Where does one feel sadness?
It’s not in the head. Not the heart really either. For me it sits at the bottom of my ribcage, quivering, where if it decided to make a run for it, it would escape by the way of my esophagus; a wrong way exit where words would scrape against the walls and form into something wretched on their way out.
Maybe it’s our efforts to restrain and contain that squeeze tears from our eyes in exertion. Because the more I live and see, the more I feed that small beast that quivers in that cave; it has grown to a size that makes crying one of the things I do best. Not only in sadness, but in anger, happiness, compassion, love, shame, horror, bliss and even emptiness. In fact, I would say my emptiness-onset tears are my most beloved and sacred – as when they are shed, I feel heaviness relieved and lightness filled, lifted closer to something divine in leaving a body of self-fullness behind. But emptiness tears are not those I cry today. Today my tears are heavy. They pull my shoulders down. They wring my neck. They choke my throat. The pinch my mouth together. They crease my forehead and scrunch my eyebrows. They plant my feet into the floor and make my whole body want to cringe close to the ground. They take my hands from the keyboard and make me put them over my mouth. Not wanting to let escape that wretched sound.
That is the term that was used to describe the women and children on the streets outside of the morgue in Guatemala City. I know. I knew Hanley well enough to understand why those women wail. Because I witnessed a few, I can see every; moment that she stepped into a life and handed a mother of seven a rice sack full of food, or provided antibiotics to a waning infant, or put shoes on the youngest daughter and sent her to school or offered skill training and a job to the oldest son, or sent a social worker to listen to the story of a missing father. I know why those women wail. Because having grown accustomed to the dark of living life in shadows, the one person who unexpectedly reached out, touched them, and acknowledged their existence and right to live, has died. And do we dare even ask, will she take the only hope she had inspired in all of us with her? No we don’t ask. We don’t want to know. It’s easier to wail and cry.
I have written about Hanley Denning a number of times on this blog. She was first my boss and then my friend and mentor. Today, I clutch my chest and hold that quivering still for a second, thanking every star that aligned in my favor to give me the opportunity, last fall, to hug her and tell her face to face, “Hanley – you are the most inspiring person I’ve ever met in my life.”
In six years of travel around the world, I have never met anyone who personally molded humanity to higher goodness more than this woman did with her own hands. She is. She was the most valuable player I’ve ever encountered, and I simply cannot rationalize why, of all on this planet, she should be sacrificed.
I don’t cry because I miss Hanley. Hanley would not miss Hanley. And Hanley would never, ever cry for Hanley. Hanley did not leave behind possessions or offspring or life partners or personal passions. She never did anything but work tirelessly to care for everyone else. In a way, there was no Hanley. She was nothing but her goodness and gifts to others. And now that I reread that sentence, maybe I can summon some of those sacred emptiness tears too. For if ego grounds us, then Hanley never lived among us. And is she was only her goodness, then she immortally walks alongside us. And if she is what she inspired, then those right intentions and actions can only be shared and grow on cumulatively.
Crash kills poor children’s ‘angel’ – Portland Press Herald
I Have Lice – 2001 Reflection on Volunteering with Safe Passage
www.safepassage.org – Hope, Education, Opportunity