Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Emptiness of Our Hands - Book Review

Who would you become if you were to suddenly find yourself without a home?  Some of you here know the answer to that question because you have lived it.  For the authors of The Emptiness of Our Hands, the answer was far beyond what they could ever have imagined.  Living the question forever changed who they were and who they continue to become to this day.

Choosing to live on the streets of Columbus, Ohio for 47 days may not seem earth-shattering, but for Phyllis Cole-Dai, and her photographer friend, James Murray, the experience was, in many ways, soul-shattering.  They found themselves immersed in an alternate universe offering up the kind of devastation that stripped bare their psyches and spirits.  After just two nights, Murray was already broken to pieces. 

The decision to go to the streets had not been made lightly or done as a stunt.  Cole-Dai felt a deep call she could not ignore.  Her intent was to offer up the gift of presence to everyone she met.  

So then what transpires when you suddenly find yourself in deep survival mode?  How are you transformed while living in a world ill at ease with the homeless... with you?  How do you cope with feeling invisible, despised, and less than human?  When constantly wrestling with intense fear, uncertainty, and struggle, what gives?  What sustains?  

How is it that something as simple as being seen can be such a consolation?  Nothing is inconsequential to the one in need of the kind of attention that shelters, or the haven to be found in the eyes of compassion.  To be seen like that is to receive an act of love.

As one with an outreach to those without a home, immersing myself within The Emptiness of Our Hands has reaffirmed for me the power of "thereness" (really being there for, and with, someone).  It has stirred a deep desire to be a very present haven to the one who might need to rest for a moment in my embracing presence.  

This book is for anyone who seeks to express the kind of humanity that feeds and shelters souls.  Just as there are many ways to experience homelessness, there are also many ways to be the kind of home presence needed by the displaced, the lost, or the lonely souls we encounter all around us.  

I also highly recommend the companion volume entitled Practicing Presence.  This compilation of 47 reflections (one from each of the author's 47 days on the streets) enables each of us to more fully develop and engage our mindfulness intentions.  I consider these two books the most important reading I have done all year.  






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14 comments:

  1. Wow. Quite the experience the author and her photographer had. Most definitely these are real-life examples of mindfulness and compassion. I never realized that simply "See Me" would be as important to the homeless population as where their next meal was coming from. You always seem to find such timely soul-searching books to share, Diana. Thanks so much for your excellent review.

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    1. Being seen is such a universal human need. Many people avert their eyes when passing a homeless individual on the street. Phyllis and James felt like "ghosts" at times. Could it be that people are afraid to enter into the pain and suffering of another individual? To really see someone requires a certain vulnerability. May we always be willing to enter that space.

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  2. Diana....I find your review moving so I'm sure I would also find the book moving. Thanks for a wonderful recommendation.

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    1. I highly recommend these books for your book club, or for your church groups. I was very much changed for having entered into this opportunity to examine my own service to those in need. May we be the sustenance a starving soul may need today.

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  3. Diana dear, I can only begin to imagine how life-changing and, as you wrote, soul-shattering the experience of being homeless is. How brave of Cole-Dai and Murray to choose to immerse themselves in and live that experience, and how incredibly important for the author to commit herself to "offer up the gift of presence to everyone she met." I have no doubt that giving the gift of "being seen" and choosing to share the lives of the homeless individuals they met was fundamentally life-changing for all whose lives were touched, in both directions, by this act of humanity and Cole-Dai's choice to act on her soul's calling. Thank you for sharing these incredibly important books with us and helping to introduce others to them.

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    1. I am forever changed for having immersed myself in these living and breathing testaments to the power of presence. They are far more than books. They are opportunities for us to enter in to the kinds of growth experiences that allow us to become ever more evolved as human beings. How vulnerable are we willing to be in order to expand our humanity... to choose to hold space for another individual's suffering? This I ponder. I hope everyone who reads this review will choose to take the plunge. Yashir koach. Grow in strength.

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  4. I am once again reminded of how truly blessed I am by your friendship Diana. You are an inspiration! Your kind heart and compassion shines through in everything you do and clearly, even in the books you choose to read and review. I have no doubt this book would be a wonderful book to read, as well as an encouragement, and perhaps a challenge to endeavor to be a kinder individual and a better reflection of Him.

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    1. Thank you for the blessing of you, Cynthia. Your lovely, generous words are a beautiful, safe haven. I feel fortunate to have found these books. They have deeply stirred my spirit. I believe books find us with such perfect timing when we are ready for their gifts.

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  5. Diana (if I may), thank you for reviewing our book, which you obviously read with great sensitivity. The practice of being present never ends, and we are always beginners, wherever we may live, or with whom. We walk the practice together. Deep peace.

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    1. And thank you for gracing this review with your presence. Such a delightful surprise and blessing. Your comments resonate deeply with this beginner. My motto happens to be: Only Begin. Today, I take the first step of that walk once again.

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  6. Wow Diana, this book sounds like a real eye opener and hopefully a soul opener too. Being on the margins is not a choice that one would make lightly. Having spent sometime with the poor on the streets of Toronto has made me very aware of the needs that go beyond food and clothing (although these are necessary too). Seeing the person and being with the person can go a long way in understanding our own humanity and making the world a better place for all.

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    1. It definitely cracks the soul wide open. I love that your presence goes where it is needed most. I so appreciate your compassion in action. Living, breathing, doing, being compassion is a beautiful thing.

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  7. Thank you for a very moving and compassionate review. This sounds a very powerful, deep and touching book.The decision by the author and photographer to go live on the streets is quite amazing. The need to be seen comes across very strong. Food and warmth are very necessary for the body and being seen and heard vital for the soul and being of a person. I love your discussion of the power of "thereness".What a wonderful recommendation, Thank you.

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    1. I appreciate your thoughtful "hereness." Thank you for joining in the conversation.

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