This morning, a friend shared that as a young black girl in segregated Cincinnati, she finally got to go to the public library to check out books. Previously, she had been allowed to walk to the black school close to her home where she had read almost every book. She told the story in her authentic voice and conveyed such mixed emotions! I felt them: we had what I am calling a synapses of the heart.
A synapse is usually associated with nerves and our nervous system: it is the tiny gap across which a nerve cell, or neuron, can send an impulse to another neuron. The process involves both an electrical charge and a chemical signal: a spark and a message. Through millions of neurons firing across synapses, the brain processes incoming information and fashions a response. Perhaps synapses exist among all sentient beings: a spark and a message sent and received.
Theologian Thomas Berry said there is something inside us that goes out to meet every living thing. Storytellers talk about call and response. Years ago, a man I was interviewing said simply, “I reached out and he reached back.”
.In our recent news, we have seen the images from Houston in which volunteers came with the private boats to help those who needed to be evacuated. Some had been in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina and they knew how important help was. They went to meet those in need; they approached warmly; They called out a greeting; they held an arm; they carried a child, a dog or a senior; they waited patiently; they comforted; they lifted. In each moment, they met the other. In that meeting, humanity blossomed. Even those of us who watched the process unfold on our television sets felt it!
Compare this to some of the images from Puerto Rico. I was struck by one image of two young women dressed in FEMA shirts. They asked for information, and then said they would have a response for those in need soon: they needed to check with their office. They withheld a heart response: they were not firing on all cylinders. We feel the difference immediately. Is it love that flows across those synapses? What we need now is connection: heart-to-heart, moment-to-moment with other sentient beings.
A farm provides great training for such work. Meeting the other in the moment is essential practice. Earlier this year, a young volunteer and I went to pick tomatoes just before lunch. “This is the perfect tomato!” he exclaimed as he picked a relatively small, perfectly round, red tomato. The tomato radiated an ineffable presence, something hard to describe or define, but absolutely real. He felt it and connected with it. He took that tomato home with him, rather than eat it for lunch.
I have had similar experiences in the garden. Occasionally, I see a flash of light from a particular vegetable. I have never understood how or what does it. I know that I am receiving a message from a living presence. Usually I find a vegetable that is perfectly ripe, almost radiant, and I make it part of my lunch. I cannot imagine a plant in a field of vegetables industrially grown sending such a message.
This morning, I decided to use the fresh tomatillos I had picked from the garden. I pulled out one of my favorite recipe books, and found a recipe for tomatillo salad. I had all the ingredients: it sounded delicious. I blanched to tomatillos for three minutes. Then I cut the first one open. Before me in the center of the fruit was a perfect image of a tree—or a valentine-shaped heart. It touched my heart with its beauty, its elegance of form.
Message confirmed: Connect, connect! Meet the other and be moved by the meeting. Extend to the other and be open for a response. How simple and complex this life can be!