I have been mulling over what to write about for weeks, to no avail. This week in particular I was moved over and over to try to wordsmith what was in my head, which was all jammed up. My head wasn’t jammed up in a bad way: in a bad way it looks like a hoarder’s house with 27 cats, 16 parakeets (all swearing) and piles of magazines, to-do lists, dishes, laundry, dust bunnies and tall, tippy, unstable stacks of worry. My head this week was jammed up with scenarios that have been unfolding in front of me for the past few months and more so this past week. People don’t come to me in a happy place, or even a neutral, confused place. They are generally in pain and in a world of confusion, frustration and hurt. I live you might say at Wit’s End because that is where people reach out and find me, at their wit’s end.
This week in particular I was humbled and awed by the human capacity for pain. Whether it was how folks chose to inflict it on others, or more often and on a much deeper level inflict it on themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, what really stood out was their ability to endure and rise above pain that was so incomprehensible in soul-crushing circumstances. Being a witness to their choice to open their hearts to change in the face of great fear and become new people was stunning. In reality, we know that they would not be new people but return to their beautiful whole healthy shiny sparkly goodness of all of who they are, which is nothing short of spectacular. Most folks don’t know how gifted or beautiful or creative they are. That is where I come in to remind them. Pain and feelings can derail their ability to see that.
When our body has a wound, whether by taking a spill in Little Italy on a trip down the sidewalk (literally) or surgery, our body compensates by protecting that wound by stiffening muscles around the wound so nothing can invade or reinjure it while it is vulnerable. The same thing happens emotionally when we have wounds. We get hurt and in protection we put up emotional walls to protect that area, so no one can hurt us like that again. We also might construct an elaborate network of rules and regulations of required conduct for those in our lives and ourselves to ensure safety in not getting hurt again. I know this drill all too well: it was my rule book for the first 35-40 years of my life. What I didn’t understand was if I was on the sidelines, keeping a distance as not to get hurt, I couldn’t in return be loved. I couldn’t have that part of the human existence that makes being alive, alive.
We learn by connection and in relationship with each other and our world. Deep learning and understanding comes not by Googling or reading a book that gives us knowledge but rather taking that static knowledge and putting it in context by using it: apply it to a real-life situation, reflect on the situation after the fact, analyze it, synthesize the salient points, apply the salient points again in another situation, and then evaluate that situation, over and over. By living it and making mistakes, getting hurt, and messing up. Being here, being present, and reaching is where we achieve mastery. Connection with others is where we find grace and our best selves, not in a vacuum and not certainly behind those walls we so carefully constructed. I have been the poster child for these poor choices of walls, rules, disengagement and distance: it netted me in the end a sweet little nervous breakdown at the end of a very long bumpy slide. If you think I am mistaken, take a look at where love appears in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
By choosing to move, strengthen or heal the area where that injury happened, we are met with a great amount of pain at first. So many people stop. The habit of protection is strong, but the habit of healing needs the same opportunity to grow strong. Engaging our resilience, our call to something more or better, puts us in wellness and builds self-confidence in our abilities. Doing this despite that initial pain, lots of discomfort and often prolonged discomfort sometimes, what we find on the other side of that choice is freedom from that which caused us the pain and the fear. Taking these steps invites in self-confidence, a centered knowing of who we are and how strong we are, our ability to right ourselves in adversity and bounce back with new knowledge and skills. It makes us stronger, smarter, kinder and more compassionate of ourselves and others. Not a bad ball of wax at all….
One of the outstanding moments of my week was courtesy of Edin, a first grader in a class where I was observing one of my students tutor in his class at a local elementary school. I came in and gave a nod to the teacher who knows me and our program. My student, the tutor, spotted me and a small moment of anxiety passed over her face as her teacher and supervisor, me, had appeared. She settled in and continued her work with kids and I found a tiny chair to sit and watch. When I say tiny chair, I mean little elementary school kiddo chair. At 6’1” with a 36-inch inseam, my knees are at my chin in one of these bad boys—it is pure physical comedy at its best. Settling in, a small boy sidles up to me and says something in Spanish. I speak very little Spanish much to my chagrin so I asked him if I was in his chair, pointing to my seat. He said something more in Spanish and I shrugged, saying I didn’t speak Spanish and that I was sorry. We just looked at each other: he was tiny and from my seat almost on the floor we were eye level, just looking at each other not quite smiling but thinking.
Each of us were trying to figure out how to get our point across when I remembered I knew how to say in Spanish that I speak very little Spanish and used my figures to demonstrate how little “little” was. He smiled broadly and repeated the sentence and finger gestures back to me, saying he spoke very little English in the same dramatic way I did. We both laughed and I asked his name. He said it two times but with his low voice, my bad hearing and myriad of other things, I couldn’t repeat it correctly back to him. He used his finger to draw the letters for me instead and I handed him my pen and moved the clipboard over so he could write on it. He wrote his name, Edin, and gave me the pen back as I pronounced it correctly then wrote my own name for him. We both smiled broadly again. His teacher then directed him back to his desk and there was a small wave and smile between us.
The pure naked need to be seen, to connect to be understood, was so sweet and earnest it is hard to put in words. The look on his face when I spoke my little bit of Spanish, and I am sure when he parroted it back to me saying the same thing about his lack of English, was a delight for us both. It was so simple, small and could have been brushed by in my day doing observations of my students. Yet it stood out and has stayed with me for days now, that and the clear maps of pain that others diagramed for me this week. I don’t know what to tell you all other than all of our connections count. They all yield power to transform, to find love, warmth, humor and yes even pain. True, I may live at Wit’s End, but after meeting people like Edin and those strong souls who allow me to witness their journey of the heart, I can tell you it’s the best address there is. It makes all things possible.