“I had folks comingn to me who wanted to be helpful and sadly, many of them weren’t. These were the people who would say, ‘Gosh Parker, why are you sitting in here being depressed when it’s a beautiful day outside. Go feel the sunshine and smell the flowers.’ And that of course leaves a depressed person even more depressed because while you know it’s sunny out and the flowers are lovely and fragrant, you can’t really feel any of that in your body, which is dead in a sensory way.”
Parker Palmer is an educator, activist, and author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, and spoke with radio show host Krista Tipett on depression he experienced. He said he had one friend who was helpful. He’d come over every afternoon at four o’clock, sit him down in a chair in the living room, take off his shoes and socks, and massage his feet. The friend hardly ever said anything. He was a Quaker elder. Parker discovered the soles of his feet were the one place he could feel a connection to another human being. He said the act of massaging that he really didn’t have any words for, kept him connected with the human race. It became for him a metaphor, of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way. “The act of willingness to hold people in a sacred space of relationship where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.” He also said he has dd been able to find a way to express his gratitude.
Parker Palmer’s story brought me to tears because as a Massage Therapist, I’ve been in the position to be the Quaker elder friend. I’m so thankful to have found a profession that allows me that honor. There are times when the receiver is so grateful. I’ve learned I need to remember to hold that sacredly too.
I’ve felt that gratitude for which there are no words to convey the depth. An old friend gave me that confidence that I was not drowning in an unknown abyss. He is a sports fanatic and athletic. His words were like a coach talking to one of his players. “Kath,” he said, “this is only a moment and it will pass.” I was saved. And for weeks after, it was all I could talk about. He saved me! It was unbelievable! I tried to tell him how thankful I was, but he could not hear the depth of it. With tears steaming down my face, I told my wise brother how our friend saved me and the dilemma I had in not being able to relay my gratitude. He told me a similar story when he committed an act of kindness for a friend for which she could not stop thanking him. “For me, it was nothing. It was as easy as breathing, but for her it was as if I moved mountains. It was the same for Tom. The best you can do is pass it on.” So I did. Now I know I can hold sacred space to witness someone’s gratitude, too. The depth of an act of kindness and the gratitude for it are sometimes drastically different. But instead of recognizing that with an oh it was nothing, which is such a natural response, to witness someone’s gratitude is also an act of kindness.
That space of giving and receiving and gratitude seems to me to be a spiritual one. Maybe that’s why words are difficult to find to express it. Maybe that’s why Parker Palmer’s story brought me to tears. That moment where spirit and humanity meet. Maybe it is a moment of realizing that being human is a spiritual experience. That to know God is through the very same humanity that gives us such pain and suffering. In that moment it seems both mystery and understanding are swirling in what it means to be human.
What I do know is touching spirit reminds me life is precious, in all its beauty and mess. Each of us are precious. One spirit. In the busyness of living on earth, heavy in our bodies, it is so easy to forget that spirit, light as a feather, that does not speak our language. So easy to not feel it.
Thank God for human touch!
To hear the full interview with Parker Palmer, visit