Like this: Lessons from Strangers

A few weeks ago, I was struggling with shyness as I sat on a bench in a park near an old and interesting man (pictured above) who paces the park most days making strange gestures and mumbling to himself and whom I desperately wanted to talk to, but couldn't find the courage to strike up a conversation with. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the answer came in the form of a young man walking by, who saw me sitting there and simply walked up to me and said, "Hey. Whatcha doing?"and just like that, struck up a conversation with me. Isn't it amazing how sometimes we ask these questions of Life, how we struggle and complicate, and cry out, "How?" and then Grace comes in the form of a stranger who says, "Like this."

For The Sake of Strangers
by Dorianne Laux

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another - a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
as it must have once called to them -
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

I remember sitting in my car one day, several years ago, at a stoplight in downtown Abilene, Texas, on my way home after a long shift at the bakery. I remember it as a time in my life when I had lost sight of something important, life seemed to have lost its meaning and I grumbled through my days discontentedly, crying out to the ether, "How? How should I live?" And as I sat, waiting for the light to change, the downtown trolley passed by in front of me. In that trolley, hanging out the window was a young, mentally handicapped boy, who had the closest thing to bliss I have ever seen all over his face. He seemed to be having the ride of his life and was looking with fascination at and pointing to some shiny thing on the ground as the trolley slowly rolled through the intersection. I don't even know what it was he was looking at, I remember following his eyes, trying to see what was bringing him such delight, to some shiny spot on the ground beneath him. Maybe it was a spot of oil, a coin, or a shard of glass, shimmering in the light, I can't recall now. But what I can recall with perfect clarity is the image of his rapturous face, so perfectly filled with delight at the sight of the simplest thing, something shining in the light, at the touch of the subtlest thing, the soft breeze in his hair. It was one of those moments where time slowed down, almost stood still. It was as if life, slowly and deliberately, was giving me the answer to my question in the form of this gift of a moment. And somehow, it was what I needed. Somehow this tender gesture jarred me awake to the joy of living. Some of our greatest teachers enter and exit our lives quickly. Be attentive to the things and people around you. They might be embodying the answer to your question, whispering in your ear, "Like this."


Happy Mother's Day!

Jason and I love our Mamas and each other's Mamas. They are both the coolest ladies! We realize how fortunate we are to have Mothers that we also happen to actually like and whom we hope actually like us. If we didn't both Love and Like our Mamas, would we have gotten these?

I don't think so. You know I really don't remember my childhood all that well, but I have this feeling like little Tracy was probably a selfish little ungrateful brat who didn't even realize she was being a selfish little ungrateful brat. Kind of like this kid:

It's funny how long it takes us, or, at least how long it took me, to realize that my Mother is an actual human being and not just some machine programmed to take care of me, to feed me and clothe me and generally make my life easier and better. Like the little kid in the video, I had no concept of the fact that I could hurt or annoy or exhaust my Mom. From my perspective it was more just like ME WANT FOOD. The fact that it took me so long to finally put this all together (Mom = human being?!!!) serves as a great testament to my Mother's selflessness and to my own extreme selfishness. Growing up, it never occurred to me that my Mother might get tired or might not feel like cooking the 1, 332, 688th meal for our family or washing all of our underwear over and over and over or the bajillion other things she did for us.... Cause the thing is she just kept doing all those things day in and day out without ever complaining about any of it. It wasn't until I finally had to start doing all those things for myself and now for Jason, too, that I started to notice, hey, sometimes these things are a pain to have to do, hmmm... I bet my Mom sure did get tired of doing all these things for four people for years and years and years. Ding, ding, ding! And a lightbulb lights up the scene! I mean, how do Moms do all that stuff for all those years and in the case of my Mother at least, not even complain about it? How did you do that, Mom? I used to like to think that parents secretly get granted super powers on the day they become parents and that it's just kept very hush-hush because they don't want everybody rushing to have kids to get the super powers. But all the crappy parents out there sort of ruined that one for me. I guess maybe Love is the closest we can ever get to super powers. That's cool with me.

Dear Mother, I am sorry for reducing you all those years to my maid, my cook, my chauffeur, etc. without ever recognizing your wholeness. I'm hoping to have a brighter child who will catch on to that fact a little sooner and cut me some freakin' slack, but it will only serve me right if that doesn't happen. Sometimes I like to think about the little one or ones Jason and I will hopefully have someday who will undoubtedly take us just as much for granted. And when I think about this little ungrateful kid selfishly demanding things from us, I like to picture you and Pops and Jay and Barbra all sitting around us, watching with smiles in the satisfaction of things come full circle and thinking, "It's your turn now, suckas!" And while in my own slow way I am coming to understand and appreciate the hard work that is involved in being a Mother, I am also getting glimpses of the Joy in taking care of loved ones, of the Gift that Motherhood must be. When I think of my time as a nanny and all the Joy it brought me to take care of litle Eli and little Abe, to witness their daily struggles and triumphs and general adorableness...I am blown away by thoughts of what Motherhood must be like. All of this is to say, you have accepted the pleasures and pains of Motherhood with such Grace. For that and for all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made and underwear washed and dishes cleaned, I could go on and on and on, I Thank You. I Love You. You are a Good Mom.

I agree with everything that Tracy said. I too have taken my mother (both my parents actually) for granted for the majority of my life. It hasn't really been until the last few years that I have really been able to think of my parents as actual people. As I get closer to the age they were when they had me I've started to realize how big of a life adjustment it really must have been to all of a sudden have this new, helpless little person to be responsible for. It's nothing that you can really prepare yourself for, but when I was younger I thought that I would reach a certain age and I would have children and it would all just happen naturally. I didn't realize that before parents are parents, they're people just like everyone else. They don't have it all figured out. They don't always know the answers to the questions in their own lives, so why should they be expected to have the answers for someone else's? As a child I was frustrated by my parents' limitations. I thought that if they had the power to bring me into the world, they should also be able to make sense of it for me. Now I realize, however, that their limitations are what make them so special. The fact that they are ordinary, limited people who did such an extraordinary thing in raising me with such love and patience is what really makes them wonderful people. What I'm trying to say, without sounding too conceited, is that I feel lucky to have such great parents who raised me and made me into a person I'm happy to be. Not everyone can say that. Also, I know it's mother's day and I've been talking about both of my parents. That's because they're such a good team, that I find it hard to attribute anything about my upbringing to one without giving credit to the other. It would be easier if there were a parents' day. That being said, mom, I love you! I wouldn't be the man I am today without you, and I fully realize that and appreciate it. I feel lucky beyond description to be your son! Love, Jason

Barbra and Jason, Christmas 2007

My Mama and Me, Wedding Day 2009
photo by Emily Chastain

P.S. Don't worry; those are not real tattoos. We figure Chrissy has enough for all of us.

The Good in You

Living | Local boy with cancer turns into a superhero for a day | Seattle Times Newspaper


The Way You Make Love

My Soul Sister, Ruth, is blogging daily Rumi translations by Coleman Barks over here, coupled with her own amazing photographs. This was yesterday's post:

The way you make love
is the way God will be with you.

This is Rumi's variation on the Golden Rule.
-Coleman Barks

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Love and Passion, the physical and spiritual kinds, and the ways of course! they are intertwined.

They try to say what you are, spiritual or sexual?
They wonder about Solomon and all his wives.

In the body of the world, they say, there is a soul,
and you are that.

But we have ways within each other
that will never be said by anyone.

A few weeks ago, a Spanish man, a cellist with wild hair and deep dark pools for eyes who seemed old enough to be my dad, hit on me at the library, and it had an interesting and somewhat profound effect on me. I was perusing the jazz cds when he walked up to me and said, "I was watching you from across the room and I said to myself, there is a woman with a lot of passion. I can see it in you. My heart compelled me to come over to you..." I immediately started sweating profusely and turning red because this kind of thing makes me very uncomfortable, and well, I kind of laughed in his face a little, partly out of nervousness, partly because I had no idea how else to respond, partly because I do not see myself as a passionate person, but also because I am NOT the kind of girl this sort of approach works on. I mean, I love me some cheese, but not that kind. I quickly told him I was married and he responded, "Oh, but I would still give anything just to be part of your life... Oh, to be your shoes, your dog..." Wow. Who says stuff like that? Well, I ended up talking to him for awhile which some people may think is crazy, but I did it because I believed he had something to teach me. It was easy to make fun of him, to laugh him off as a sexually frustrated, ridiculous man with no respect for the fact that I was a married woman, but that would be me reducing him to something that is only part of who he is, just like he was reducing me to my sexuality. (When it became clear that he was not interested in any part of me besides my sexuality, I said goodbye.) But he did teach me something. I mean, that was a very passionate act, going up to a complete stranger because he felt compelled to, saying the kinds of things he said to me, and while I do not respect his lack of respect for the sanctity of my marriage, I do respect his boldness of spirit. And it's got me thinking about my own lack of boldness and about the many faces of Love and Passion. You know, sometimes Love is a gentle river winding slowly, which ever so softly changes the landscape of the hearts it meanders through. And I want that to be the way God is with me and the way my Love for myself and others comes, as a gentle peace in the heart. But not only, for Love is not one thing only. Sometimes Love is something very different, sometimes Love is a passionate flame that engulfs its habitat and changes it forever in an instant. Sometimes Love is Fierce. I think I have a lot to learn about fierceness of Spirit, about Bold acts of Love. There is something to be said about, something of value in accepting yourself and others for exactly who they are, for accepting the moment for exactly what it is, letting Love and Life come gently meandering through (my row, row, row your boat approach to Life) but I think Life is trying to tell me about another kind of Love, another way of living. I'm talking about the kind of Love that transforms, that challenges us to be more and to do more...I think this is in part why I am afraid of bold things, situations, and people, like my fear of great heights and the ocean and anger, because I have not yet learned this way of living and loving. I am often shy and lazy. But I don't want to Love or be Loved fearfully or lazily. You know it seems like Jesus was a pretty cool cat, a gentle soul who loved and accepted everyone, but there was another side of his Love that exploded like flames, that came like a sword in the cleansing of the temple when He overturned the money changers' tables and rebuked the dove sellers for turning the temple into "a den of thieves." That story always scared me because I have always been afraid of anger. I preferred to picture Jesus healing people with a gentle touch, petting little lambs and stuff like that. I believe He loved wholly every one of those people he criticized, but at the same time, he wanted something more for them and more for this world. Maybe we shouldn't be afraid to sometimes let Love come in the form of Passion, even anger, to sometimes overturn some tables, not from a place of hate, not in a pointing fingers kind of way, but in a way that says, yeah, all that greed and meanness and injustice and crap in this world, its in me, too, and only the flames of Love can wash us clean. Love isn't just something that comes from the ether as spiritual feeling in our hearts, it's something that we make, that we give form to. I mean, isn't that what this whole world is anyway, Love given form? I'm talking about Love as Action. I'm talking about translating all that Love and Goodness and Passion you have in your heart into something tangible, something that will transform the world, little by little. Here are some things I'm telling myself in my attempt to live more passionately with my body, soul and mind:

Have the courage to walk up to a stranger or a loved one and say something, even if it is difficult or awkward to say, if you feel compelled to. (It may just change their life and yours.)

If you find out about some injustice, don't be afraid to be angry about it, but do something, too. Make a call, write a letter, volunteer, spread the word, etc.

Kiss your husband like you mean it.

Love your friends and family and, well, everyone like you mean it through thoughts, words, and action.

Think about what stirs the greatest passion in your heart, and then apply yourself in whatever way you can think of to that thing.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Cause you know, I want God to be with me this way, too, with powerful, fearless, audacious presence. I want to be transformed by the fierceness of Love. Even if it hurts. Because there is another side of The All: the Love that heals, and I guess what I am saying is that for the evolution of our hearts and minds toward oneness with It, we need both.

Love is here; it is the blood in my veins, my skin.
I am destroyed; He has filled me with Passion.
His fire has flooded the nerves of my body.
Who am I? Just my name; the rest is Him.

P.S. Thank you strange man from the library. Though not in the way you had hoped for, you inspired me to make Love!