At an intersection: But what do you love to do?

“But what do you love to do?”

JC has stopped me in my tracks with his question. We have been sharing our respective histories and current engagements with activism and social justice, and I am suddenly and unaccountably inarticulate.

Here I am a couple of hours later trying to understand why.

I met JC Faulk as a facilitator of conversation circle events several times over the summer months, and we had spoken before. Long enough to discover our shared admiration and debt to Edie and Charlie Seashore, who had trained both of us in group skills and diversity work, albeit a half generation apart from one another. An unexpected intersection, rich with a shared understanding of group process.

Red Emma’s, where we met over breakfast, sits at its own notable intersection. Charles Street runs north-south. It is typically described as “Baltimore’s Main Street,” “a historic cultural corridor,” ripe for development and redevelopment, and “a place where people want to live.” North Avenue, which crosses Charles Street just outside the door, runs east-west. It is “targeted for revitalization, improved safety, economic opportunity and access for residents.” This corridor gained notoriety for the Uprising that took place about two miles west of here in April 2015. These corridors can easily stand in for the city’s racial and economic fault lines. Red Emma’s sits at this intersection, drawing a mix of customers from both corridors, a stew rich with possibilities. A rarity in Baltimore.

I have just written myself to a new understanding. Now I see that I am pinned by his question at my own intersection:

Who I am and who I wish I was. Who I am and how I’d like to see myself: more skilled, more willing, more courageous, tougher and more empathic, grittier and more loving, ready to put not just my voice but my body on the line. The for-real Sara and the idealized Sara. The Sara who wants to make a difference in the world, be a difference in the world and thinks she has to be some other person to do this. The Sara who has just effectively devalued her life’s work.

And oh, my. The fact that I have crossed and recrossed this bridge with pretty much every single client I have worked with over the years does not save me from the same dilemma.

Now that I have named this problematic intersection, here’s my answer, JC:

I love to write. It helps me to see myself more clearly, to see myself whole. When I share my writing and hear back that it has helped some readers see themselves whole, I am nourished even more.

I love to explore life’s challenges with another person, to see the light come on in someone’s eyes. See a face soften, a body relax or straighten up as it needs to.  A flash of understanding. The “oh,” or the silence that says: I really get that, I get that in a way that restores me to something essential in myself, I get that in a way that I can make a different choice, I get that in a way that I see you in a fresh way. I love to travel with someone as she takes root in herself, breaks through hard soil, and unfolds towards the sky.

I love to play a role in a community that shares a clear focus and intention for a common good. Every such group is an intersection of differences rich with possibilities.

I love to work with people who are ready to talk, and want practice. Help design welcoming and safe but not bland or superficial group meeting spaces. Where strangers can build lasting and resilient relationships over time, become allies and friends. Where we human beings can show up with our strengths and limitations. Grant one another dignity. Listen to and tell stories. Learn and teach. Be together in “we don’t know.” Shed tears and shake with laughter. Drop through anger and fear and open to heartbreak. Stand together. Grow, grow up, grow in self-responsibility. Build the generosity, willingness, fortitude, trust to have one another’s backs.

And by nourishing connection in these ways, draw down grace. Because when we humans come into relationship, especially when that relationship is big enough to hold our differences, the world does respond and signal.

I love to work with practice groups, where we can practice being imperfect, genuine human beings together, and carry that out into our lives.

Thanks for asking, JC.

Now, friends – read more about JC’s work here.


 How about you? What do you love to do?

Not all grown up? Embrace your orphans

EMBRACE, definition: hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection, especially as in: one’s orphaned parts

Early in life, our egos masterfully and poignantly craft survival strategies in response to the caregiving we receive from our imperfect parents: in that process we abandon some parts of ourselves and come to depend on the rest to handle what life brings. To maintain these strategies – we commonly call our them our “defenses” – we push these young ones away, out of sight, out of mind. They don’t get a chance to grow up along with the rest of our personality, to unfold with our soul.

Ultimately, these abandoned parts can become somewhat unruly in the ways of young children who demand our attention – whiny, hanging onto our knees, “inappropriate,” prone to tantrum or meltdown.

Eventually we may recognize these as behaviors of the younger parts of our adult personality that need growing up.  That, in fact, our wholeness lies in embracing what we have been pushing away. And then we may need to do deep and forgiving work to nourish and integrate these orphaned parts of our humanity.

Well into my mature adult years, chronic disappointment and sorrow at the emptiness of not being met, not being understood, extended their shadowy, unacknowledged, and undermining influence into every single relationship.

I found 1001 ways to disengage, clam up or cut out early: anything to avoid that emptiness, to reject or abandon before I could be rejected or abandoned.

I am well-spoken, apparently at ease in the world, and not without professional accomplishments or spiritual “progress.”  But my mother had worn black mourning velvet to school for months after her mother died. And I was profoundly shaped by her grief-stricken childhood.

Before I could take in the melancholic and disappointed child in me, embrace her and give her a place, grow her up, I had to sort out my own griefs from my mother’s. And before I could do that, I had to feel the depths of my own.

 

the face of the deep

by Sara Eisenberg

 

B’li mah,

without what?

i am a boneless world suspended

upon nothingness,

a spiderling

ballooning out on breath,

a wisp of silk.

 

over and over

i launch myself into,

mingle materially with

emptiness, barren and

wearying until

I come up

up against

push up

up against

push,

push,

not landing,

push

against cloth black against

darkness, the shape of my mother,

herself bereft,

herself a mirror covered

against mourning,

swallowing light.