In his tragically short 19 year life span, Everett Glenn figured out what many thrice his age fail to master: how to live with your heart wide open. Hundreds of tributes from those whose lives he touched (see rememberingeverett.com) speak to Everett’s disarming generosity of spirit and loving-kindness. Even correcting for the tendency of bereft mourners to idealize the deceased, Everett’s evolved responsiveness to others was remarkable. His eyes sparkled and danced with the kind of ready compassion likened to the Dalai Lama. His heart seemed to have a heat-seeking missile function, drawing him to those who shrink in the shadows of awkward self-consciousness. He’d enwrap them in his sunny radiance and coax them to blossom in the beaming rays of his empowering faith in them. And he’d embrace all comers in his famously enfolding “bear hug.” Young and old, all races and religions, the “popular” and the marginalized were all equal opportunity recipients of Everett’s grow-light of heartwarming care.
As I sat in Everett’s memorial service, which was overflowing with thousands of stricken and bereft mourners, I reflected with humbled awe upon Everett’s loving exuberance. I was straining to grasp a way of honoring Everett’s existence from his senselessly truncated life. His luminous soul was a short-lived shooting star, streaking across the heavens, showering glittering sparks that drifted down on those of us witnessing in awed and grief-stricken silence. What small ember could I capture and shield in my cupped hands from the winds of extinction?
As I listened to account after account of how Everett brought every fiber of his loving, irreverently humorous being to his every personal encounter, I recalled a verse of Rilke’s poem “This Press of Time:”
“We set the pace. But this press of time
Take it as a little thing next to what endures.
All this hurrying soon will be over.
Only when we tarry do we touch the holy…”
Like the cathedral, which could not house the hordes of memorial service mourners, Everett’s life was overflowing with tarrying moments in which he touched the holy. He stepped off the whizzing mechanical walkway of life to connect with others whose need to be uplifted was more evident to him than it was to themselves: the student shamed for cheating; the awkward social isolate; the magnet for bullying. All were spotted, befriended and uplifted by Everett, who took the time and the care to tarry. And there’s the dear aunt resigned to the wallflower sidelining of the elderly at her niece’s Bat Mitzvah celebration, until Everett coaxed her onto the dance floor, reawakening in her the long lost elation of being deemed special.
What ember of essential “Everettness” can we keep alive within us? Most of us were not blessed with his spirited buoyancy; his charismatic extroversion. Few folks come power-packed with Everett’s breed of outgoing gusto that would catapult us outside the comfort zone of our immediate social circle. With modest effort, however, we can actively strive to tarry with those around us. It is WE, after all, who chose at every juncture how we will relate to those we encounter. We can default to scurrying through our lives in preoccupied self-absorption. Or, like Everett, we can elect to move through our numbered days with openhearted compassion- to search for and touch the holy in all we behold.
But most of us have permanently buckled ourselves into the “Tilt o’ Whirl” Carnival ride of swirling multi-tasking. How do we get off, in order to engage openheartedly with those we those in our world? When our child enters the room, or our spouse returns at day’s end, how do we turn to them with our full presence, to yield the most out of that moment, however short-lived it might be? These are the precise, pivotal moments at which we can elect to either remain steeped in our distractions or shed them for total attentiveness to the interpersonal opportunity facing us.
1) It begins with our deliberate intention to tarry, which serves as our distraction-releasing off-switch to our inner spinning. This is perhaps the hardest step, because it takes conscientious effort to wrest ourselves out of the subsuming centripetal force to turn with complete openness to another person. But it’s the most crucial step too, because only in so doing do we enable the “holy” to be sensed and touched.
2) Once released from our inward absorptions, we can train our senses onto the person in front of us,-- by holding them with our eyes, searching them with our emotional sensitivities, widening the reach of our loving heart to embrace them in their own personal sphere.
3) And now the “space between” has been created, wherein, in interfused attunement, we enable the intimate, the hilarious, the loving, as well as, yes, the painful, the infuriating, and the discordant to find expression. Without this mutually enlivened “space between” (optimally vast enough to hold the full range of emotion), we have no hope of authentic interpersonal connection.
4) From our attuned attentiveness, we can then note the tones, tensions and truths now resonating inside our own viscera. Is our son downcast, ebullient, exhausted? Is our daughter irritable, expansive, defeated? Is our spouse troubled, oppressed, fried? We can respond in a way that meets them where they need us to be, because we’ve actively attuned ourselves to them first.
-We become like stringed instruments. Our active attunement to others becomes our emotional “strings,” sending reverberating sound waves or “feeling waves” throughout our very beings, evoking in us the very state of the other. Like cellos registering vibrations in their instrumental “bellies,” we viscerally resonate with others’ emotional tones in our “gut.” Ideally, as our emotional frequencies spin into synchronous oneness with the other, we become a transporting duet of deep understanding. We now can touch the other with a uniting honesty that feels holy.
Everett was a Master choral singer. He surely knew the transporting power of uniting with others in that “space between” with many voices spun into harmonious oneness.
The above four steps can consume less time than it took to read them. It is merely a matter of pivoting our internal state from scattershot distractedness to dedicated attention to the person in front of us. Of course we cannot drop everything every time we encounter another, in order to have a profound “tarrying” moment. (Ironically, we typically say “life is too short; I’ve got too much to do!”) How much time could it have taken Everett to spot the aunt sitting in the corner in the folding chair quietly watching the celebration? A second? How much time could it have taken out of his short life to prevail on her to dance, and escort her around the dance floor to one tune? 5 minutes? And how profound and enduring was the impact of that act of grace on that woman’s spirit? Incalculable. What Rilke suggests is that only in seizing and savoring life’s most precious opportunities can we touch the sacred and triumph over life’s fleetingness.
The ember of Everett’s blessed essence I will carry forth with me is the recognition that every time I encounter another person, I have a choice. I can chose to look through people in my self-absorbed busyness, or I can chose to get out of myself, cross the gulf of the space between, and in disarming earnestness, care about the other.
Isn’t it funny how, with all the stress on communication in our culture, the emphasis is on how to effectively express our needs to others, and NOT on how to listen to and attune ourselves to others’ needs? There is an art and a science to divining others’ true emotional states, drawing upon the very totality of our best and highest selves. Why shouldn’t we strive to master this most highly evolved human capacity, as inspiringly exemplified by Everett Glenn?