Friday, January 1, 2016

Hello Cucumber? It's Pepper. Or, You who love the world so much

I feel the need to write some sort of holiday post here -- or at least something that gives lip service to the holidays, or the new year, or to the past year and new beginnings.  I feel like I'm supposed to feel alive with the leftover warmth of holiday glow or, at least, some sort of 2015-nostalgia or 2016-hope, or some sort of something that says "December has come and gone.  January 1 has skidded into lives with a screeching crescendo, and onward we go into the new year with resolutions to be better, healthier, more socially conscious, skinnier people who drink more water, yell less, spend less money, are better partners, make more Pinterest crafts, eat less fast food, and spend more time on the treadmill."

But holy mother of god, I don't want to write about that.  I don't want to write about the holidays, I don't want to write about the upcoming year, I don't want to write about resolutions, or non-resolutions, or why I do-or-do-not make resolutions, and my plans to drink more or less water. 

I'll do that, of course.  I always do.  But maybe I'll do it in a week, or two, or in the middle of February.  Sometimes February is the best time to set New Year's resolutions.  The good thing about resolutions, I've discovered, is that your New Year can start any damn time you want it to, social convention and pressures be damned. 

So here's what I'm going to write about instead:

I have had several conversations lately about spirituality.  Most of these conversations were thought provoking, interesting, light, fun...but one -- the one that was most important -- this one was hard, and it was hurtful.  I am not placing blame or pointing fingers, but the past few weeks have been hard.  Particularly this past week, I have struggled to breathe above this incessant, nagging weight in my heart, and throat, and stomach.  And this conversation -- this conversation that felt it could have touched on who I am -- it was made out to be wrong.  And I'll tell you here that it's okay, except for the fact that it's not in ways that are too big to put into words.

So then, today, I saw this picture by Brian Andreas, and I thought: This.   

If you're reading this, I probably don't need to convince you that I love the world.  Or that I love people.  Or that I am, actually, a loving and compassionate and whole-hearted being-of-love, as much as a I can be.

But I need to believe it.  I need to believe that I love the world.  I need to believe that I love this life, and that I love people, and that I love in a way that matters.  Because it does matter, doesn't it?  I am loving, and it matters.  It does.

I was listening to On Being the other day -- it was an old podcast I had not had time to listen to from several months ago.  This interview, titled, "The Calling of Delight: Gangs, Service, and Kinship" was by Father Greg Boyle-- a Jesuit working with gang-affiliated youth in Los Angeles -- interviewed by Krista Tippett. 

Father Boyle states that we are all called to be people through which "kindness and tenderness and focused attempt of love return people to themselves and, in the process, you're returned to yourself."  He provides the example of the following conversation he had with a young man - one of his "homies" that works for him that he describes as "exasperating" and "difficult": "I said, "You know, Louie, uh, I'm proud to know you and my life is richer because you came into it. When you were born, you know, the world became a better place and I'm proud to call you my son, even though," — and I don't know why I decided to add this part — "at times you can really be a huge pain in the ass [laughter]." And he looks up at me and he smiles and he says, "The feeling's mutual [laughter]." And, you know, suddenly kinship so quickly. You know, you're not sort of this delivery system, but maybe I return him to himself. But there is no doubt that he's returned me to myself." (

I had a young man come into my office last month who was having a particularly difficult day.  He did not want to see me...or anybody.  He did not want to talk.  Or play games.  Or be alone.  He wasn't quite sure what he wanted, actually, so he yelled at me, and at his mother, and he threw things, and flipped over the table, and crawled under the chair and let me sit in the room with him for the remainder of the hour.  I responded to emails, worked out some kinks in my calendar, and periodically said, "I like the way you're taking deep breaths" or "thanks for keeping your body safe" or "let me know if you feel like getting a juice box for calming down," to which he replied something like "shutthefuckup" or "why are you still talking to me?"

At the end of the hour, I let him know it was time to go, and that I was going to schedule his next appointment with his mother.   As his mother and I began hashing out two possible dates, there was a hissing noise from under the chair. 

"Yeah, buddy?" his mom said.

"Mom," he whispered.  "Make sure to pick the soonest one.  I want to come back and see her at the soonest time possible."

"Hey buddy?" I said.

"Yeah?" he asked, poking his head out from under the chair.

"Thanks for that.  I want you to come back at the soonest time, too."  He looked surprised.  So did his mother.  And my heart -- it felt this rightness that my heart feels when it can speak genuinely and truthfully, even and especially in those moments when you would not expect those words to be said.  They come from some place deep in my heart, and the air in the room changes when they are uttered.  My client extended his metaphorical hand, and I took it.  Not because it was my job.  Not because it was the right thing to do.  But because he dared to put his hand and his heart out there again, and in doing so, he returned me to myself.

"You who love the world so much?  That's what you are here to do."

Several weeks ago, I was at the grocery store.  There was a young woman -- perhaps 14 or 15 years old -- with a developmental disability with her mother in the produce section.  This young woman was clearly antsy and done with shopping, and her mother was clearly not yet finished. 

"Don't touch," her mother said, over and over again, as the young woman ran her hands over each pile of vegetables.  The young woman whined, and pulled on her mother, and rammed the cart into the case.  She picked up the cucumber and put it up to her ear, pretending to talk on the phone, jabbering into the end of the vegetable, suddenly engaged. 

Her mother, seizing the opportunity, reviewed her list and was frantically picking up as much as she could while her daughter entertained herself. 

I was a few steps down at the peppers, surveying the scene.  As the cucumber conversation began to end and the young woman reached over to pull on her mother once more while continuing to loudly state "'LO??  'LO??  'LO??" into the cucumber, I went for it.

Picking up a pepper, I caught her eye and put it up to my ear, "hello?" I asked.  She laughed, surprised.  Her mother looked over at me, and then pretended she didn't notice.

"'LO???" she said again.

"Who's there?" I said.  "Is this Cucumber talking?"

She laughed, like it was the funniest thing she had ever heard.  People around us were staring at me -- the crazy lady, talking into the pepper.

"'LO??" she said.

"Oh hello, Cucumber, it's Pepper!  It's so good to hear from you!  How is your shopping going today?"  She laughed and laughed and jumped up and down, flapping her hands excitedly.

The man behind me picking out his potatoes snort-laughed.

Her mother, finished with her shopping, called her daughter to her.  She put the cucumber in the bin.  "See ya," I said to her, placing my pepper in my cart.

And that's it -- she walked away in one direction, and I in the other.  But in that moment in the produce section, the whole world felt right again.  She had, through her laughter, her engagement, through our simple conversation -- she had returned me to myself.

"You who love the world so much?  That's what you are here to do."

I am loving.  And it matters. 

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