Not on that Committee

Being on my father’s watch means arriving early, and always when attending events with the risk of limited or uncomfortable seating. My father is tall; he has a bad knee, and he takes up a lot of space. He’s an aisle seat guy, and aisle seat guys arrive early. Such was the case in May 2005 when my parents and I attended my brother’s graduation from Alfred University. We arrived at the gymnasium as the last of the potted plants were placed on stage and as expected secured great seats. Front and center on the bleachers, perfectly positioned to view the dimples on my brother’s cheeks when with wide smile he accepted his diploma.

An early arrival time granted an opportunity to witness the complete meltdown of the seating arrangement strategy team (student volunteers). My mother commented first. “Why are they having people sit there?” She gestured to a portion of the gym far from the stage and blocked from reasonable view. “Anyone sitting there won’t be able to see the graduates. How will they get out? What if they need to use the bathroom?” My father nodded in agreement and said, “I don’t see designated handicapped seating either; good thing we didn’t bring your mother. Look at that older woman in the wheelchair; they just moved her chair all the way across the gym.” He nudged me, “Look at that! The kid just took that woman’s wheelchair. What the hell is going on?”

The two continued on like this for close to ten minutes, commenting on the lack of available folding chairs and blocked exit. I finally interrupted, “Did someone forget to tell that you that you are not on the graduation seating committee.”

The comment stuck.

It’s a Graham family thing, and I too tend to assess and discuss matters, which don’t concern me – especially if foul play or worse, mad injustice is suspected. Most days (at least once) I think “it would be better if such and such went down like this or like that.” For instance, I discovered that an ex is dating a woman that (based on her blog posts) seems incredibly demanding and unpleasant. I am so super tempted to send him a nice note with my views spelled out with a little disclaimer explaining how I know that their on again off again romance is none of my business, but I read the blog, and well it might be best for him to. . .

I have to remind myself that I am not on the “ex-boyfriend finding true love committee.”

Nor am I on the “92 year old landlord finding a new tenant committee” or the “one day old muffins and bagels at the bakery should always go on top of the shelf committee” or the “defense committee for the guy who could not have, no way possible, ever in a million years stolen a packet of ketchup for his breakfast eggs.”

Rarely do I find myself on a sincerely meaningful committees, those that looks to address global issues related to peace or equality. My mind concerns itself with the smaller issues related to what is in front of me: parking, traffic, lines at the post office, restaurants that source from big ag producers, the cute church on the corner with the creepy ‘pre-school open for registration’ banner up front and rusty playground equipment out back, which I’m convinced limits attendance. 

For years I kept a you are not on that committee sign above my desk at work. A reminder to remain focused on my assigned role. It sometimes worked.

I am grateful that my husband is patient and allows my committee service time to play out, especially when my assessments are all around wrong, and I end up putting us in a tight spot. Like the time when we were moving homes, and I gave the final shove to our queen mattress and wedged it into the van, (’cause I knew it would fit) only to realize upon unloading that is was so stuck it peeled layers of skin off from our palms as we pulled it loose. He just pursed his lips and looked at me through squinted eyes. Inside he was thinking, “Why did I allow her on the moving day committee?”

The thing about overzealous committee members is that the critical mind is not limited to the outside world and is just as active when it comes to all that is self. I frequently have to kick myself off my own self-committee for far too much input.

Committee systems are notoriously dangerous. They provide a sense of ownership over what is often not ours to own. We want to make right what may not need righting, turn over what may be best left untouched. I do not recall seeing unhappy faces at my brother’s graduation. No uproars over the seating, and it is quite possible that the older woman in the wheelchair asked for her chair to be placed across the way. We infuse our personal ethos and levels of comfort and discomfort into our committees, whether for love of organization or in the spirit of bettering.

 

Posted in Words | 1 Comment

Moment from 40 Days of Yoga

I’m not sure which asana sends me over the edge, but I decide that I’m done – really done. I fold into child’s pose and stay longer than I normally allow myself to stay during a 60-minute class. I am the furthest person away from the door, and I’m planning my exit strategy as I move into downward facing dog. How do I get out of here? I know Anna with all her love and might will snatch me by my sweaty hair and pull me back to my mat if I try to leave. I don’t even like yoga I tell myself. I don’t like yoga and I don’t like that it requires such practice. I don’t like practicing. I’m horrible at practicing, I’m horrible at keeping the soles of my feet together, and I can’t hinge at my hips. I’m really horrible at breathing too. I go on like this to the last moment of class; I bow forward and decide, “I’m never coming back.”

The amusing part is that this yoga studio is one of the most important places in my life right now, as it offers space for me to show up just as I am and join with others just as they are. I’ve been on a journey with a group of amazing yogis from this place for the past 40 days, and our practice involves not only a physical yoga component but also a whole lot of personal inquiry, meditation, and singing, dancing, laughing and crying.

They won’t even miss me, I’m certain – won’t even know that I’m gone. I keep on. The class ends. I head to the bathroom with a  clenched jaw to change. The bra part of my top gets stuck in place as I try to yank it over my head, and the top sticks to my face. I’m spinning around the bathroom trying to get unstuck. I stop, as though I’m about to move into tree pose. Calm. I begin to laugh. I laugh my way out of my top and into clean clothes. I look at myself in the mirror and giggle a bit more.

Another time I may have followed that anger – stormed out, slammed a door, sat in a boat named Mad with arms crossed, chin high, sailing through stormy seas without a life jacket until I capsize and drown in a fight or a cheesecake.

Yoga asks the same thing of me each time I step foot on my mat.

Breathe, flow, practice. . .

Anything else, emotion, judgment, thought, as Anna says, is extra.

Yoga kneads my soul; this movement sometimes works pain to the surface and sometimes joy  – anger, laughter, yoga as life invites both. . .

Posted in Words | Leave a comment

Drop what you know

In 2001, I served as an Americorps Team Leader with Hands on Atlanta, a school-based program in Atlanta, Georgia.

Completing this program meant completing a gazillion hours of community service from accredited organizations existing outside the 9-5 Americorps job. These hours were signed off on, submitted to the Americorps office, tallied up and counted towards total required hours.

At 22, I decided that overseeing a team of six unqualified, inexperienced, well-intentioned Americorps Service Leaders in a dysfunctional school environment (where rats nested in the school cafeteria and kids “learned” through hours and hours of busy work) was not making quite enough impact, so I signed up to meet my service hour requirement through YES! Atlanta., an organization seeking to empower “at risk” youth. 

Here is one unpolished story (of many) from my time volunteering with YES! Atlanta. . .

“Tell me about your life at home.” The group facilitator, Chia Vasquez asked the teenage boy standing in front of her.

I’ve been obsessed with Chia Vasquez since the first time that I met her. I think she still lives in California, and I dream of meeting her here. She won’t know who I am, but she will remember her consulting work with YES! Atlanta. Chia is probably in her 50’s now. I’m sure she looks stunning and is still kicking ass, working with youth, and bringing even the toughest kids out there to their knees. I would follow Chia into any battle. She is fearless, and the type of leader that I am only able to dream of emulating; her skills come from places that I’ve never been. Her focus is intense. When her facilitation is interrupted she won’t glance in the direction of the interference but instead puts up her hand in the general direction and signals for silence. She’s just that powerful. I’m sure this comes, in part, from her years spent in a gang and the years she’s spent working to get individuals out of gangs. It may also come from the fact that she gave birth in the woods standing on two wooden blocks – an image that frequents my mind.

The kid was wearing too much cologne, but he made eye contact with Chia; he was articulate and seemed certain and comfortable standing before a group of YES! Atlanta students and volunteers. He queued to Chia’s question and began walking the audience through his story. He spoke, minus emotion at first, and then after a few moments in he stopped speaking and just stared at Chia and then at the audience. He looked confused, displaced, annoyed, and older than when he’d begun speaking 5 minutes before.

The story that he shared about his home life centered around his parents and their divorce, but it was often told using his mother’s words. Such statements included, “my mother told me that my father stopped loving her and his family and that is why he left.” He explained that he felt abandoned, misunderstood, alone. He said that he found himself angry and acting out without reason.

Chia asked him how he knew whether or not the facts that he shared were true. He didn’t understand the question, so she asked specifically, “how do you know that what your mother tells you about your father is true?”

“Why would my mother lie?” He asked.

Chia suggested that his mother was not lying but perhaps sharing her own story through her own lens. This concept began to sink in. He said, through tears, “do you think that my father might have left for other reasons?”

“Have you ever talked to him about it?” Chia asked.

“No.”

“Can you call him and ask him today?” Chia questioned.

“I guess.”

“What would happen if he told you there was a reason for leaving outside of what your mother shared with you?” Chia inquired.

He responded, “Then I’ve been basing my actions and feelings on something that is not true and flipped around by the perspective of those involved.” He paused and asked, “What does this say about me?”

Chia said, “It means that you get to drop what you know, investigate for yourself, and move forward to live your own experience. You get to choose whether to have your own relationship with your father – or not, but the choice is coming from you and not based on what others tell you.”

This possibility floored him, literally, in front of the room. He sobbed. Chia rubbed his back and whispered in his year, “it only gets better from here.”

He called his dad – that day, from a pay phone, and he reported back to the group that he was going to get together with him to talk. He looked young again; calm and alive with the thoughts that life can change when you drop what you know.

Posted in Words | 1 Comment

Dar Williams and Intervention

Dar Williams and I only go back to 1997 when my college roommate introduced me to her music. I’d give most of Ms. William’s music a solid B with the exception of the song After All, which gets a big bold A+ mostly because it got me through the time that I abandoned my marriage, and it was a full on abandonment, as returning was not a possibility. I listened to After All on repeat and when it wasn’t enough, I turned on A&E and watched episode after episode of Intervention. Along with Dar, interventionists Candy, Jeff, and Rod taught me that it was best to choose life without marriage to a man experiencing what doctors called a drug induced psychotic breakdown. Who knew?!

Nar-anon was never an option, although suggested more than once, it didn’t seem good. I imagined spending the meeting hour trying to get comfortable in a grey metal folding chair in a moldy Atlanta church basement while my heart pulsed in my throat. I knew that I’d want a cigarette, and then I’d want a nutty bar. Plus, being cold is a crazy stresser for me, and I knew my ass and legs would fall asleep, cold, in one of those chairs. For some reason I doubted cushions were allowed, and those metal chairs are slippery, and the cushion, unless wedged into the hard corners of the chair (which takes a lot of work and draws attention) rarely stays in place. There was also the down jacket dilemma, which is to say that I would have worn one, even in May, and someone, most likely the skinny one wearing something shiny, smelling like smoke and chowing down on a nutty bar, would ask, “are you cold?” and I’d reply, “yep, sure am.” Maybe it was not supposed to be good, but I was not up for finding out, because it was all too much – even before arriving at the theme.

I did not want to see myself in the eyes of others nor did I wish to be their mirror, for all of us were buried alive. Alone, I wished to push the solid iron core through strength from forearm, palm, thumb and heart, and emerge to the surface, alone.

I had little desire to speak with anyone about the trauma, the disease, the details. The okay, great, get going, it’s fine, I got myself here and will get myself out mantra kept me moving. I actually do emergencies and drama really well. The smaller stuff like vacuuming not so much; I can’t stand the noise.

It would not take much to analyze my support seeking habits, but I’m not convinced that it matters – what it is that helps us cope (obviously my Intervention friends could argue with me here). The words in After All and the scenes in Intervention, like the one when the guy is tweaked out on meth in the forrest, loading up his truck with wood that he thinks will for thousands because it’s “high value wood” – both got me through.

” Cause when you live in a world, well it gets into who you thought you’d be. And now I laugh at how the world changed me. I think life chose me after all.”

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

October 2007

The divorce is over and the October light is not the longed for pink and red, as the horizon is taken up with backed up overpasses and fast food parking lots. The right back passenger side tire blows out at the exact moment the signal indicates right to turn off the Briarcliff Road exit. The car shakes and comes to a rough stop in the breakdown lane; rattling like an infant toy as cars fly on by. A young hispanic man offers aid. He is a mechanic on his way to the shop and won’t accept cash for the good deed. There is a moment of connection, explanation and appreciation. He glances down and moves his hands into the tire well to retrieve the spare. His face twists and his hands come up to his hips – there is a long pause filled with confusion – for there on top of the jack are three needles, one spoon, and a small empty plastic bag.

Ears ringing and fear dripping there is an attempt to clarify,  “No, no worries.” He refuses eye contact and silently changes the tire – deflated. With a quick wave and a nod he’s gone – off to work with a good story on his hands, “dude, I helped this lady with a flat this morning, and. . . “

It’s hard to know what to do with the details found in such stories, the kind, which leave us grateful that the one offering assistance did not come dressed in a uniform but unnerved that what we thought was packed up will show up in places that we rarely visit.

 

 

Posted in Words | Leave a comment

Forgiveness of neighbor. . .and of cat. . .

A neighbor hit our cat with his car in 1995. It was a barn cat, taken too soon from its mother and dropped off on our doorstep at least 6 years before the neighbor killed it. Since most in our small family have allergies it stayed a barn cat. It lived well there, with the horses and the sheep and the hay. It caught, batted, and consumed mice and dried cat food. We called him Tigger.

My brother was waiting for the school bus at the end of our driveway when it happened. The neighbor didn’t stop and my elementary school age brother ran up the drive, inside the house wailing and screaming, and we all asked, “what? what?” My mother pieced it together, went out to the road, scooped Tigger into a blanket and laid him in the garage. “I will take him to the vet.” She knew that he was dead but waited to break the news until we got home from school. We buried Tigger in the back yard – next to the turtle and fish, dog and sheep. My father dug the hole, remarking, “if we ever sell this house we’ll have to tell the new owners about all the animals out here.” I think he worried they would dig up bones and report us.

My brother recently forgave the neighbor. I know this because he told me, “Kate, I am forgiving our neighbor for killing our cat.”

Before he mentioned forgiveness – I forgot that we had a cat, and actually, we had a cat before Tigger. We got it when I was a toddler, and I named it “Tiddy” (which sounded more like titty) because I was unable to say kitty very well. Tiddy ran up a telephone pole one summer and got electrocuted. After she hit the ground, my mother rushed it to the vet’s office. Tiddy’s back leg was amputated, as was half of her right ear. Dad said he couldn’t get the smell of burnt cat hair and flesh out of the car, which is, I am sure a total exaggeration.

Not long after Tiddy’s accident my parents drove the car – filled with my baby brother, toddler me, our large golden retriever, and a laundry basket filled with dirty clothes, home to New Hampshire from a long summer away in Vermont. Tiddy traveled with us too, and at some point during the drive climbed up the back of the bench car seat right over my mother and peed all down her neck and back. My mother squealed, my father swerved to the side of the road, and she jumped out and stripped off all of her clothes – having to towel off with dirty laundry.

She’s never admitted forgiving the cat.

Posted in Words | Leave a comment

2 moments on Mission St.

1. While walking to work two weeks ago I saw a woman (mid twenties) dressed in worn jeans, orange flip flops, and a black hoodie, walking a pig. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a miniature pig or if this pig was really a piglet. It was not pot-bellied, but it was wearing a florescent pink harness attached to a leopard print leash. The woman appeared totally normal minus her pig and minus her enormous sunglasses; it was a really foggy morning.

2. Sometimes I worry when the guy with the flower stand that I walk by on my way to work at 7:45am is not in his usual spot setting up his display. I think, “he must have gone out of business.” I then feel guilty for never purchasing flowers from him, but it is really hard to carry flowers to and from the office, on a ferry ride, and then expect them to survive the 45 minute car ride home. So, I say a prayer for him and for his children, which I’m sure he has and sure have not eaten in days. I am relieved when at 5:00pm I walk back by the stand and see that he is in fact there with flowers set up in perfect arrangement. Then I curse him for running so late in the morning and for causing me worry, and I promise myself that I will buy flowers from him next week.

Posted in Words | 1 Comment