Some more gambits around the discounts

Customer 1

  • Tall, slender 60ish woman customer says, “My senior discount is being cut to one day a week.”
  • Me “Yes – has anybody explained it to you?”
  • “No.”
  • “Let me try.”  I say something that includes stuff like, “It’s a fairness issue.  Teachers and students keep wondering why they just get one day.  Young people and single parents and nurses and firefighters ask why they don’t get a discount.  We’re not getting rid of the senior discount – and most of our competition does not have one.  Will you be able to come shop on Monday?”
  • This particular customer may have been a ringer.  She brightened right up.  “I understand. It’s alright.  I have no problem with it.”  There were others who were also this philosophical about a reduction in their discount – but not all.

Customer 2

  • Short, stocky 60ish female customer is next up in line, hears me telling the guy in front of me about the wisdom discount being reduced to one day a week – and our intention to try to keep prices low for everybody.  She explodes, “Low prices my butt.  I found a bottle of salad dressing that’s twice as much as it sells for at Ingles.  They don’t care about seniors – they only care about the bottom line.”  The intensity of her vitriol set me back – and I think also shook up the customers on either side of her.
    I wasn’t looking forward to a direct encounter with her – but she totally surprised me.  When it was her turn, she said, “OK, I got my bitching out of my system” – and was totally pleasant to deal with.  I may have been a wimp to not bring up the topic of discounts – maybe it would have gone fine – but i was happy just to have it be alright between us.

Customer 3

  • This big 50ish guy made the whole day for me.  When I explained about the military discount being reduced from 10 to 5% and going to one day a week – really a much bigger hit than the wisdom discount – he clearly didn’t like the news, but when he started shaking his bundle of swiss chard in my face he had a twinkle in his eye like he knew all this was pretty funny.  “I don’t like this – I don’t like this a bit.”

    It's not every day that someone brandishes a bundle of swiss chard.

    It’s not every day that someone brandishes a bundle of swiss chard.

  • Me – to the people right behind him in the line: “You saw it folks – he menaced me with those greens.”
  • The guy behind him: “I saw water flying off the chard right onto your glasses.”
  • The woman behind that guy: “I thought that at any moment it could move to direct physical contact with swiss chard.  Then what would happen?”
  • My upset customer: “Sometimes these big corporations just push you too far and you have to take a stand.”
  • By this point we all were having a good time, clearly entertaining ourselves and each other.

This scenario brought home a truth underlying this whole discount drama: at the end of the day, we are all just people playing out our various roles.  It’s a dance we’re doing together – at any moment any of us could play different roles in the same dance.  There really is not a them vs. us.  In a very real way, it is all just us.

A new art for me…

I had my orientation session to my new Tae Kwon Do school on Friday afternoon, followed by my first class.  I am way excited about this new endeavor.

The instructor who provided my orientation asked what had drawn me to this practice – a pretty cool question and an indication right there of how this school focuses on your personal process.  I talked about having bipolar disorder and how I hope that this practice could

  • stir up my life energy when I am depressed – get me unstuck
  • ground me when I am manic
  • generally get me out of my head and into my body.

I said that I would like more exercise and that I think this could help me stay in shape, but this was almost an afterthought.  Writing this now (Friday evening) is the first I have thought that this practice might build self-confidence and help me feel better about myself (especially when I’m down, when this is a problem area).  Self-defense is not really on the screen for me – and the instructor told me that out of 500 people in the school there are probably about five who practice primarily for self-defense.

I had some concerns that these goals might sound kind of airy-fairy to this martial arts instructor, but to the contrary he described outcomes – including some in his own life – that were at least as broad as mine.  He said that the practice very centrally helps you get more presence – and what I would call mindfulness.  You are less likely to lose your keys, because you are more conscious when you set them down. He talked about ways the practice shifted the way he is in the world, how he relates to himself and others.

The Korean Tae Kwon Do team for the 2012 Olympics.  My legs don't stretch quite this far yet.  "Hey teach, is it OK if I just kick him in the knee?"

The Korean Tae Kwon Do team for the 2012 Olympics. My legs don’t stretch quite this far yet. “Hey teach, is it OK if I just kick him in the knee?”

He talked about one element of practice where you give feedback to each other about what you noticed in the way the other person performed the form – with all students participating in this, so that at a mixed rank class a white belt student could be giving feedback to a black belt.  He described how important it is at the school to break through any sense of hierarchy and that even if this system sometimes generates some not-useful feedback, it’s worth it for the benefits in creating an open atmosphere.

Before my orientation, I watched a kid’s class in which the instructor had students get in pairs and ask each other “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  This young woman comes through my line at the grocery store – I think she stole my line!  I hope she did.

My class was tough, even at beginner level.  But I had the sense that it was tough for a very good reason – because it was requiring me to get out of my head and into my body.  And the instructors and other students are very warm and welcoming and supportive.  I had told the instructor that I would need to leave a few minutes early.  When I bowed off of the mat, she said to the group “Majo had an awesome first class today – let’s give him a big hand.”  Which the forty or so people on the mat enthusiastically did.  I bet they do this for everybody after their first class.  I actually hope they do.  It’s a beautiful thing to do – and it felt great.

Some highlights: Wednesday, 1/28

All day long, as I stand behind my cash register, I ask people “What’s been a highlight of your day?” If they act all stumped and say “Gee, the highlight of my day…?”, I try to lower the bar: “not the highlight – a highlight, any little thing that  made you smile”.  Frequently they turn the question around and ask me.  Because I’m spending the day the way I am, my answers will frequently feature some of these very encounters with customers.  Here are some of my highlights from Wednesday, January 28.

10 a.m. – arrive at work. I’ve been depressed for 12 days.  My depressive cycles have been lasting, pretty consistently, 13-14 days – so I’m not expecting a change.

  • Five year old Shona arrives with his mom Mary and little sister Izzy.  He has had a crush on me for months, but lately he has been preoccupied with my 20-something rock musician wild man coworker Rowdy – who is really a very fun, charismatic young guy.  This morning Shona prevails on his mom to go to Rowdy’s line, which provokes lots of tears from Izzy, who wants me.  I feel honestly a little hurt to lose his loyalty, but am completely charmed by his parting line to the two of us: “Rowdy and Majo – think about me!” Totally precious.
  • Andy and Debbie – a delightful 50ish couple who have total loyalty to my line and are avid readers of the blog, talk with me about what they have been reading.  They have been finding situations in their lives to use the line, “Sometimes it just fits” – which I had ten years ago used on the apoplectic gas station customer who fumed at me “How dare you call me a bitch?!” (“My favorite firing”, January 15).  It feels great to know that people are reading and enjoying the blog, but to hear that something in the blog is affecting them in some other part of their lives – or in any way spilling over from the moments of reading – that really rocks.
  • This 65ish woman asks me where we keep our reusable bags.  Her irritated rough-mannered husband says, “We’ve got about 40 bags.”  “But they wear out, and we don’t have any with us.”  As she goes off to claim a bag or two, he – totally disgusted – says, “Aah, brother, more bags.”  I make the mistake of getting in the middle of the argument: “I’ve got bags for all the stores I regularly shop.  We love it when someone would rather buy a reusable bag than use a paper bag.”  “Aww, geez.”  The whole thing was actually pretty funny and really tickled me.

    I've got reusable bags for four grocery stores (including one I've entered twice in a year in a half - I bought them in a manic flush of excitement at the store's grand opening), two drug stores and one office supply store.  I know it's compulsive, but I just like to show them they are doing something good in providing these bags.

    I’ve got reusable bags for four grocery stores (including one I’ve entered twice in a year in a half – I bought them in a manic flush of excitement at the store’s grand opening), two drug stores and one office supply store. I know it’s compulsive, but I just like to show them they are doing something good in providing these bags.

  • My friend Jenn comes in: an adorable late-30’s mom who I have known from Jubilee for about seven years and am crazy about, as are so many people who know her.  She is smart, feisty, strong, funny, affectionate, a fabulous friend and a world-class mom.  Maybe the most painful part of being depressed is the way my heart gets closed.  Contact with Jen routinely opens my heart and this instance is no exception.  She has gone through another line, thinking I wasn’t there (I had been on break) and needs to keep moving to get back to work, but we have a sweet hug and exchange a few words before she heads for the door.  This brief encounter kind of takes my breath away from how open my heart feels.

All of these encounters happened in my first two hours of work.  Looking back, it seemed clear that my depression was already lifting before Jenn came through – but then seeing her kind of broke its back.  You just can’t feel this kind of love and be depressed at the same time.

When I am depressed, my heart seems unable to open.  Something is happening here.

When I am depressed, my heart seems unable to open. Something is happening here.

Was my biochemistry shifting in ways that allowed me to be moved by these exchanges?  Or were these lovely encounters overcoming the depressive biochemistry?  I’ll share more about this and more charmed encounters from this one amazing day in my next post.

My highlight is you

Grieving is different when you’re manic and when you’re depressed.

My 35-year best buddy Monty died a week ago today.  ( I was manic for three days before he died, then the last seven – until today.  For the last week I knew I was in pain, knew I was messed up – but I felt good.  It was confusing.  My friend Marlisa wrote, “Friendship of a lifetime, loss of a lifetime.  Take good care of your grief.”  I grabbed hold of those words and repeated them to almost every person who asked how I was doing.  I also repeated, “I’m manic now – when I’m depressed and he’s still gone it’s going to be different.”

Where did he go?  One moment he seemed very alive.  I just don't get it.

Where did he go? One moment he seemed very alive. I just don’t get it.

I’m seeing the ways that grief is like depression.  Depression is so much about loss – loss of momentum, loss of happiness, loss of connection with others, loss of hope. When I am depressed, everything looks ugly and chaotic.  “This is bullshit.”  When I am grieving, it seems like nothing matters.  No matter what you do, everyone dies – so nothing matters.  Even when that person was 86 years old and apparently ready to go, this nihilism can still kick in.  When I am depressed, I blame myself – I ruminate over what I have and haven’t done.  When I am grieving, I run over in my brain what I should or shouldn’t have done differently.

At work today, in the middle of my grief and depression – reaching for something to keep me afloat – I grabbed on to my stock question to ask customers: “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  That can do a good job of getting my mind off of myself, but a lot of my customers also then ask me what has been the highlight of my day.  What do I say then?

For lack of any better answer, I used the one I have been saying most often anyway: this blog.  At first it felt and sounded pretty lame, but as I experimented with ways to get behind it, it started to work for me -at least some of the time, at least a little – on three levels.

  1. I’m still creating.  Even today – miserable with grief and depression – I’m getting ideas for blog posts, I’m kind of frantically jotting down notes during my breaks and even at the cash register.  Many of them will make no sense to me when I go back to them, but I’m writing. (Tonight, after work – now 9:01 p.m. – so much of me wants to just crawl into bed, but it feels desperately important to get this written and scheduled to post tomorrow morning.  I’ve got to create.)
  2. My writing is reaching people.  A lot of people are reading the blog.  A lot of people tell me that it means something to them.  They say it in comments on the blog, in emails to me, and face-to-face. They say it strongly, eloquently – it breaks through my isolation.  I have copy and pasted a lot of it into a “Rainy day” file.  I have recorded some of it to listen to.
  3. I’m offering it to you.  I step beyond my shyness and embarrassment, I push past the depression and grief – all of which would keep me isolated and cut off from you (you my customer and you my reader).  I tell you about my blog. I say that it’s good. I takethislittleVistaprint business card and give it to you.

    I give you a piece of my heart.

    I give you a piece of my heart.

Monty isn’t here.  Myself as I like to know myself – the person with so much pizzazz – isn’t here.  You are here.  In this moment, grieving and depressed, I meet you.  I look you in the eye.  I let myself care for you.  I want good for you. I don’t just meet you – I offer you something, a piece of me.  I offer you this card and say, “Check this out – I think you will enjoy it.”  Monty was all about “putting his stuff out in the world” – it was a healthy obsession with him. He also felt that in my battle with depression, too often I let depression win.  I think that in this moment Monty would be proud.

“I’m happy to hear that you are happy…”

“…because life is short.”  And she so clearly meant it – even though she struck me as too young to really get this concept.  I had asked her how she was – and when she asked the question back of me I replied that I was happy.  I surprised myself.  I knew I was a little manic and feeling good.  I knew that I was also grieving the death of my best friend just five days earlier.  Happy – interesting.

This girl made such breathtaking contact with a stranger.  Was she stretching her comfort zone - maybe because I was encouraging it?  Or was she just comfortable with this amazing level of openness?

This girl made such breathtaking contact with a stranger. Was she stretching her comfort zone – maybe because I was encouraging it? Or was she just comfortable with this amazing level of openness?

How old was she?  26?  Who am I to be deciding what kind of wisdom people are or are not capable of? She had a radiant, benevolent demeanor.  She was physically beautiful, but even more she was personally beautiful.  When she smiled at me, I felt really seen – she showed up with a lot of power, like there were no layers of self-protection.  She was poised and grounded, but also willing and able to really extend to the other, to connect.  I lit up because she was so lit up.  We have lots of cool customers, but some of them really take your breath away.

I was totally fascinated by who she was and how she got to be this way.  I think that young people feel that life will go on forever, unless they have had tragic death around them.  (My son had several suicides and car accidents in his circle when he was around 20 years old.)  I asked her, “How did you come to understand all this?” She said she worked on the farm her family leases, that she has two kids and a husband and some extended family around.  That she was from Mexico.  “I learned this from my mother – she told us that life is short.”  I think she said that she had not had deaths around – just that she got the concept.

I knew the truth that life is short because my best friend died last Saturday.  He actually had a good long life at age 86, but when his end came, it came so breathtakingly fast.  The ER doctor on Thursday said he had ten weeks left (dramatically shorter than the previous most pessimistic prognosis of one year, with his prostate cancer spread to his bones and his liver) – and then he lasted about 36 hours.  When the hospice nurse called me at 5:15 a.m. on Saturday, I knew immediately what the call must be.  She apologized, “We usually try to call in time for family and friends to come in before the patient passes on, but he skipped some steps.”  It’s a truism that it was merciful for him: he was in a lot of pain and his proud independence would have suffered even more from becoming incapable to take care of himself.  It just wasn’t the right timing for us. (His son was en route from Ontario.)

Monty was a devout atheist until the end.  I wonder if he got any surprises.

Monty was a devout atheist until the end. I wonder if he got any surprises.

I felt so connected with Elena that I broached the topic that I was mostly reserving for coworkers – I told her about Monty’s passing.  Her immediate compassionate response touched my heart.  I have been in and out of being able to genuinely feel around this, but looking at the sweetness of her face and the love in her eyes, I was able to feel.  What a gift to give someone – to help them feel.  I’ve got a hunch that Elena helps the people around her feel the gamut of feelings.  I really do want to only want to be me, but part of me wishes I had grown up in her family. I always wanted a sister.

 Elena – I told you I was going to write this, and you said I could use your name.  Did I get it right?  What would you change or add?  Thanks for coming through my line.

An angel made me do it

Lucy was about 5’4″, slender, brunette, very cute – and apparently, in the state I was in, ageless.  I had just had a string of enchanted interactions with customers (1/7, 1/9).  I wasn’t thinking of her as the 54 years old that her driver’s license would reveal her to be.  So I carded her for the bottle of wine she was buying.  I am a lot more conservative about carding than most of my colleagues.  From my 68 years a lot of people look younger than they do to my 20-something colleagues.  When I was trained for this job, I was told that if someone looks under 50 we should card them.  And I know from experience that older women generally like being carded – but that’s never why I do it, it’s always because I genuinely think they look young.

Maybe an angel made me do it.  Lucy thought so.  She was obviously excited and touched.  “You’re an angel to card me.  A ways back I passed a marker where I thought, ‘Will no one ever card me again?’ This is the highlight of my month!” (“Wow, her month!”  Her excitement lit me up.)

OK, it's a macho angel - but hey, I can visualize what kind of angel I'd like to be.

OK, it’s a macho angel – but hey, I can visualize what kind of angel I’d like to be.

When Lucy left my line, I was excited by the possibility of offering a customer exactly what they need in that moment to heal an inner wound.  Obviously we can’t really know what that would be, but what’s the harm in trying?  The next guy up in my line was significantly short for a guy – maybe 5’5″ or so.  Does he have any issues with being short?  How could I possibly know?  But if seeing Lucy as young had such a positive effect on her, then why not see this guy as tall?  So I did.  I didn’t look up over his head, but I just pretended I was dealing with a tall man.  Why not?  Did it have any positive impact on him?  I’ll never know, but I’m sure it did him no harm – and it had a positive impact on me.  I gave him more respect than I might otherwise have.  I have a woman customer who has suffered terrible burns over her face and I practice seeing her as beautiful – and I trust that this is a good and useful thing to do.  Why not see this guy as tall?

Why not imagine qualities where there is no physical cue for what the person might be needing?  Why not smart? Brave? Loving?  I could just trust my intuition to pop up a quality that is useful for that person.  Why not?  It’s more fun than just swiping groceries.  I’m going to play around with it.

Presentation on mental health recovery next Friday

Sharon Young is brilliant and a real leader in the field of mental health recovery.  She is the thought leader behind the very progressive CooperRiis treatment program.  (It’s apparently now renamed the Cooper Institute.  Their website is very inspiring and educational:  Come to her presentation at noon on the 16th and let’s go out to lunch afterwards to talk about it.  Let me know if you are coming so we can look for each other.

119 Tunnel Road Inc. Asheville NC 28805  (in the training offices at October Road, Inc.).
FREE and open to the public. No registration required.

“Recovery and Discovery:  How to Support the Re-conceptualization of Self Within the Recovery Journey”


One of the most powerful, yet least articulated aspects of the recovery journey involves the profound process of re-conceptualization of one’s identity.  This workshop will provide a conceptual framework for identity work and existential aspects of the healing process along with tools that can be utilized to facilitate this crucial aspect of recovery.

Dr. Sharon Young is the Director of Cooper Institute as well as being a licensed Psychologist.  Implementation and research related to the progressive recovery movement has been Dr. Young’s professional passion.

The Cooper Institute (until recently CooperRiis) is a pioneer in holistic, recovery-oriented psychiatric treatment - a lot because of Sharon Young's leadership.

The Cooper Institute (until recently CooperRiis) is a pioneer in holistic, recovery-oriented psychiatric treatment – a lot because of Sharon Young’s leadership.

As a part of her research efforts, Dr. Young created a three stage non-linear Recovery Model and a comprehensive Recovery Measure which emerged from a grounded theory analysis of individual recovery stories. In addition to publishing and presenting this research, Dr. Young has distilled seven recovery domains from the research which provides a framework for the holistic programming of CooperRiis Healing Community.

Dr.  Young also serves on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Foundation of Mental Health Excellence and the PRA (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association) Advisory Committee for the new Recovery and Psychiatric Rehabilitation Learning Academy.  She is also co-leading the political advocacy efforts of the organization called North Carolinians for Recovery Oriented Care, has been on the planning committee for all five North Carolina Recovery Conferences, and is on the strategic planning committee for the Mountain Council Recovery Coalition of Western North Carolina.

You risk, I risk….

May was a slender attractive brunette, around 5’6″, maybe 35 years old.  She responded to my “What’s been a highlight of your day?” question in several steps of progressively greater openness – startling to me and maybe even to her.  “I had a really good hypnosis session….We’re working on fear….I’m a cancer survivor and lots of little symptoms bring up fear.”

My response was in its own way a little startling to me.  “Are you familiar with A Course in Miracles?”  Now why did I bring that up?  I’m sure not getting paid to promote far-out, channeled, New Age metaphysical programs.  I do know why I brought it up – because in my life A Course in Miracles has been a very powerful lever for working with fear.  But it still feels like a risk to be recommending it to a customer, maybe especially a customer who is at such a vulnerable point in her life.

May’s next response was also surprising.  She got positively electrified (I get goose bumps recalling it): “Yes – love is letting go of fear!  My hypnotherapist was telling me about it today!  This is total affirmation that it can be good for me.”

A Course in Miracles is a dense metaphysical system paired with a very concrete workbook with 365 daily lessons that tend to turn your daily reality upside down.  I spent 3 years making my way through the lessons, then turned around and spent another 4 years doing it again.  My life has been forever changed by it.  Jampolsky's book is a great introduction.

A Course in Miracles is a dense metaphysical system paired with a very concrete workbook with 365 daily lessons that tend to turn your daily reality upside down. I spent 3 years making my way through the lessons, then turned around and spent another 4 years doing it again. My life has been forever changed by it. Jampolsky’s book is a great introduction.

After May left, I had no mixed feelings about having recommended A Course in Miracles. I’m a big believer in synchronicity and felt as convinced as her that her hypnotherapist and I both recommending it within a few hours of each other indicated it could be good for her.

What did all this teach me about taking risks with customers?  Sometimes I’m the first one to risk – to offer something personal or unusual.  Today May disclosed first.  But is it really so easy to know who opens first?  Did May know from the way I asked my question that I was a safe person to open up with?  I don’t ask the question to everyone – did I pick up something from her that indicated that asking her the question would go someplace?  Was I in a more trusting place because of the enchanted interaction that I had had just an hour earlier? (“I’m vertical…”, 1/7) Why did she end up in my line?  Why shortly after this hypnosis session?

Sometimes it makes sense to think in terms of taking risks.  I want to develop my sense for which risks are worth taking and which are perhaps too risky – and to recognize when my customer has taken a risk, has made themselves vulnerable, and needs to be supported.  Yet it also seems equally valid to hold that we are always totally supported – and that love means to recognize this, to trust it, to surrender to it.  And as we do this we progressively let go of fear.  I learned that from A Course in Miracles.

“You’re fine” – soothing the apologetic customer

“You’re fine.” – the reassuring response to someone who has just apologized for bumping into you or for getting in your way.  Or – in the grocery store line – for entering their frequent shopper number incorrectly, for not noticing if their cucumber was organic or conventional, for forgetting their bags in the car, for running out of money and needing to take a couple items out of their order.

“You’re fine.”  I’m not sure it’s a southern expression, but I sure don’t remember it from up north.  I love it.  Not just “Never mind” or “Forget about it”, but “You’re fine”.  It’s a real affirmation. And at a perfect moment: the person is feeling apologetic – they could use some affirmation.  Our last post dealt with mistakes we ourselves make – here we deal with the other person’s “mistake”.

We cashiers often have the opportunity to make a difference in our customer’s day – by providing a genuine moment of contact, an acknowledgement of that person’s uniqueness.  But there is no more juicy moment than when the customer presents some apology.

Even a little bit of apology throws us into that "something-wrong-with-me" energy.

Even a little bit of apology throws us into that “something-wrong-with-me” energy.

We won’t, in one exchange, heal a customer from the tendency to apologize for themselves, but a well-timed “You’re fine” can help.

Or well-phrased:

  • for entering their frequent shopper number wrong, maybe “That machine is very confusing”
  • for not noticing the cucumber, “It’s our job to get labels on them”
  • forgetting their bags in the car, “100 people a day do that”
  • for running out of money, “I imagine this is very stressful, but trust me it happens to a lot of people.”

This person has just made themselves very vulnerable. Let’s put all our personal energy into the words we say, the eye contact we offer, and the feelings we put behind the words.  Let’s wish for that person’s total healing.  It’s maybe a little encounter – but if it can make even a little bit of difference in how much a person apologizes for themselves, how awesome is that?


I believe in mistakes…

Cashiering is detailed work – there are so many ways to make little (and larger) mistakes.  When I am up, I roll with these mistakes: I make fewer of them because my brain is sharper, but I am also a lot more forgiving of those mistakes that I do make.  When I’m down, I tend to be pretty hard on myself about even little mistakes – and positively cruel to myself about the larger ones.

I thought of a variety of ways to attack this issue in a post, but none of them seem better than the poem I wrote during this same dark time of year about four years ago.  It’s longer than most of my posts, but lots of people have found it meaningful.  I’d welcome your feedback – in a comment or an email (to

I BELIEVE IN MISTAKES          (Majo, 1/15/11)

I believe in mistakes
I believe in right and wrong
Good and evil
Sin and redemption
Well I’m sure about sin at least

I believe it’s possible
To make a wrong choice
Take a wrong turn
And to forever lose
All option  for good
That the right road would have held

I believe it’s possible for these wrong choices
To lead you to a wrong life
To become a wrong person
With no chance to get back to
The person you were meant to be

Why am I so imprisoned by this wretched
View of the world?
Why do I cling so to beliefs
About life and about myself
That cause so much suffering?
Why am I so attached to
This harsh god of right and wrong?
Why is this unforgiving code
Carved so deeply and painfully into my heart?

Is it my Libra nature
Constantly balancing and rebalancing the scales
Desperately and hopelessly trying to get things to come out right?
I so often know immediately
That I have taken the wrong path
Committed to the wrong course of action
Ordered the wrong lunch
And am so seldom confident
That I am going the right way

Is it because the good nuns
So patiently and persistently
Drilled original sin into my young consciousness?
Is it my Irish conscience
So hopeless about becoming a genuinely good man?
It believes that carrying
A heavy load of guilt
Is the most reliable way to
Earn God’s mercy.

Is it my western analytical mind
So hooked on separating
On putting things in different buckets
Hooked on the world of either/or?

Is it my human ego
So tiny in the face of
The vast world out there
So lost in fear and alienation?

I would like to say that my belief in mistakes
Is my one true mistake
But I think that would be a mistake
Tortured as this paradigm is
It is my lineage
It unites me with the human species
From which I spring
My suffering is your suffering
Is our suffering
Until we can together
Every one of us
Lay this burden down

You may have gleaned by now
How hard it is to step outside
Of this world of mistakes
Indeed, from our shared starting point,
It is impossible
It is anathema to our human programming
A contradiction in terms
It is a world that can only be visited
When we take a brief vacation
From our normal minds
It’s the payoff from meditation
The addictiveness of drugs
The bottom line of love

In the throes of love
Does our lover or child not seem perfect
Able to do no wrong?
(How ephemeral are these throes of love)
Is it not clear, when we are truly in love
That there can be no mistake
In committing fully to the beloved
No matter how great the cost?

How can I turn this kind of love on myself?
Commit this fully to me?
My path the last few days
Is clearly littered with mistakes
Today I wrote a poem
Who wrote the poem?
Who made the mistakes?
Could I have had this
Without the others?
Did they not get me here?

Maybe my commitment to a me that does
Is the deepest mistake
Steps were taken that led me here, led me there
Led me to this poem
Led me to this room
Led me to you
You get to decide whether for
You this poem is right or wrong
But if you are wise you will maybe not