“A few years ago, at the height of tour season I got a phone call from this woman saying she was my husband’s girlfriend. Really? I talked to her very calmly. It didn’t even sink in. And I was leaving and it was like 7:45 in the morning and I had to leave in 15 minutes to go pick up a group of tourists. So I just kind of talked to her for a few minutes and the things she said, logically made sense. And then about February I just broke. I just broke. I just couldn’t deal w it. It was just horrifying.
So I had never been out the Pearl Islands here. I had a friend who had a Bed and Breakfast out there. And I booked a trip out there. And I went out and I was just you know – what am I going to do? A couple days after I arrived, I hired a local fisherman and said ‘Let’s go find dolphins.’ And we just headed out. Didn’t see any, didn’t see any, didn’t see any… and I’m just feeling the sadness and I kept feeling it rise up. And I knew that… when you’re sad and upset, that’s not how you find the dolphins. They’re all about happy and joy. And I also knew not to fight the emotions. So I just let myself feel it. And just let it process. About 5 minutes later the boatman comes and says “Whales!” And as we get closer there was 4 humpback whales and about 40 spotted dolphins all together. And we don’t often find them together, sometimes but not often. So the dolphins came and road in the bough and played around us for about 15-20 min.
That night I’m sitting in my room, and I’m checking some emails working on the computer and all of a sudden I realize I’m happy. How did that happen? Thank you dolphins, thank you whales. It’s like I had this inner knowing: everything is going to be fine. No matter what happens I will be just fine. Doesn’t matter what happens, we stay together, we don’t stay together whatever. It’s all good I’m fine. And we were able to work it out and we’re still together.”
It became clear to me very quickly that the lesson of Portraits in Faith was gratitude. I came to see that Gratitude was Faith! This has never been more clear to me than in the story of Anne Gordon de Barrigón. Anne’s story is really larger than life. She was a trainer and keeper of wild animals for the film industry on her property near Seattle until, one day, one of her tigers attacked a volunteer who did not follow the guidelines for its care. While the volunteer survived, it was a spiritual wake-up call for Anne. She sold her animals and land. Then a call came to work as an animal keeper for a film being shot in Panama, a job she could not have taken if she still had her own operation.
There she met and fell in love with an indigenous man who was part of the village in which they were shooting the film. It was truly a fairy tale come true, until the day a woman called Anne and said she was her husband’s girlfriend. The story checked out and thus began a journey Anne never knew she would have to take. She and her husband were able to save their marriage and are together to this day, but it took hard work on Anne’s part to process the anger and despair.
Anne’s breakthrough came on a solo trip she took to the nearby Pearl Islands where she hired a fisherman to take her out to find dolphins. She felt she needed to feel her feelings in order to return to a joyful space that would attract the dolphins. After some time, they soon found themselves surrounded by 4 humpback whales and 40 dolphins. She got in the water and allowed them to jump and swim around her. Back at her lodging that night, she realized she was happy and that she would be happy no matter what happened with her husband. And this, for me, is the very essence of faith—that we are happy and grateful no matter what happens in our lives.
I do not take this to mean that we should be “pollyanna-ish” in our affect all the time. I take this to mean that faith is a stance on life where one chooses to be grateful for all of life, even when all we can be grateful for is the feelings of loss and sadness we experience. One of my favorite writers is the Jesuit monk, Anthony DeMello, who said in his book Awareness: “…All mystics …no matter what their religion…are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well.” Have I made the choice today to live in a grateful space or a wanting/diminished space? Am I a fully feeling and experiencing member of the human race and God’s world today?
Today Anne and her husband split their time between his native village, Embera Puru, and Panama City. They have brought a thriving tourism business to the village for people wanting to experience the jungle and nature as lived by indigenous peoples.