too often we find The Void to be so uncomfortable that we drift or run back to what was familiar and predictable. Misery and inertia return. Conversely, that discomfort can also push us to leap into new territory before we’re ready. Fear takes the lead. But remember this. The Void can be our friend. Out of my current Void came a surge of excitement when a past mentoring client reminded me of one of our sessions. “That changed my life,” she said. Our eyes locked as she continued. “You should really be offering your groups again.” In that moment I realized how much I had missed facilitating women’s circles. “I agree,” was my hearty reply. My time in The Void was well spent.

Stay tuned for news about my next Anam Cara Journey women’s circle!

Feelings

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

It was the morning after the November 8th election. I wanted to stay in bed with the warm blankets over my head. I recall saying something similar to a therapist years ago when I was going through a rough spell. “Then do it,” she advised. “Put a blanket over your head and just be with it.” And so I did, and continue to do so when the going gets rough, and, as the daily news reveals, when the rough gets going. The key is to stay awake while I’m taking refuge under my blankies. I can almost year Rumi whisper, “Don’t go back to sleep!” That is both an invitation and a challenge.

It’s no secret that I am a news hound and not because I worked in broadcasting. It’s because I have an insatiable sense of curiosity. (Some say it’s because I’m Irish and therefore I’m nosey.) A news story is an invitation for me to learn, to understand, to figure out how an executive order impacts my life and the world around me. The challenge is to stay neutral. I often tell my mentoring clients—“Put on your archetypal detective hat and explore.”  Because the news since January 20th has been mostly shocking and depressing, I occasionally invite myself to retreat and hide under the blankies. It is there that I nurse my wounded spirit. I don’t stay there, but I do go there—unapologetically. Feelings make me human.

My dear mother, now departed nearly 19 years, had a habit of saying to me me, “You don’t feel that way,” or, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” I know she was trying to protect me, but in this case her intentions took me down a hellish road of confusion. It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I was finally able to identify a real feeling. Now, in my mid-60s, and after this bizarre election, my feelings have been all over the map. At times I feel discouraged. Sometimes I shake my head and mutter WTF under my breath. Other times I step outside and take several deep, cleansing breath. I remember that joy is also a feeling, and I’m entitled to it. So where do we find our joy in the midst of so much chaos? For me, I turn to Nature.

“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.”
Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American Lawyer

In the Northern Hemisphere we are teetering between winter and spring. What was cold and grey is in the process of becoming warm and green. Could this be similar to my perceived need to hide under the blankies? Because I’m not quite ready to say spring has sprung? By that I mean I’m not quite ready for the rebirth of our country under new leadership. Under the covers this morning, while I lingered in bed before rising, a meditation from years ago came to mind.

An old crone wagged her finger in my face and said, “You’re trying to give birth quietly and cleanly. Birth is noisy and messy. Now get on with it.” Today I think she would add, “And don’t go back to sleep!”

 

Most People

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives
a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” – Oscar Wilde

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

Back in the late 1970s, I was a twenty-something year old promotions assistant at KATU-TV, the ABC affiliate in Portland, Oregon. At a programming meeting, I mustered up the gumption to contribute to the visioning dialogue. I began with, “Most people…”  After I stated my claim, the general manager turned on me. “What is your source to back up the claim?” I was mortified, and can still feel a mild twinge of residual angst as I type this. He was right. In truth, I was stating an opinion, not a fact. What do I know about most people?

Last week, on Facebook, I read a poem titled “Most People.” It triggered the memory of the TV meeting many decades ago. Jay Simser is a long-time friend from my youth in Ames, Iowa. (Our mothers were in Eastern Star together. We’re sure they’re marching around in their fancy gowns Heaven!) Jay has given me permission to share his poem.

Ask yourself, do I want to be like most people, or be more like myself? I know where I stand. Do you?

Most People by Jay Simser, Retired Educator
Ames, Iowa  JaycoleS@gmail.com

Most people sing just one song
give just one speech,
have just one conversation –
usually with themselves.

Most people dance
just one dance,
walk just one walk
Go to just one place – many times.

Most Rock Stars give the same concert
over and over.
Most comedians tell the same joke –
although sometimes with different punch lines.

Most Authors who write just one book
can do it many times.

Most politicians have just one idea –
usually someone else’s.
If you change your audience no one knows you are boring!

Some people however
Sing several songs,
Dance many dances,
Walk in different worlds.

Some people have endless conversations with many people.

Some people never listen
but others always do.

Some people stand out and stand up.

They are original, diverse, endlessly fascinating shining stars.

Jay Cole Simser
April 25, 2005

The Edge

“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”   ~African Proverb

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

Many times in my life I have been called to “the edge,” that universal place of great discomfort that hovers between what was and what is becoming. That place where we are symbolically “living in the leap.” We have let go of one trapeze and made the turn in the air. We should be prepared to grasp the new trapeze. Do we want to go there? Probably not. Do we have to go there? Yes, if we are to live a conscious life of purpose. That is edge upon which I am hovering as 2016 comes to a close and I prepare to move into yet another New Year.

One of the world’s most brilliant edges is at Dun Aonghasa, a 3,500-year old promontory ringed fort on the west side of Inis Mor off the west coast of Ireland. After the half-mile hike up to Dun Aonghasa, pilgrims are beckoned to cross through two stone walls. The inner most wall reveals a stone platform, with a 320 foot sheer drop off the edge into the Atlantic Ocean. I have been blessed by visiting this edge on three occasions, each time with a different experience.

In May of 2000 I traveled to Ireland for a month-long solo pilgrimage of the soul. Recovering from a broken ankle, it took me a while to negotiate the rocky path up to Dun Aonghasa. Upon arrival at the inner stone wall, I was met by blazing sun and strong winds. Much too unstable to approach the edge, I stood at a distance watching others perform an ancient ritual. Locals say you must crawl on your belly to approach the edge. This is for safety, and for respect of the spirits of the land. More than one cocky tourist has been swept over the edge, only to meet an untimely and visibly traumatic death. I should also note that this has been the site of more than one suicide. Not wanting to play in either of those realms, I stood safely back and just watched. This was a wise decision, yet also showed me how in many ways I have risked my own adventure by just watching others—vicariously living through others rather than living my own destiny.

My second visit to Dun Aonghasa was in May 2002 while guiding my first sacred site tour to Ireland. With 22 pilgrims following my lead, and with healthy bones this time, I enacted the ancient ritual. It was again sunny, only this time there was no breeze. It was amazingly calm, which helped steady my nerves. A bit shaky, I knelt down, crawled on my hands and knees, and took myself to the literal edge. How exhilarated I felt by looking down the steep drop-off!  The water below was churning spirals of green and blue. The puffins were dancing on the air, the sun blessing us all. I even performed a yoga posture—the Cobra—right at the very edge. By first going to the edge myself, I welcomed others to join me. Some could, some could not. This time I learned that each time I take a risk, it not only and empowers me, it empowers others.

May 2006 found me once again on retreat on Inis Mor, and once again I was blessed by sunshine. My walk up to Dun Aonghasa was a brisk one this time, totally trusting where the path would lead. The third visit gave me confidence in the familiar. It was interesting to note that, although the breeze was mild, not one of perhaps 50 tourists was at the edge. I gauged whether this was for a proper reason, and decided perhaps they just needed permission. About 20 feet from the edge, I once again dropped to my knees. Saying a silent prayer, I crawled on my hands and knees to the same edge I had visited twice before—the first time as a by-stander, the second time as a hesitant participant. Looking down this time felt like a welcoming home.

Reflecting on my three treks to Dun Aonghasa, I recall the mixed feelings of caution with a dab of dread.  But, in truth, it is excitement I felt. Today I have the knowing and the know-how, and now the confidence to bring the two together. That’s the edge upon which I’m dwelling as 2016 comes to a close. As 2017 arrives, will I just watch, or hesitantly participate, or be an active participant? I get to choose, and so do you!

Christians and Pagans – Can we be friends?

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles;
but today it means getting along with people.” — Mahatma Gandhi

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

One December day, many years ago, I got a phone call from my mom. She was having a theological dilemma. I could hear it in her voice. Very tentatively, and precisely, she asked, “So, if you don’t believe in Jesus, then should I not get you a Christmas present?” She was dead serious. I was flabbergasted and couldn’t wait to dive into another juicy spiritual dialogue with the woman who gave birth to me.
Previously I had explained to her that I don’t believe that Jesus is my savior. I believe he was a master teacher. A profound role model. A way shower. A few days after this conversation she phoned me with news. “I was telling my bus driver today, a very nice young Christian woman, about your beliefs. She told me I should get down on my knees and pray for you because you are a sinner.” Which led me to tell Mom that I don’t believe I am a sinner. I was born of Original Love. I make mistakes and miss the mark. When I get the learning, I strive to make amends and move on.

“So are you Christian?” she eventually asked. Out of my mouth came these words. “I’m outside the box of Christianity, but inside the circle of God.” That was our moment of connection. “Got it!” she shouted. Religion no longer mattered between us. Spirituality took its place. The Christ Consciousness guided many more dialogues between us during her dying process. I miss the depth of that sharing and exploring, and yet remembering it inspires me to re-visit the meaning of Christmas. Am I Christian or Pagan, or does it matter?

Singer/songwriter Dar Williams says it beautifully in her clever holiday tune, The Christians and the Pagans.

Dar Williams – THE CHRISTIANS and THE PAGANS – live in concert from Teaneck, NJ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCVt_j1A68c

If the Christians and the Pagans can sit together at the table, “…finding faith and common ground the best way they are able,” then we too can find common ground—if we look for it. That’s my intention this holiday season. To savor all of the many sights and sounds of the Winter Solstice and Christmas. Pagans celebrate the birth of the SUN. Christians celebrate the birth of the SON. We are all one, and, goddess knows, we’re all in this together.

My Close Encounter with Botox

“Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies
and they’re more paralyzed than I am.”  — Christopher Reeve

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

It was about this time 12 years ago when I had a mutual birthday lunch with a younger friend. I recall saying that I was okay with aging, except now my crow’s feet are falling and they can’t get up. She suggested Botox. I laughed until she pushed aside her bangs and showed me a remarkably un-lined forehead and no frown marks between her eyebrows. Yep, she was getting Botox and had for quite some time. My first question was the cost. It was a mere $150. That’s when I decided to do it but keep it a secret, even from my husband.

The procedure wasn’t that difficult. Tiny little zaps here and there, with the promise of looking much younger than my 53-year old self. Feeling smug, and ever so youthful, I arrived at the front desk of the clinic to pay. “That will be $450,” the receptionist said. How could that be when my friend only paid $150? That’s when it dawned on me—because she was 14 years younger she needed fewer injections. Adding $450 to my credit card in early December was sobering. “What have I done?” I thought. The question faded as women friends began to remark on my youthful appearance.

You look so relaxed…
Did you just return from vacation?
Are you doing a new skincare product?
Have you replaced your old makeup for new?

I loved the questions. But even more I loved my answer. “It’s Botox!” Every single woman leaned in for a closer look, followed by my first question, “How much did it cost?”

It was fun for the first week or two, but after that, not so much. I could not move my usually expressive eyebrows. My eyelids created a landslide, almost obscuring my usually lush eyelashes. Worst of all, it felt like someone was constantly grabbing and squeezing both eyebrows. Constantly!!!! When I returned for a follow up appointment, this is what I was told.
“Oh, no worries. That’s just your paralyzed muscles trying to talk to your awake muscles. It will go away in a few months and then you’ll return for more.” Once again I wondered, “What have I done?” It didn’t take me long to answer that question. But first, understand that I have no judgment around you or anyone else who chooses Botox. If it makes you feel better, and you can afford it, then go for it.

The learning that emerged for me was around how I was feeling about aging. This as opposed to how aging was making me look. At 53 I realized I had entered what Irish writer John O’Donohue called the “autumn of my life.” The dead and useless aspects of my life were encouraging me to let go, just as a massive maple tree sheds her multi-colored leaves in autumn. Do you think the maple tree thinks, “Oh No! I’m losing my leaves! I’ll look awful! I’m old! I’m going to die soon!”

Therein lies the invitation to love and embrace my aliveness, at whatever age. I will soon turn 66. I intend to do so with gusto. I can’t twerk my bum, but I can my eyebrows. My husband still likes it when I coyly bat my eyelashes. Today I declare, I am awake, and so is my face. But, dang, those crow’s feet continue to fall and can’t get up. I wonder if there’s an alarm for seniors when our crow’s feet finally hit the floor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzs-gpQj2cU
My Favorite Things-Senior Words
Bill Horn Show