The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Talking Notes – Guest: Eva Ting

Talking Notes – Guest: Eva Ting

A Grief Observed

Continuing the conversation around navigating grief, I invited my friend Eva Ting, founder for Here to Honor, for a stimulating conversation. Eva is my first guest on Talking Notes, and I couldn’t have asked for a better conversation partner.

About Eva:

Eva Ting is the founder of Here to Honor. Prior to Here to Honor, Eva served as the Director of Events and Programming at W83 Ministry Center, the home of Redeemer West Side Church in New York City. Her interests lie in cultivating spaces for community engagement and designing experiences and events that invite the public to participate in thoughtful conversations as well as thoughtful action. Eva completed end-of-life doula training with INELDA, and she holds a B.A. in English and B.S. in journalism from Boston University, and an M.A. in visual arts administration from New York University. She lives in Harlem, NYC with her husband.

About Here To Honor:

The vision of Here to Honor is cultivating love, care, and companionship on the journey toward end of life. Since its founding in 2020, Here to Honor has envisioned end of life as a journey that can actually lead to stronger relationships and being more fully engaged in the present.

Our mission is to cultivate community around end-of-life learning so that everyone feels supported in facing mortality. We believe that death, as a shared human experience, can be approached with hope and that we are meant to be there for one another. Through online resources, onsite workshops, and ongoing connection, Here to Honor is normalizing conversations around death and dying and empowering individuals with wisdom to make loving, knowledgeable decisions. To this aim, every step taken to prepare oneself brings us all closer to a world where needs are being met and compassionate understanding is readily available along the way.

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Andrew Nemr: Hi Eva.

Eva Ting: Hi Andrew, it's good to see you.

AN: Likewise. Thank you so much for taking the time to just be with me and have this conversation, which I don't know where it's gonna go or how it's gonna go. But, for my listeners I want to say, I don't remember how or where we've met but I remember you as somebody who was deeply caring and deeply interested in the life of artists particularly.

ET: Yes, yes.

AN: So we've had conversations about the arts ecosystem and how to care for artists particularly in the area of the things that they don't necessarily like to do.

ET: Right.

AN: And now you're doing something that's still very much in the caring space but for a different time in one's life. Would you be willing to share a little bit about that?

ET: Sure, I love how you sort of connected that, because I don't think I realized how much what I'm doing now still connects with what I've always done and loved until I was in a conversation with a friend recently, and she was like, “You know, the theme of community just runs deep and everything that you gravitate towards and enjoy and are passion about.” That's true. It's just still community. It's still curating in a way but different in a different way, right? So what I've been working on for the last couple of years is around end of life learning but specifically within the context of community building and relationships. This really came out of you know when I was working in events and overseeing a building that was part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and kind of through that role of doing events and overseeing that building became the default memorial services planner.

AN: Oof.

ET: Yeah, I know. I never planned a memorial service or funeral before. You know, I've had people I know pass, but I was never involved in the logistics of things so it's very interesting going into it initially with event planning experience and mode with my checklists and you know all the things we need to do, all the questions, and then realizing that first conversation with every family was basically just me listening for 30 to sometimes 45 minutes. Because there was just…you know I think part of it is obviously the person I'm talking to is grieving, is probably overwhelmed with a lot of different emotions and tasks, and usually had never planned a funeral before either. So, they were asking me questions probably more than I was asking them questions. So yeah, that's kind of, and so from there I think it just really opened my eyes to the needs and challenges and frustrations that we all sort of run into around end of life and that even working for a large church there were areas of growth and things that would be helpful to learn…and then just kind of at the heart of it you know we as people as modern people in America have kind of moved away from talking about death and dying. It's sort of hidden in our culture right it's sort of um, it's put into institutions you know people die in hospitals away from the home away from site and so because we sort of moved away from it we have a hard time talking about it. We have a hard time acknowledging it as a reality of our existence we have a hard time knowing how to show up for people in it, you know knowing how to make space, have a normalized conversation. So, anyway there's a long answer to your but I do think at the heart of it it is about community, and it is about things we don't necessarily want to do. They're important.

AN: It strikes me that, so if somebody's just joining, and this is the first time they've heard this podcast the past couple episodes have been me kind of processing my dad's recent and unexpected passing. And it strikes me in the in the wake of that how important particular friendships have been. And I'm an only child, so I don't have the sibling dynamic where if a parent passes there's there's the potential for really good support, or significant challenges just among the kids. It's just me and my mom. And thankfully our relationship is super good and we're able to talk a lot. It's a lot of talking, but we're able to do it. And that feels really really good. And then there have been the people that you know…you kind of don't know what to expect from folks until they offer or you ask.

ET: Yeah, yeah.

AN: And then you see how people show up and it's it's across the spectrum right.

ET: Yeah, I'm sure, yeah.

AN: They're the folks who are giving advice right away and say, “have you done this, this is really important,” and it's like they've gone through the process and they know the pain but it's from the inside. They have that, this is really important, and I didn't know about it, so I want to make sure that you know about it. And then there are others who are willing and able, and I kind of count this as a particular skill or gifting, they're just able to sit with you. And there isn't a need to fill the space with words or with a particular action it's just presence. And all of that has been a dynamic part of this journey for me. I guess one question that comes to mind is, what was it like, or what is it like and what has it been like, for you to enter into that without the history of friendship or the history of a familial bond with the people that are coming to you?

ET: Yeah, it's so interesting because you know as somebody who's worked in events I've done a lot of different events right. I've done weddings, mitzvahs, conferences, concerts, you know you name it I've worked in some capacity probably with that type of event. But my favorite actually even when I was at Redeemer with the memorial services because there was an interesting bond that formed in the process of working with these individuals. And I felt closer to them and they felt closer to me I think than other other events other event organizers. And there's just something that happens when you enter the space of being vulnerable and just trying to figure out how to navigate this. And I know I was just a small part in everything else that was happening in their lives, but to be there and what you were saying like those friends who just are present, to be present to be there to want to help them honor their loved one as much as I could do as much as possible…you know just I think there's something there that happens…and and I just always loved those events because I felt like it wasn't…a lot of other events there's a purpose, there's an objective. You're trying to make money if it's a nonprofit fundraiser – there's some kind of audience, there's some kind of marketing – and even weddings, there's a little bit of competition in the wedding world of wanting to have a really great wedding, and there always has be creative, it's gotta be perfect. But there's something about these memorial services that I worked with where at the heart there's something very human about, we are here to mourn – someone we've lost, and we love, and we have all this grief and love and feelings, and we are coming together and we're not quite sure what to do with all of it. You know and it's just a different type of event right. So, even if we don't start out with those bonds of friendship and even if I don't see them. I will I run into some of the individuals I've worked with you know through the years and it's always like there's a familiarity there that is just now sort of embedded in that relationship. Even if I don't see them that often you know. We don't call each other up. That something is there. So, it's really interesting.

AN: That's beautiful. There's something that you mentioned that struck me in the intention or the purpose behind the event in terms of, the event is about this other person. It's not it's not even about the separation that we're suffering. It kind of facilitates maybe the expression of that but the event itself is about about the person. And there's this context of not knowing right. This is especially if the loss is very close it's like, “OK, life is different now and I can't operate in the same assumptions necessarily as before.” In my own experience now my mom has been saying this. Whenever we talk I kind of brag on her because I I'm bearing witness to her process. My mom and dad would have been married 50 years in a couple months. Long time. They've had a life in which their connection was at least from my perspective a model for what it meant for two people to become one. So, I can't even imagine what happens when it's like the one that was there. Half of that one goes away yeah and the shift of life that somebody goes through in the aftermath of that. So we talk and kind of go through all the conversations all the topics that might come up and my mom would say something like, she was on the phone with a friend and they said, “You're doing great.” And she's like, “I don't feel like I'm doing great.” And I would tell her, “You're doing amazing especially for all the other options that could exist in the wake of such a severe loss.” And my mom's answer is, “Yeah, but everything we're doing, we're doing for dad.” There's this almost complete focus on the love of another person or the love for another person. So the navigation through the unknown…it feels like it has a very different quality about it. For me it's all, the language is all – “hand of God” “grace upon grace”– it's all of that, and you have a front row seat to it which feels very touching you.

ET: It's all new terrain, right? And none of us know how we would navigate it, and what it feels like until we get there. And even when we get there it can change day-to-day. So, it's such a recalibration of everything. It's like the world as we know it is different. We don't know how we're going to navigate it until we can get there. There's really no way to prepare for how it's gonna be. It's like going on a long journey but you're not quite sure what to bring, and if you're gonna use it, and if you're path is gonna change, and what the weather's gonna be like. That's why I loved what you said earlier about how one of the best things we can do is accompaniment. Cause everyone's situation is different, and even within the situation, things will change, day by day, hour by hour. So what does it look like for us to accompany one another on this journey where neither of us really have a road map but we just know we're gonna do this together. I think that's where the beauty and the power of community, and friendships, and knowing people who can just accompany with you in that, whatever that looks.

AN: It's striking. It's kind of like sacred ground. If you're invited into that space with another person it's kind of like somebody saying, “I want you to see as I go through this. And you see me if you see me slipping like…if you see me holding on too tight…or if you see me forgetting you know forgetting something that I know I believe. If you see me start to get angry like you're the person that I entrust to be there for me in that. Maybe it's not a correction I need maybe it's just like a soft landing in that moment. But I I trust you as a person to be there as I go through this.” That's a really intimate place.

ET: To be people who can do that it takes cultivation. It's hard. It's not natural, I think especially in the way we live now where everything is efficient and fast and we're busy and you know we wanna fix things a lot. There's always a fix. There's always a solution. There's always a hack or something. I think to be people who can do that it actually takes practice and it's hard and it takes a lot of grace with ourselves and with one another. I think it requires us to slow down to make space, to be OK with silence, and not having answers, and awkwardness, and discomfort, and they're all things that we naturally push against. So it's also about how do we become people who can do this for one another. We all can do it. It's not a question of whether or not we can do it, but it is like cultivating that, and becoming people who…I often think about how comfortable am I with discomfort. Like how do I become more comfortable with discomfort instead of always trying to make the discomfort go away. Because like you can't always make the discomfort go away, and sometimes it's good that the discomfort is there because I think like death is a disruption. It is an interruption to how we kind of inherently know that life should be. You know how the world should be. And death is like the greatest disruptor of that. So, I don't think it should feel fine. I don't think we should embrace it or be like, “Well that's how it is.” The fact that it's deeply sad and deeply disruptive is actually the way it that that's how we should feel toward that you know and so I think to try to make it feel better is kind of I don't know, I don't know if it's effective.

AN: So, part of my story is that because of my connection to very very old people at a very very young age in the tap dance world, I started going to funerals at a very young age. I started attending I think my first one was when I was 11 or 12 and because of the number of old people that I knew and I was close with, the funerals didn't really stop. They were just kind of a continual part of my life. In the tap dance community when you go to the funeral of a tap dancer there's dancing. Everybody has their shoes and there's always a moment where that's invited and well it's in the funeral service…so different than maybe like the traditions in New Orleans where as you go to the cemetery the band is playing like a very sad piece of music and then as you leave the cemetery it's more kind of the celebration of life right we dance in the church. Wherever the thing is happening that's where the dancing happens. So, there's often been a connection for me between…both, there's like there's been a regularity of the interruption right that this is kind of a process that happens in life, and there's been an okayness of holding the deep sadness that we feel because of the loss, and the experience of that person in the physical reality will not ever happen again for me. And, there's this space to fill and we kind of get to decide what to fill it with. And you know immediately in the tap dance community it’s like we fill it with dancing. Let's just go do that. And interestingly for me with my dad a lot of it has been me feeling for probably the first time in my life really that I can exercise being the kind of man that I saw in my dad. Because the space that he used to fill with his presence is not filled anymore. So, you know, big questions like what does it mean for me to care for my mom now. Her not having my dad and knowing that I can't be my dad for her. I can love her in a way that's different than the son that's off trying to figure out how to be a professional tap dancer and coming home and like recounting stories and whatnot. That's not the priority anymore. That's not the rhythm of life and it's been a really interesting shift.

ET: When you were talking about that reminded me I think C.S. Lewis…I'm like paraphrasing this through Tim Keller about something that C.S. Lewis said so I'm not sure…you know someone should look this up later… but I think it was you know this notion that when that people bring out different sides of us right and when they're gone we don't get to see that side of a person, of ourselves, or other people anymore because it was something that particular individual brought out in people. So, as you were saying that I was thinking of the opposite is also true in the sense that when somebody is gone not only do we not see the part of us that they bring out but we're also changing to perhaps fill some of the space of them not being there anymore and so there's also parts of us that would not necessarily be there you know if they were still here. Which I had never thought about until you were talking about your dad. And that's really interesting that you have sort of noticed that and are acknowledging that.

I was just gonna ask kind of a follow-up like, do you feel like you're consciously kind of making decisions and choices with this, like trying to figure out what that looks like to be in that space or do you feel like it's sort of just happening and you're noticing it.

AN: I think the latter…that's a really interesting question. I think there's a formation question in there which is, how much of what I'm doing is conscious, where I feel like I have to think about the choices, and how much of it is something that's more characteristic that now has space to be expressed. Where in light of my dad's presence in my life there wasn't a need for me to express it. I've often caught myself saying in the past two weeks, my dad didn't know how not to be a husband or father. And that's both a wonderful thing and also and can be like a very imposing thing, because he was always there in that capacity to protect, to educate, to provide…and he always saw in me that I would be able to do all those things, but I was never sure because of the practice question. Because I have a dad that has that down, so I don't really have to do that if I'm hanging out with him.

ET: He's got it.

AN: So, it's covered for multitude of people. And then when I go out into the world, the world didn't, at least the world in the way that I experienced, it didn't have a slot for that character. It's not like, yes, we need providers and protectors and folks who can be sensitive, and show up, and know how to how to love in a very deep and connected way…you guys, you go over here, we work you out. It was more like we don't know what to do with you. You're a guy that cries? You're a sensitive type? We're gonna put you in the corner over there. All the guys who don't cry or who are like physically strong, they get the lane. These are all stereotypes, but it's been really interesting for me, and this all happened very recently for me to land in a place where I actually seemed to understand more clearly what my dad was trying to do in being the person that he was and in relating to my mom and me and the way that he was. It was kind of like he was he was trying to do a thing. And it was very conscious for him in light of and where he was coming from. He came from a family of origin and a world that was not a model for the kind of love that he wanted to share and be a part of. When he found my mom and then they had me like his idea of the family was literally the, and he told me he told me this once, “As the the man of the house you have the opportunity to create a slice of heaven on earth.” You get to do that, and you know so in the week leading up to his passing and then in the two weeks since it's kind of been part of it has been me reflecting on that, and experiencing what he left in me, coming out in a way in a kind of clarity that I wasn't able to express at home because I yielded to my dad like he was the guy. So, that's been really interesting. It's less of a, “This was this is what my dad would want so I'm going to do this now.” It's more like, “This is what I know to be good and right on account of how my Dad was with me. And that's what's coming out now.”

ET: That's really beautiful. It sounds like he has really left a beautiful legacy of being a good father and a good husband and it sounds like generally a good man you know to you but not so that you would be a carbon copy because you can't be. You're your own person, he's his own person, but it's like he's left this really beautiful gift of a legacy and it's kind of up to you what you want to do with that gift of legacy and how that is expressed or shared or you know even embedded in you. So, it's a really beautiful gift that is for you, and is for you to sort of be free to to enjoy and to share and to know and to sort of unwrap that.

AN: That kind of puts me back to the question that that came up in our conversation around practice. In my world, if this is what my dad did, and this is what I've been left with, and this seems to be like on the spectrum on the really good side of things. Is there a way to share, or is there a way to show up, that helps others know that this is possible, in their in their own lives. It drills a little further down for me on account of how what we believe interacts with what we think is actually possible. So, in light of someone who would say you know the possibility for experiencing heaven now is available, how do we practice being with one another in all the moments of life such that in the really really hard ones we just keep doing the thing that we've been doing and it just happens to be a harder thing. That's one of the questions that that I'm kind of carrying out of all of this.

ET: What are you gleaning as you're carrying this? Like what is, in this process of you know trying to unpack that like is there anything that you sort of glean so far that you would want to share?

AN: Well I I think, and this might be a personality thing, because there's all these ideas of like love languages and how we give and receive and I personally think the ministry of presence –being present in the small things – has a significant impact on relationships. But, it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of attention, and those are two things that culturally we feel like or there seems to be a sense of a lack of both or a fighting for both, and some moments where you either create the opportunity or or say no to something for the sake of saying yes to being with someone provides a just a different dynamic in the way that you connect. It reminds me of Bonhoeffer, where there is somewhere I remember reading that one of his thoughts around going back to Germany in the middle of in the middle of World War II was that if he wasn't there with the people in the middle of the thing he would have no standing in whatever the conversation would be after the thing. He never got to see the the aftermath. I think he was he was executed just before the fall of the Third Reich. But that idea that I have to be with you before and during yeah for me to have a connection with you in the necessary rebuilding that happens in moments of disruption. I've always been desiring to be in that sacred place of like the reconstruction – I have really good ideas of how to get better! It's taken me a really long time as a person to realize that it doesn't matter how good the ideas are, I mean they're important but they're not as important as being a trusted person beforehand and being invited into the life of somebody else like being able to share life or just tasks or achievements.

ET: Or solutions. It reminds me of one of the books I've really enjoyed is The Lost Art of Dying by Dr. Lydia Dugdale and she talks about the Ars Moriendi which is a medieval manual to dying basically that became very popular during the bubonic plague. Because all these people were dying. A lot of people who normally you know have assisted with the dying, like clergy, were also dying. So there was just like this massive you know death right, and so this book was a way of helping people to cultivate practices that would help them to face the temptations and the feelings that would come up as they were facing death. Something she says in the book is about community life, and how you know to sort of envision, like somebody who's dying is kind of like the main actor the central character like in a play and we're all supporting characters and we're participating in this scene to support the main character but it's also really we're all rehearsing for when we will be the main character someday which is a really powerful sort of metaphor right. Then she also says that community life does not just appear overnight around a deathbed and I've been thinking about that a lot because it's true. You know, like you were saying, people aren't just gonna show up. We can't expect people to show up if we haven't spent time and really invested in relationships and built trust, and like learned how to be there for one another in small things. I like to think that I would know how to respond in a crises, you know, but, if I haven't been practicing simple things you know along the way I'm probably like…For a while during the height of sort of the eight anti Asian sentiments here in New York, when these women were being killed, and it was just like really scary, my husband was very concerned about me riding the subway and stuff and I was like, “I can take care of myself.” And I'm like, no, I can't. Who? Do I think I'm gonna suddenly like become a martial arts champion? If someone were to attack me? Of course, not. I've never practiced. I've never done that. Why would I think I would suddenly be able to do that? So I think in a similar vein, I like to think I'm gonna respond really well in moments of crises but if I haven't been practicing, if I haven't been cultivating, I can't expect to be like that.

AN: The things that comes to mind is the fallacy of The Matrix. Like maybe I need to fly a helicopter. Alright, let's just get me that information so that I can go do that and forget about the flying hours that I need.

ET: It's just funny. It's really funny, but there's something about the cultivation of things, and there's also something really interesting I think there's habits that we don't like doing and we don't want to do them but they're they're still good. There's a movie, this scene always stayed with me in an otherwise pretty mediocre or even terrible movie called Paris, je t’aime, Paris I Love You, by Woody Allen. It was years ago over 20 years I think, but it's a movie of all these different love stories and vignettes from around Paris, all pretty, I mean as a whole movie not great. Nut the one vignette that really stood out to me that I've been coming back to a lot even as you know with my organization Here to Honor as we've been developing workshops around end of life learning and also thinking about what does it mean to cultivate these habits and practices and kind of in a way reviving the TK Armory handy and how we prepare ourselves to face the different temptations and feelings that can come up around death. There's one particular vignette, this man is about to leave his wife. He's gotten tired of her in their marriage. He has a young mistress so they're meeting for lunch and he's going to leave his wife. But she comes in and she's crying because she just went to the doctor and she's been diagnosed with a terminal illness and she's going to die so in that moment he has this inner dialogue, yeah inner inner monologue, where he's like it's a chance for him to stand, to like rise to the occasion. So, he rises to the occasion, calls it off with his mistress, and stays and loves his wife and there's this beautiful line where basically, “By acting like a man in love he became a man in love again.” And when she died, he was just heartbroken because he really really loved his wife again. It's just such a beautiful powerful short vignette, but just this idea that…you know, and I think as a Christian I've seen that, I have practiced liturgy and said prayers when I didn't want to, but it's the going back to it, and the habit and just doing it even when I don't want to that transformation can happen. So, there's something there, too. The things we don't want to do, the things that are uncomfortable, the things that we don't think we can do, and even the people that we want to be, it doesn't happen overnight. These things don't happen overnight. There is a commitment, and a decision to engage with it, and to practice, and by doing these practices we actually become the people that perhaps we aspire to be.

AN: That's beautiful. Gosh.

ET: I mean, I wouldn't recommend the movie as a whole, but that vignette was very powerful.

AN: It brings to mind the book by Ira Byock, and Ira Byock is kind of a a well-known figure in the world of palliative care. The book is called, if I get the title right, I think it's the The Four Things. The book is a series of stories of people that he was involved with at the end of their life. How a series of four statements, four things to say, affected that time between the person that was in the process of leaving and the relationships that they were surrounded by. And the four things were simply “thank you,” “I'm sorry,” “I forgive you,” and “I love you.” I'm sorry is like forgive me, it kind of balances the forgiveness side of things, but I read that book years and years and years ago because I was asked to read it and then interpret it for a tap dance story for a palliative care conference. So, it was like, it wasn't on account of the experience being personal, but I read that book and I wept through it. It was so moving. The power of words and the simplicity of things that we do and the affects that they might have on who we become, and I think for me and for most of the people that I'm around we know that who we are affects other people. I think that can be agreed upon. Who I am is gonna affect the people that I'm with. But there's also the who I am affects who I am. What are the things that I do that affect who I am and the person that I'm becoming? I have agency in that there are things that I can do. I might not be able to snap my fingers or literally control aspects of my character. In some traditions of spiritual formation there's this idea that if you want to become less angry you can't go at your anger. If you try and do something there, you'll probably become more angry. It doesn't get better, but, there are things that you can do that indirectly affect the seed of anger that's in you that you're trying to pull out of the ground, and in the end, in these ideas, God is actually the one that can pull that seed out. So, all the things that we do are kind of positioning or just testing things out, like, “Am I still an angry person, if I get cut off while I'm driving?” Let's see today, if somebody cuts in line as you're entering the subways is there something that comes up or are we more prone to bless that person…

ET: And usually what happens in the moment isn't what we're…it's not actually that thing. If somebody cuts me off, I'm not angry because they cut me off. That is triggering something else in me that's causing the anger usually. Is it because I'm like, “How dare they cut in front of me?” Is it “they're going against the rules of society?” Is it because I'm already late and they're making me later? There's always something else which is why, you're saying like the seed of the anger, it's it's also usually not that immediate thing. It's connected to something else that's bigger.

AN: The deeper thing is the thing that we can't access ourselves. We we rely on God to do that work, and I think that the thing that I've been trying to work out in my own life and see it happen is well, what are the things that position me for God to do what only he can do?

ET: That's good…

AN: If you talk to me like 5-6 months ago I would not have wanted to be in a position where I was the sole caretaker of my mom. It's like that's not what I would have wanted to be. There were…I was kind of filled with plenty of other priorities. And in staying with that tension of trying to figure out what my relationship with my folks should be like, I've landed in a place where I feel honored to be my mom’s…like in the position of her person second person…to fulfill the duties of being a son, it's super tiring and I'm super emotional, but I also feel really good about it. That's not something that I could do by effort or by force.

ET: I love how you use that phrase and concept of positioning yourself and positioning ourselves. And it's true. There's this deep work that's actually really spiritual and supernatural that we can't do ourselves. But what we can do is position ourselves and do the practices. Not be afraid to put ourselves in these opportunities and situations where that work can get done. I can't expect to be super fit if I don't position myself in the gym. Things like that. I have to put myself somewhere where the work can be done. I love how you phrase that because it's true. It kind of takes the weight of and in a way it takes the weight of that responsibility that ultimate responsibility off us, but it does also, there there is still a call, something we have to answer. We have to do something. We have to do it. We have to actually show up, but the weight of the transformation is not on us. Which is very liberating, but it also doesn't let us get away with it.

AN: Right, there's the balance of what I kind of find like, we can do something. It's not that we can't do anything about it. We have an opportunity to actually act in a way that might be beneficial for us in a very deep and real sense. And we're not in charge. It's super humbling to, especially as an action oriented person –someone who's like, well I go into the studio and I practice my dancing and my dancing gets better, it's like it's very direct. It's like I can't do that with my character and with my will. If I do that, I become like a shell of a person, because I think that I'm in charge, and I start to see other people, like well shoot man, if I'm in charge why aren't you doing what I think is right. And ultimately there's a wonderful sacredness to, it seems at least, to the idea that we can to whatever degree we are able, we can choose a particular direction. Knowing that we can't change ourselves – that is something God can do – then in the scope of choices that I have, what are the good ones. And, in the long run what are the ones that will help me and God work together or the things that he's shown me I need to work on, so that in the hard moments for whatever community I'm a part of, I can show up in a way that I don't have to think about it.

ET: It becomes intuitive in a way, right? I mean after all the years of tap dancing you've done, things that you had to really think about I'm sure you know when you first started you don't have to think about it anymore. It's become instinctive, intuitive, right?

AN: The language shifts. Instead of tracking every task…It's kind of like walking for other people in general, like we don't think about all the things that happen we say, “Oh we're gonna get up, and I'm gonna walk to the right…” And how if you see someone who is unable to do that thing then we might have a vision for how complex and how much grace is involved in taking all of that for granted, and I think there's an there's the potential for an interesting kind of mirror between that idea and the things of the inner world. We can often take for granted all the good things that we already have formed in us. And, I don't think that's a cool place to land. And on the flip side we can hide from all the things that we have the opportunity to continually be involved in forming. Because sometimes they're hard to look at.

ET: That's true.

AN: In the same way that a loss is sometimes really hard to look at. But something changes in the context of love. There's the opportunity for connection that you experience with the people that come to you. There's an opportunity to see the loss as a reality, and walk through it as a reality, and feel both the sense of deep loss and the remnant of love that you get to carry forward. And it might be the opposite in that this loss brings up a ton of pain. OK, well that's something that you get to work out, and the way that you work that out is also a witness to the love that you have.

ET: That's true. It's another facet of love that we don't get to, we don't experience, until we kind of go through this loss. Then it's like this other side. It's like going to the other side of the moon, going to the dark side of the moon, or something, and you see this other facet that we wouldn't have seen. Can I ask? You shared some things that have touched on this, but I'm curious as you feel comfortable sharing, if there's anything that's been surprising in this journey in the last few weeks or anything that's been surprising in any way.

AN: That's a good question. There are many things that might be surprising and then for me it's like they all bear witness to God's love in my life for me as a particular individual that God knows. There were a series of things that in the week prior to my dad's passing, and even the day before prepared me for my dad's passing. Something as simple as, my dad and I have had this dynamic where if I get really really clear about something about my life like my career or a particular choice around relationships like friendships or or something, I get really excited and really focused and in that moment over the course of my life my dad has asked me for something that takes my focus off of this thing that I get like so focused on. I used to get so frustrated with that, just with that dynamic. Love my dad, want to help, but really, now? I judged locked into this. And Monday, the day before my dad passed, I was having a call with a friend of mine and sharing with them that I felt really sure about this new direction that I'm trying to take in the portfolio of work that I juggle and the way that I'm thinking about my life, and I got off that call and I had this thought, I said, “Watch out, dad's gonna ask for something.” Knowing the dynamic that I've had around that ask, and knowing that that frustration is something that I don't want, I was like, oh thanks for the preparation I'm gonna try to not be frustrated with the request, whatever the request is. I trust that I have enough time and that there isn't pressure around the focus, and that I can do both things – I can care for my dad and this thing will not be taken away from me. That was Monday. My dad passes Tuesday night. So there's a part of me that's like, “Well, I didn't expect you to like ask me for all this.” So, that kind of thing was like, something might happen. And that’s all I had. And then I've been, I was in the in the habit of reading the book of John, and Monday night I was in…I was reading chapter by chapter which is this a chunk but…on Monday night I read the chapter where Jesus is on the cross and he's telling his mom, “mother look at your son,” pointing at John, “and son look at your mother.” And I saw those two lines for the first time as a reconstitution of the family. I know my mom is going to need to be taken care of and so I'm gonna give her to John. But there was a separation, a deep separation of a familial bond, that happened for Mary when Jesus was on the cross, and in his moment he made sure that she had a family. And coming from that region coming from the Middle East, the family can almost become an idol. It is that important and that significant and those relationships are so connected so deeply intertwined that to see to see Christ's tenderness towards his mom in that moment, it shifted my perspective to my own mom the day before my dad passed. And there were a lot of small things like that happened literally just the week prior that to me are witnesses to God knowing each of us. He knew exactly what I needed to be able to be the kind of person that when this happened, not a question. You show up, you do whatever is needed and you get the energy that you need. It's all fine. In the same way that you know he allowed my mom and dad to never talk about what death would be like for either of them, and so in my dad's passing I get to see my mom kind of go through this, “we never talked about this, and I am completely unprepared in that way and completely reliant on what my life with God has been and what my life with my husband has been.” And that is overflowing with love, so I get to see that workout. There's all of that in the mix, and it is surprising but it's also very much like, “Wow, we get this? That’s really cool.” And I talk about it from a from a position of of favor, but I actually believe that like, not the same experience but the same quality of experience, is available for everybody. So, in the wake of what I'm doing and the reason that I was excited to have the conversation with you is, how do we share the possibility? I know from knowing you, that the people that come to you are going to have an experience of that time in their life that is qualitatively different than if they came to somebody else. Well, we need more people…We need more Eva’s in positions for people. How do we share that? That it's possible, not that it’s the same. It's not cloning Eva around the world. It's that the expression of God in your life and the love that you've received comes out in your work and that affects the quality of interaction that people have with you.

ET: That’s very kind of you to say, first of all, I think we need more Andrew’s in the world who are super talented and think deeply and love deeply. I love what you shared and thank you for answering my question and sharing that, and it was really beautiful and it makes me think that we conceptually understand grace. We conceptually know grace, but what you shared was how these graces specifically were expressed and showed up for you, and how they showed up for you would be different for how they show up for me – these particular specific grace. But the concept of grace is still universal and it's something that we can all sort of connect to. I wonder if a part of that is also true for us in how we bring forth things and express things. We all are gifted very differently we all have very different personalities, very different temperaments, and yet the way that grace can be expressed through what we have is also going to be different and needed, in the way that it's different. I just keep coming back to this position yourself and practices because we all have the stuff inside us that is built for love and care and connection. How we choose to cultivate them and how we choose to position ourselves to make them available for others even as they're available for us, those are our choices, that's within our agency. Every single person. How they're going to come out and what they look like is going to be really different and it's good that they're different, that is part of the grace of all of us being very different in how that's being expressed. So, how to do that? That's why we're in this together and you know figuring it out and kind of fumbling on this journey and I think that's that's the beauty of being in community because I don't necessarily see it in myself but other people see it. I can see things other people that they can't see. So, we need that. The only way I think they really get cultivated is in community and relationship.

AN: I think that's a perfect place to pause this conversation.

ET: I know, we could talk for hours really…

AN: We totally can…

ET: It’s really not a problem.

AN: Because we kind of just stayed on one topic… there are many others that we could explore. Well, I want to say I just want to say thank you and if anyone who listens to this wants to find out more about what it is that you're doing, where do they go?

ET: We have a website, Here to Honor,, and it has information about the kind of workshops and trainings and resources that we provide and you can contact me through that website as well. It's always such a joy and delight to talk to you, and I just really love you Andrew so thank you.

AN: Thank you so much for taking the time, and I look forward to whenever we get to chat again.

ET: Me too. Take Care.

AN: Take care.

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The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
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