A Legacy Of Loss And Loneliness

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You are so beautiful

I’m on the shelf – injured, out of work.  It’s meant to be a time of reflection.  My minister, who prizes my  poetry, threw down the gauntlet: “Write a poem about yourself.”  (My therapist had given me the same assignment a half-dozen times – “But I wasn’t out of work then, Lorrie!”) My last blog post “The miracle of the surgery scheduling” is all about being loved and protected – and that story keeps making me cry.  My friend Kimberly  read that post and left a comment: “You are so loved and protected every minute of the day. We all love you Majo!” I sent that to my therapist, who I am scheduled to see on Tuesday, along with this thought from me: “I think I was put here to discover the truth of that. If realizing that the OR scheduler saved a precious slot for me makes me cry every time, then realizing how totally loved I am – what will that do?”  I’m meant to get my hands around this. And so I wrote a poem.  It poured out as fast as I could type it.  It came from somewhere else – certainly not from my limited mind. Some of it may speak to you. 

You Are So Beautiful
When I was growing up, it was not safe to be good
I was born nine years into my parents’ marriage
A miracle baby, when they had almost given up
I was adored – a little God
My karma was set – I was meant to be worshipped
Then 16 months later my little brother was born
I was the miracle child – the prince
And he was, “Oh, he’s nice too”
And thus my real life path was set
I am meant to be wonderful
But not to get caught at it
By someone who will be hurt by it

Then, after my father died
My mother remarried
A man who hated me for being the apple of her eye
My own father’s jealousy was softened by his pride in me
I was his son
My stepfather not only hated me
He hated my mother for loving me
And so I was the cause of so much pain between them
Not just me – my goodness
My goodness caused pain
My goodness was a bad thing

The nuns taught us about the sin of pride
To like yourself is a bad thing

I have spun several theories about why in college
I loved my fraternity so much
Awesome parties, drinking was a lot of fun
The frat drew pretty girls
The guys in this particular fraternity
Were serious students, very smart, very funny
I have, over the years, spun several theories
But now, in this moment, I go to the heart of it:
I liked that fraternity
Because those guys liked themselves
And so they liked me
And they were a kind of community
When I shined in academics
Or in running track – really, it was a few years ago
I reflected well on them
It was safe to be good

My friend Kate the other night
Was journaling on her shadow
She asked me “What’s the opposite of jealousy?”
I said oneness
I learned it from Sri Chinmoy
My old spiritual teacher
When we would be jealous of the San Franciso meditation center
So loaded with musical talent
He said, “You are separating yourself
From them – that’s the big mistake.
Feel your oneness with them.”

And now at Jubilee
People love me so much
Appreciate my poetry so much
But they appreciate me
Because my poetry is so personal
I show so much shadow in my poetry
Poke so much fun at myself
I think people get it that
I’m not all full of myself
But still it’s safe to like myself
When I need a fix
I’ll go to the prayer wall, to Ruth Stephens
She’ll say, “We all love you so much”
It’s a community – it’s about us
It’s like a fraternity on steroids
Or really on grace
It’s why we like the musicians and the other artists
When they shine – the Paulas, the Delias, the Daniels, the Shems, the Jim Taylors, the Brian Claflins
Then we shine

I have this housemate Lucy who clearly is amazing in many ways
I told her so – “You really are amazing”
She admitted it – “I think I really am amazing”
It was thrilling – we have it out in the open, not hidden
If she knows that she’s amazing
Then I don’t have to hide it that I’m amazing
She won’t hate me for it
She loves me for it
One thing on which we always seem to agree
We each think the other is amazing

Yesterday at Jubilee
We sang to a newly baptized little boy
As his parents carried him around the room
For us to adore him
The Joe Cocker song
“You are so beautiful”
Did I resent him for being adored?
No, I got really happy!
It happens most every time
Baptisms are the best!
I think for mostly all of us
Why do we not get jealous of these little babes?
There is some magic here
Is it their innocence, their vulnerability?
Is it the active or latent parent in each of us
When we see this little child so deeply loved
We feel loved too
They called the child Redeemer
And so it is – we are redeemed.

Affirmation and flirting

The woman checking me in at my primary doctor’s office was maybe slightly thrown off her game by my flirting, but I think that even more she liked it.

I told her I liked her glasses a lot, which was true.  “They have a different shape – it’s cool.”  I didn’t say they made her look like Catwoman, which also was true.

But even more, I played with her about her age.
“Have you been wearing glasses for a long time?”
“About 30 years.”
“Since you were 5.”
“Not quite.”
She smiled slyly – I knew she liked it.

WhadoIknow?  When I tease with women (and yes, often – though not as often – men) about their age, it’s usually kind of sincere.  I’m terrible at estimating ages.  This woman could easily have been 35 for all I knew.  I scoped her out again on my way out of the office later and I still didn’t have a clue.

But if I’m going to err on age with women (and sometimes men), I’m going to err on the side of calling them young.  At my grocery store, when a woman tells me she qualifies for the senior discount – if I genuinely think she looks too young, or like she might possibly be too young – I’m liable to say:
“Uh-uh…”
“No you don’t.”
“Not ’til you’re 60.”
“You must think I’m easy.”

If they ask if I want to see their driver’s license, I always say “Yes” – and they almost always seem to enjoy this little exercise.  You know they’re going to tell their friends that they got carded for their senior discount.

What’s the relationship between flirting and affirmation?  Flirting is playing and playing with someone is validating.  It’s a way of saying “I like you.”  Flirting is also a way of saying “I think you’re attractive.”  To indicate to a woman that you think they are attractive is not oppressive.

An exception is with drop-dead gorgeous women.  These women are more likely to have been oppressed around their looks – hit on, treated like an object, not recognized for their intelligence and competence.  They probably also already know they are attractive, so there’s no empty place to be filled here. With these women, I am more inclined to affirm them for their intelligence or competence, for their parenting or for their good taste in groceries.

If I can’t pull up those kinds of affirmations, I’m liable just to be all business.   This makes me feel a little sad – it feels like a loss, a loss of a chance to play – but it seems better than to appreciate any aspect of their appearance, even their glasses…or God forbid to look at them just a little too long.

Making flirting an affirmation is tricky – it’s an art form.  I don’t recommend it to people with clumsy interpersonal skills.  Doing it is an affirmation of my own intelligence.  And an affirmation of my connection with you.  It says that I know how to play – and I want to play with you.

“What makes you so interesting?”

The woman customer in front of me was maybe ten years younger than my 71, very attractive – and, for reasons I cannot really recapture, was immediately amazingly interesting.  I asked her, “Are you really tremendously alive?”  She got a little momentarily unglued – maybe a bit embarrassed by the strength of the compliment – but then quickly found her moorings and said, “Yes, I would say that I am tremendously alive.”

I found this so totally attractive that it took my breath away.  “She knows she is tremendously alive and is not afraid to claim it!  Amazing!”

Then I went to my most reliable provocative question for customers, “What’s been a highlight of your day?” – and for some reason I don’t remember her answer.  But then she asked me the question back – I knew she would – and I do remember my answer.  “My highlight has been this exchange with you – I just feel totally energized by it.”  I wanted to put everything I could behind this flirting.  I really wanted to be bold and ask for her phone number, but that felt like too much and maybe actually was too much.  I could have given her my card,  but couldn’t get myself to do it.  I just relied on lots of smiles and eye contact and a hope that sometime she would find her way back into my grocery line.  I really did trust that this encounter had power for her too.

And then she was gone.  I spent the next couple of customers trying to integrate what had just gone on.  Those customers probably didn’t get the best service from me, but sometimes it’s just like that.  The third customer, a couple about my age, I asked my “highlight” question.  They gave uninteresting answers and then failed to ask me the question back, so I basically asked it to myself:: “Would you mind if I vent a little about a customer before you?”  I sensed their mild alarm and reassured them, “It’s not a bad vent – it’s a good vent, just something I need to chew on.”  They ok’d the plan, but not enthusiastically.  So I told them about what an impression this woman had made on me, and how I was still rattled from it.  They thanked me for sharing and went back to talking with each other about their plans for the afternoon.  

But the good had been done – I had more integrated my experience with the “Alive” woman.  I want to call her Susie, even though that’s a pretty vanilla name. Maybe it’s really her name. While I was talking with this couple, I kept noticing that the woman right after them – a very attractive 40 year old – was nodding and smiling, seeming very connected with the whole story.  When the couple left and she moved directly in front of me, even though she had just a few items and there was a line behind her – restless because I had had a long conversation with the previous customers – I was struck by her big-time emotional availability and wanted to engage her, even if briefly.

“I was telling that couple about a customer before them who was tremendously interesting.  You are obviously very interesting.  What would you say is really interesting about you?” Now that’s asking a lot of someone in the supermarket checkout, given 90 seconds to respond.  But she fussed in embarrassment for just moments before she really leaned into her answer.  She lit up: “I’m learning how to smile with my eyes – it goes all the way back into my head.”  When she finished, she looked totally pleased with herself.  I gave her a big, “Wow, that’s awesome” and she was gone.  I hope she comes back through my line again, too.  

I took the next couple of customers to integrate that exchange – not even offering my “highlights” question, much less the blatantly intrusive “What’s especially interesting about you?”

The third woman had just a few items and I was inclined to let go of any attempt to engage.  But right at the end of her transaction, for some reason I couldn’t restrain myself.  “Don’t be a wimp.  This question has surfaced some amazing stuff.  Go for it.”  I asked her, “What’s especially interesting about you?”

“What’s interesting about me is that I’m really hungry and really in a hurry.”  And you know, it was just fine.  I thanked her for being so honest and focused all my attention on finishing her transaction.  

Trying to engage in these deeper exchanges in the checkout line is a crapshoot: sometimes it works and sometimes not.  Sometimes my intuition about where to offer deeper engagement seems right on the money, sometimes not.  But the game is totally worth it – otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

The Whale (Majo,2005)

I ride the back of a massive whale
Called luck
Or chance
Or the convergence of the spheres
Or “Just coincidence, you dreamer, you”.

When my son was 12,
I told him that God winked at us
When things converged
He thought me more goofy then
Than even I was wont to be.
Today he says it back to me.

I worked as a gasoline station cashier
I played with numbers all day long
They winked at me many times a day.
My boss and I talked of what life was like
In the 70’s in the good old USA
As we talk, this woman writes her check
For her gas and cigarettes combined
It comes to 19 dollars and 70 cents –
Why?

This girl says her birthday is today
She’s 29 years old
Her several purchases add up
To twenty-nine dollars on the head.
What kind of dance is this
This rhythm of the spheres?

At my fav place to fill my tank
My charge for gas is thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents
The cashier there knows my numbers thing
And is less enrapt with the synchronicities of life
“Boring number this time, hon.”
Next stop the food co-op
My total there thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents.

This whale
Which dwells so far below
The waves which toss our human lives
Has breeched
It takes my breath away
While my mind sees but an empty sea

This is the first or second grade
Of the “everything thing in synch” elementary school
But fun and helps me pass the time
And, in their so-light ways
These connections
Dare me to still believe
This world is chaos, just
The senseless random bounce
Of the billiard balls of life.

Why is this old song
On the radio at this just perfect time?
Or, coming ‘round that bend
Why is this perfect person there?
Is everything connected?
Do my five senses know
How to perceive beyond
The seeming separateness of things?

This sixth sense – sleeping most the time
Sees the web, the one tapestry of life
Can see what’s next
Because it’s all there at once
All the time.

Could it be
No matter what I think of you
Or my gripes that you
Are even here at all
That you were always meant to be right here
Right this moment, now?

If I dive deep
Engage with you more full
It might get clear
The wink you have for me
And I for you

If some events synch up like this
How can I make this happen more
Here in Asheville, where these things go on
Faster and much more than in the normal world?

What if the secret is
That it’s not for me to do it all
That I may not do anything?
This freeze-frame
Where all seems one
May really mean that all is one
There are no actors
Or those they act upon.

There is just life
Dancing its dance
Dancing us
Even when we just sit and watch.

Just that time of year

This is last year’s 10-minute Christmas poem edited down to three minutes.  I have a real fondness for that long, rambling Christmas letter of a poem – but I like this better.  It makes a lot of reference to my day job as a cashier at Earth Fare grocery store.  Enjoy.  Happy holidays.

Just that time of year…abridged  (Majo, 12/17/15)

It’s that time of year again
Jingle bells and all
But is there really all
That much to celebrate?
The cold and dark have returned again
Do pretty much the same time every year
I try to be cheerful about them
But this little whoosy man
Gets depressed with the onset of the shorter days
And pisses and moans pretty much the same
The whole winter through

The events in the world
Wars, gang shootings
Racial profiling and horrific injustices
Seem no better than ever
I want so badly to believe
That the human race and societies
Are somehow evolving
Somehow getting better, smarter
More fair, more loving
But can see no signs
That this is true

Everybody, it seems
Has their struggles and their sorrows
Caroling with the Jubilee group,
I realized that we were singing
Not just for the shut-ins we were visiting all evening
But also for ourselves
We – all of us
Need to buck up our spirits
At this dark time
We – all of us
Need all of us
To come together
To love each other
We – all of us
Need this poem
We – all of us
Need to create
Whenever we can
However we can
We – all of us
Need to hope for the future
For our writing and painting
And music-making
And our gardening and cooking
And parenting and love-making

We need to come together
As we are reading this poem
We are coming together
As all of us staff at my grocery store
Are serving all of our customers
We are coming together
As all of our customers
Rub shoulders in our store
Stand next to each other
In our checkout lines
Greet and often hug their friends
You are coming together
As all of us front-line customer servers
In all of the various stores
Serve all of our customers
Who, at other times
Are all of us
Who, when we are not working
Also patronize these other stores
We are all
Every one of us who deals
With customer servers
Coming togetherwinter-dark-2

We are serving our customers
Trying to put a smile on their face
Trying to put a smile on our face
Trying to get our customer’s needs met
Trying to check them out
Quickly and accurately
Bagging their groceries tenderly
Ripe avocados on top
Trying to exchange some pleasantries
And, when we are lucky
Even some meaningful exchange
Some “What’s been a highlight of your day?”
Trying to be real for each other
And to be kind
Trying, trying, trying
All of us humans trying
To make things work
To make this a better year
And when we are lucky
To love, even

“Buy the card.”

Suzanne was tenacious.  She wanted me to buy the Barnes and Noble membership card.  When I came through her check-out line with my first set of purchases, she said, “You could have saved $8 – you’d be a third of a the way through to having your card paid for.” I hemmed and hawed and then said no.  “I come here once a year, for Christmas gifts – you have a great selection of gift books.”  They don’t have that big footprint for nothing.

bookstore-pic

Books – I love ’em.  It’s something that Suzanne and I have in common. And I don’t often indulge in my love for books.  It could actually be good for me to spend more time in book stores.

So I went away not buying the card.  Then I realized several more purchases I wanted to make – and came back to Suzanne with another $75 worth of books.  She said, “You know, if you had bought that card… and by the way, it’s not too late.  We could go back and re-ring that whole first sale.”  She was really willing to go out of her way to do this.

I was on the edge this time – and finally said, “No. I’m a Malaprops shopper.  I don’t buy from big chains. I support our local independent bookseller.  They have my loyalty – I don’t want to do something that will build loyalty elsewhere.”  Suzanne said, “Well, in some ways you are buying from independent booksellers.  I’ve been here 15 years.  I love to read and I’m a writer.  This is a job where I get to be around books.  Tony over here has worked for Barnes and Noble for 18 years.  You’re not buying from some high school kid – you’re dealing with book professionals.”

As Suzanne was bagging my books, she continued her sales pitch: “Each month you will get a coupon for 20% off certain kinds of books.  When you buy online you always get free expedited shopping.”  Now that made me perk up.

But I have loyalty to Amazon, too.  I think Amazon is great – it revolutionized the book industry.  What I couldn’t escape though, was that Suzanne was building a relationship with me.  She was my bookseller.  So I said yes.  Suzanne was pleased, though she kept her dignity.  She didn’t do a happy dance or anything gouche like that.

But she had gone the extra mile.  I know, from being a cashier, what it’s like to really invest in selling your company – to really invest in getting the best for your customer.  You have to put it on the line.  It takes energy.  Suzanne did it.  I don’t know how many customers a day she did that for, but she did it for me.

She had said that she’s a writer.  I pulled out my business card and told her, “I’m a writer too.  I write a blog about cashiering and you are a superb cashier.  I’d like to write a post about you.” She was tickled, a little shy but happy about this prospect.  I think she was happy just that there was such a blog, then doubly happy at the prospect of being featured in it.

I said, “Maybe tonight I’ll write this up.” I didn’t say “I’ve got about three other posts queued up in front of it – it might not be tonight.”

I took my new purchases over to the gift-wrapping station and while I was there I realized two missing pieces for this blog post – her first name and, preferably, a photo.  I went back around to the check out area.  This time there was a line.  She spotted me in the line and giggled right away.

When I went up to her I said, “I have two requests: I’d like to use your first name and I’d like a picture of you.”  She said, “I look terrible today.”  “I don’t think you look terrible – I think you look fine.  And it will make the blog post just pop.  And if you do that for me I promise that I will write a blog post about you tonight.”

BandN

Suzanne.  She’s alive, vibrant, warm, friendly – a real human being in a big corporation.  She’s beautiful.

Now it’s a promise.  There’s a good likelihood that by the time I get through some other to do’s tonight it will be late and I won’t feel like doing this – may actually have a hard time marshaling the level of focus needed to write this.  (But I actually have pretty directly transcribed all this from a digital recording I made right after leaving Barnes and Noble.)  I do well with accountability…not to say that every time I have promised to write a blog post I actually have done it.

Suzanne had won me over.  I wasn’t buying from Barnes and Noble – I was buying from Suzanne.  Now she was not really going to be my personal bookseller.  I wouldn’t be able to call her up.  But in this moment, in a merchandising market that can be so impersonal, she met me as a person.  She seemed to genuinely care about me. Even if she was primarily driven by a desire (or pressure) to drive her upsell numbers up, for me in that moment it was all personal.

I had a spiffy new Barnes and Noble membership card and a promise that lots of B&N promotions would be hitting my email inbox (“Just once a week”, Suzanne said).  I do not know if this card will actually end up saving me money – or in any way change my book buying habits.  I don’t know if it will draw me into the store, where I will immerse myself in the world of books.  I don’t know in which situations I will choose for Malaprop’s – certainly some.  And when I will choose for Amazon – probably sometimes I will comparison shop, though that may get to be a pain in the neck.

I left Barnes and Noble happy.  I had had a real exchange with a real person – doing her best, with a lot of dignity, to do a good job.  I felt like she liked me – and I definitely liked her.  She made me proud to be a cashier.