Day by day, what you do is who you become.  ~Heraclitus

Two summers ago I had been taking my little loves to a country club a few times a week.  They would have a swimming class and then, since we were not members of the club, we’d gather our things and make our way home.  The girls looked forward to the swimming, of course, but even more than that, they would burst out of the locker room and make a bee line for me, palms up in great expectation that I would cough up that dollar for the snack bar.  It became our routine, and on some days I had to scrape beneath the seats of the car for change so that they could waltz down the wooden steps and cross the parking lot popping melted M&Ms in their mouths or gnawing on chewy Red Vine ropes.

Well, one day on our way out we whisked past a frail elderly woman struggling to get down the stairs.  She was receiving assistance from another older woman who might have been her daughter.  This companion was there mainly to prevent a fall and had one hand at the ready behind her back and the other gently guiding her by the elbow.  As we passed them, I noticed the elderly woman was carrying a large handbag that looked like it weighed more than she did, and she was also clutching a newspaper under her arm.  It was such a precarious situation that in my mind I worried the woman might fall in front of us or worse, that she might blow over as my little loves flew past her.  Just as we made our way over to the car and began loading our things into the back, littlest suddenly looks up at me and says, I’m going to go back and help that lady.  She raced back across the parking lot to the two women and held out her hand, eventually taking the newspaper and then her tiny body standing alongside them to make sure they made it down the steps safely.  Alleluia, there is HOPE, I thought.  Maybe I even cried out loud or climbed on top of my car and waved my arms in praise.  I tell you, it was an indescribable joy that I will grip with both hands and carry with me like a shield when she’s fifteen, sleeping all day, and telling me that I and everything else in the world sucks.  The seeds of compassion planted in the heart.  The willingness to reach out.  Holding hands with a stranger.  What a blessing!

Heraclitus says, day by day, what you do is who you become, and isn’t that wisdom for all of us to think about?  I know this is going to sound sillyhearted, and God if I can’t get the memory out of my head of my friend recently referring to me in jest as Mother Teresa, but I’m going to say it anyway.  I do.  I really really do want to spend my days holding hands.

Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. ~Brian Doyle from his 9/11 poem “Leap” posted below

leap by brian doyle
A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped. Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand. Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air. The mayor reported the mist. A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes. Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling that she later realized were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Winstral saw people free-falling backwards with their hands out, like they were parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people “leaping as they flew out.” John Carson saw six people fall, “falling over themselves, falling, they were somersaulting.” Steve Miller saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people flailing on the way down, people lining up and jumping, “too many people falling.” Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted fourteen people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman’s dress billowing as she fell, and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end, and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand. Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky. But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn’t even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window, but they did reach for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped, and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that.

Brian Doyle (born in New York in 1956) is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He is the author of thirteen books, among them the novels Mink River and Cat’s Foot, the story collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot, the nonfiction books The Grail and The Wet Engine, and many books of essays and poems, including Grace Notes, Credo, Saints Passionate & Peculiar, and (with his father Jim Doyle) Two Voices.. His Huge Whopping Headlong Sea Novel THE PLOVER will be published in April 2014 by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books.

[dot_recommends]    Email This Post


  1. from Susan:

    susan board says:
    September 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm (Edit)

    beautiful post; thank you! love is everything!! you will be as Mother Theresa some day thru your examples to your darlings. I, too, would like to be like her, who became beautiful thru a life of service to others. ps…I believe that Brian Doyle is also former editor of US Catholic in which I have read many of his thoughtful pieces.

    rebecca says:
    September 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm (Edit)

    Bless you, Susan. I can only keep trying. Just hold on, right! XO

Leave a Reply