These days all of my identities are converging: whether I am offering a blessing in the grocery store checkout line, offering a prayer in a poem or experiencing the kinship with all life while walking my or a client's dog - it's all the same. It's all Life.
After my first four days back at Earth Fare, after a year away, I have been very keenly reminded that my greatest satisfaction in this job comes from validating people – affirming them. And, while I really love doing this with individuals – especially if they seem lonely or depressed or like they could really use a shot in the arm – the greatest challenge and satisfaction comes from validating couples and families. Here I will describe two families.
Read this post at my grocery store blog, Real Life in the Checkout Line, rlcol.com.
Why do I have such an especially great time validating couples? I think it’s really my specialty. Maybe it’s because they have something I want – a happy, successful partnership – and focusing on what they are doing right gets me closer to my own goal. I dunno.
About Battery Park Apartment’s icon Diana Buchanan
mic sponsored by Interweave
abilities performance troupe featuring Amanda, Rylin and some non
Park Apartments folks)
Next Tuesday night, July 9, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
one will be turned away! Donations accepted but not required
– open mic sign-up
6:30-7 – special guest band featuring Caesar Williams from the Vanderbilt, Garry Byrne from our building and Eric Nelson
7-7:30 – “family friendly” material
Early in the show (7:30?) – Soul Friends – Majo’s 15-minute story
on the “ersatz family”: me (Majo), our Diana Buchanan (who you are so familiar with from hanging out with her posse in front of the building, making sure the tobacco companies don’t go belly up) and my precious little white dog Toni – to whom Diana became “Mama”.
you know Diana or have any clue what a complex, rich and wonderful
character she is, you’re gonna wanna see this. Even if you feel
like you already know Diana, you will come away knowing her in new
ways – and be a richer person for it. The story has humor, it’s
got conflict, it’s got pathos and death – it’s got everything.
(7:30-8 latest, if you skip the opening acts and we don’t start
invites all performance levels to perform:
dance, music, drumming, spoken word, rap, hip-hop, poetry, stories,
comedy, magic, performance art, improv, dance or music jam
through the front door, located to the left of the Pinball Museum
the north end of the Grove Arcade
St. Lawrence Basilica and the U.S. Cellular Center
In my head just now,
I was having a fantasy conversation with no one in particular –
maybe never anyone – about some topic that’s on my mind. I do
this sometime when I feel less pressure around tasks, to do’s.
Today I have a long afternoon and evening with nothing scheduled, in
a good mood and happy to piddle.
The topic today is
“My friend John and his relationship to work.” Hopefully at least
enough of it will ring true – it would be a great conversation
sometime, maybe on a hike, what hit the mark and (inevitably) what
did not…and what’s missing.
My friend John’s current work – a highway flagger for paving jobs – is by no means his long-term aspiration.
He would like to get back into the building trades. He has pawned his tools when he was broke, but would never let go of them. He is a natural handyman and construction pro. He seems sometimes like a wizard. It seems like there is nothing he can’t do. He has a passion for fixing things, for making them work. When, out of the corner of his eye, he saw that one of my blinds wasn’t closing correctly, it continually distracted him from our conversation. “Do you mind if I fix that?” “Thanks – that would have haunted me all night.” If a friend has some kind of light construction or fixit need, he springs into action – he loves it. It’s a passion for him. It seems there is nothing that completely stumps him.
His life mission is to help people, to “facilitate” – to make things work better for them.
He has not given up
on a long-term dream to work in the forest service – maybe
construction. At 52, that possibility may be slipping away. It
would take a big push, which could happen, but not until after the
current spate of infections and other health challenges.
Highway flagging may seem like an unlikely vocation – and passion! – for someone of so much talent and education. (But my Ph.D. does not spoil grocery store cashiering as a vocation for me.) John’s capacity to turn this work into something creative and satisfying is admirable to say the least.
John applies his mission to help, to “facilitate” here – in ways that a less resourceful and motivated person would never accomplish. John has a vision that highway closures create stress and even some measure of pain for people – and his mission is to help this inconvenience be light for them. Where some other flaggers regard the lines of motorists as ignorant assholes to be dispatched – processed through with minimal expenditure of effort – to John they are customers, basically good people in pain.
John uses this work as a context to express his creativity. He dances his job. As much as the work allows, he stays in motion. He is always finding new and interesting ways to express information. How much relevant information can he feasibly impart?
what the project is
what’s happening up ahead
any feasible bypasses
he really is trying to make their day
John uses this job as a background to express his love of nature
he uses his camera to get interesting/educational/accurate pictures of nature
he has a circle of Facebook friends who are back and forth with each other with beautiful nature photos and the quest to identify interesting/beautiful/rare insects/plants/flowers
John has a huge work ethic and takes satisfaction from living it out.
Even if the day is rainy and there is not likely to be work on his particular paving project, he reports to the staffing office at 6 a.m.
Many of the workers don’t have cars, some of them may be staffing indoor jobs, some may need a ride to work if they are to get to work
many have families to support – John gets satisfaction from trying to make sure they get work if they can and he gets paid for transporting them and this establishes him as a go-to resource for the staffing service.
No matter how different his co-workers, he finds ways to like and respect them
even if they are uneducated and irresponsible
they have a family, they get paid on Friday, and Monday they are broke – can’t afford cigarettes even on a week where bad weather is predicted – no income.
He finds them interesting and creative where are there overlaps on their musical tastes
Their nihilism, dark humor and love of practical jokes may converge
How can I help
How can I see
and reflect what’s good in people?
How can I
express myself and find the opportunity for creativity, dark humor,
nihilism, music and anarchy in situations where if I did not work
hard and stretch myself I might just succumb to helplessness and
I was in the big general hospital, being evaluated by the psych staff for suicidal depression. The night before I had come precariously close to killing myself. At age 72, part of my crisis had to do with age. “I’m used up. I have nothing left to offer and no one is interested in what I do have. I might as well not be here.”
I was in one of the rooms in the E.R. with my really good buddy John, who had ordered the ambulance for me that morning. A young woman who identified herself as Bailey had come in with her little typewriter to register me. My first judgment about Bailey was kind of harsh (“kind of mousy”) – but then I was not in a real positive state of mind.
Which made even more surprising what happened next. Halfway through Bailey registering me, I stopped her and said, “You’re a very real person.” “What?” “Yeah – you’re genuine. You know, for the native Americans that was the highest compliment: ‘You’re a real human being.'”
“You’re a real human being.”
Bailey pulled herself up a couple of inches taller, pointed her finger into the air and said “Authentic.” I had gotten her. I had affirmed her for something that actually meant a lot to her. It was not some generic thing like “You’re a nice person.” It felt really good to her because she felt seen. She was doing that which she very much wants to do.
Bailey left. I pointed my arm towards John and – with tears running down my face, as they are right now – said emphatically “That’s what I do.” And for just a little while the charge “I have nothing left to contribute” had no power over me.
Fifty years ago, when I was 22, I was learning a form of peer counseling called Re-Evaluation Counseling. A big premium in RC was placed on “validation” – saying nice things to each other in ways that would really have an impact on the other person. I will literally never forget the time that Mio Archer, a lovely young woman who had been doing this stuff for a while and was good at it, told me “You’re the handsomest man I’ve ever met.”
Now I honestly think that accurately I’m pretty average-looking – sometimes I think worse than that. And now that I’m 72, there’s a whole extra “old” thing that contaminates the whole picture. But ever since Mio said that amazing thing, there’s one little part of my brain that thinks, “What if? What if I actually am good looking?” It’s pretty cool to think about. Mio changed my relationship with my own appearance for good.
And now my new friend Diana – my favorite person in our whole seniors building – likes to say that she thinks I’m handsome.
I have for fifty years devoted myself to learning how to affirm people in ways that stick – and noticing what it is in affirmations from other people that cause them to go under the radar, to do an end run around my logical brain and land where I live.
Last week i was in the hospital for suicidal depression. My most recent attempt to launch a course that could make me feel like I had value – “Affirmative Poetry”, kinda like this stuff but in some very big ways not (I’ll write about it later) – had been a colossal bust, one person came out. I felt like a complete waste of space. Pair that with the “old” thing and I felt really useless. I said all this to the social worker on the unit. She – a very smart 65 year old who has specialized in studying the spiritual life of seniors, said, “Your mission changes at every stage of your life. It’s not the same in your 70’s as it was in your 60’s. Your challenge is to clarify for yourself what your mission is now.”
The idea that I might still have a mission – and that it would be unique to my 70’s – rocked me back on my heels, shaped my whole experience of my six days in the hospital.
My overall mission – for my whole life – has something to do with validation. The particular spin for my 70’s is stuff I still need to ferret out. Writing this blog – and dialogue with you, my readers – will help. Welcome aboard.
Words can hurt and words can heal. Anyone can develop powerful tools for “Healing validations” – affirmative words that make a difference in another person’s life. This blog is devoted to developing that skill.