“You are a piece of work,” my physical therapist said lovingly.
I would be a liar to deny it.
Sometimes, this phrase, this being “a piece of work” might be a put down; other times, it is a grand anointing of a strong, deep, and independent spirit.
There are many things to which I am committed. Being a piece of work is one of them. I’m committed to personal growth and to learning how to see with more than the eyes and hear with more than the ears. I’m committed to the mystery of the heart. Yet, there are areas where I have run away from commitment.
He’s a runner and he’ll run away… Woman ain’t been born who can make and stay… Woman get away while you can
Several decades ago, the late singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro wrote these words and sang them. At the time, I embraced the song as an anthem for women who fall in love with men who can’t — or won’t — make a commitment. After a while, it felt like I could apply those words to me.
Ms. Nyro’s song was at the forefront of my mind this morning as I sat with my tea to have a chat with God. Chats with the Divine work for me.
I’ve tended to see romantic commitment rather like the Loma Prieta earthquake that I experienced in the San Francisco Bay area in 1989. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. It’s more like those subtle movements of the earth that rattled the dishes on my shelf as I sat quietly in the morning. The sounds were enough to get my attention, but not enough to force me to commit to action. In the case of the earthquakes, that would be to move the hell to another state. In relationship to people, it might be to engage in a lasting relationship.
“I just got a call from my girlfriend. I’ve known her since kindergarten.”
I stared at my friend. How on God’s earth could someone know a person since kindergarten? I felt sad. I could not think of one person I was in touch with that I knew since kindergarten. Or middle school. Or high school. Not a single person.
But I remember the kindness of teachers, vice principals, and principles; I remember the compassion of school counselors. I remember Mrs. Bowie in first grade and her kind, generous concern for children like me whose home life had some very rocky places. I remember Mrs. Gaines, the Vice Principal in my middle school. She was a dark skinned woman with short cropped natural hair at a time when such a style was unpopular. Some of the students (nope, don’t remember a single one of their names…) called her King Kong behind her back. But she was kind to me and smiled and encouraged me often. I remember these kindnesses.
And I realize, where my commitment lies. I am committed to the transforming power of kindness.
In 1985, I met a meditation teacher from India, and I found a spiritual path where my heart leaped to commitment. In one moment, everything changed for me. I became committed to meditation, singing songs to God, and offering service to myself, my community, and God. I became more anchored in my commitment to loving kindness.
29 years later, I am still on the path and experiencing commitment to the Heart. However, in order to recognize my commitment to kindness, I have had to make mistakes that were unkind. I have had to rebound, redirect myself to my commitment to do no harm. This includes loving kindness to myself with the words I use (you know, that self talk thing…) and the actions I take.
I am in physical recovery forever. Whether I walk, run, cook, or perform, I will always be conscious of what I eat, the amount of energy I exert, and of things or people that suck my energy. I am a piece of work. Healing takes commitment. It takes a commitment to faith and a commitment to action.
Yes, I am a piece of work in progress. I am the rock from which Michelangelo is carving David.
A year ago today
Three women gathered outside the door. One, almost 6 feet tall and broad, stood with two smaller women. One was petite with curly hair, and the other was thin with a drawn and angular face. I had seen them before. They were discussing a patient’s lunch and the fact that she hadn’t eaten. But it was not about the patient’s health.
“She didn’t eat it?” asked one.
“It’s still on the table,” said another. I was listening. I recognized the voice of the tall one.
“She ordered from outside,” said another.
They were “stage whispering.” My roommate had intestinal problems, and I had asked to have my lunch moved to another area. They had taken the tray too far away for me to retrieve it. Then, they became like “the disappeared.”
“She ordered from outside.”
Strange that I’m reflecting on those days this morning. I think it’s because I’m feeling luxuriously at ease within the sanctity of my bedroom. Maybe it’s because I’m indulging in nourishing, health giving food—green drinks, fresh fruit, foods I can enjoy now that I’m home. Perhaps it’s because I’m watching the snow melt and enjoying the morning sun at the top of the trees.
Recently, I did some minor research on skilled nursing facilities, also known as SNFs (sniffs). I was horrified to find a hideous historical link to workhouses for paupers. But, for me, it explained a strange fog of meanness that seemed to drift throughout some of these places. I’d heard stories of patients becoming ill after nursing assistants put bad medications into their food. My attitude was like, “sleep with one eye open.”
Mean-spiritedness is a trickle-down reaction. It trickles down from families, communities, politics and religion. Remember that trickle-down theory of economics? I thought you might.
These women hated their jobs. Most were immigrants receiving the lowest wages for the funkiest work: emptying bed pans, making beds, giving showers, and wiping up vomit or worse. I understood, but after waiting 3o minutes, I ordered pizza from a community restaurant and had it delivered to my stinky room.
Something occurs to me. The mean-spiritedness I experienced with the nursing assistants is the same and equal to the mean-spiritedness of religious extremists — of all faiths. Only the environments have changed.
Religious extremists fight – even crazily to the death — for control of our personal lives. Is it because these extremists’ lives are so rabidly out-of-control? Is it because they feel powerless in the face of their own human nature — just as the nursing assistants feel powerless in the face of their jobs?
Is it because they fear something within themselves that they advance racist fears, the persecution of homosexuals, and a hatred of women? Is it because their own human urgings are out of control?
I’m just asking.
When people can’t control their own lives, they try to control the lives of others. When people aren’t happy, they try to make others even less happy.
We’ve heard that “if they knew better, they’d do better.” Hmm.
I’m watching the snow melt and enjoying the morning sun at the top of the trees. I’m so happy to be home.
Posted in Writing from the heart
Tagged Commentary, creative nonfiction, creative writing, essay, Life Stories, values and spirituality, writing from the heart