While we at BetterListen! tend to focus on the spoken word, we appreciate the value of the written word as well. With that, we are delighted to launch a stream of recommendations, excerpts and inspirations from guest contributors, including many of our favorite authors.
We kick off this series with an excerpt from BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser is the co-founder of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, a New York Times best-selling author, and frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey television and radio shows. Particularly during these challenging times, we find her words an inspiration to help get us through them.
BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow
by Elizabeth Lesser
And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
Some years ago, I took a trip to the city of Jerusalem, where centuries are layered in stones, and streets are carved into the layers, twisting and turning in haphazard patterns that divide and connect neighborhoods, markets, mosques, temples, and churches. One morning in that broken city, I sat alone on a well-worn wall at the base of the Mount of Olives. The day was moving forward with the kind of determination that comes from people with places to go and things to do. Religious pilgrims pushed past each other into the gates of the holy city. Men and women made their way to work and market; children ran past them to school. But I had nowhere to go.
The group I was traveling with in Jerusalem had risen early for the day’s planned itinerary. I’d stayed behind. I could no longer keep up the charade that I was part of their adventure: I wasn’t here to visit sacred sites, or to walk the Stations of the Cross, wail at the Western Wall, or chant the Ninety-nine Names of Allah. No, I was here to further delay making a decision about my life at home. I had come to Jerusalem only because my friend, who was leading the trip, was worried enough about me to pay my fare—which worried me enough to fly halfway around the world to a city as mixed up as myself. Now I was here, but really I was still back there, at home in New York, scared and confused about my crumbling marriage.
Wandering deeper into the walled Old City, I came to an ancient alleyway lined with shops selling religious artifacts for the Western pilgrim. Normally I would veer away from these kinds of stores. Inspirational sayings stitched in needlepoint or Virgin Mary coffee mugs seemed no different to me than those velvet Elvis paintings you see at flea markets. But I needed help. I needed inspiration—even from a coffee cup, or an embroidered pillow, or from Elvis himself.
One narrow, dusky shop appealed to me, and I went in. On the floor was a patchwork of Persian rugs. On the walls hung small paintings, some of saints and prophets, others of mountains and flowers. Was this a gallery? A rug store? A gift shop? I couldn’t tell. In the back of the long room, drinking tea at a low table, sat two Arab men dressed in white caftans. One was a stooped and aged gentleman, and the other—his son perhaps—was a mysterious-looking character with gleaming eyes and long, black hair like the mane of a well-groomed horse. After a while the son put down his tea and came forward to greet me. Fixing his gaze on me, as if trying to read the secrets of my heart (or the contents of my purse), he said in perfect English, “Come, you will like this picture.” Taking my hand, he led me around piles of rugs to the back of the store, near where his father was sitting.
Excerpted from Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser Copyright © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
NEXT WEEK: Find out what happened in the shop, from BROKEN OPEN: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser