Is it ridiculous to consider how one’s outlook might change if we burst into song and dance like the folks in West Side Story when confronted with emotion or distress?
I am not saying in tomorrow’s budget meeting I mambo while bemoaning the return on investment needed to purchase new cups for the breakroom, although it would be fun to see Finance and HR rumble ballet like the Sharks and the Jets.
But what if, at a moment when a deadline is shortened, a resource is taken away, or four hours worth of work find its way to the inbox at 6:00PM, a little soft shoe partnered with a quiet, reflective, reminiscent melody illustrating a not-yet-dead dream might make life ever so much more wonderous.
I am going to try it. Not my favorite song from the show, but your mood can’t help but change as you reach the end.
While waiting at the baggage carousel, a young girl exclaimed, “It is so shiny.” Her father and the other adult onlookers laughed. Her father corrected, “That is not shiny, it’s really dirty.” She returned a confused yet considerate gaze towards the carousel.
She looked up at me, waiting for my confirmation. I said, “I think it’s shiny.”
Why is it so natural for adults to see only the dirt?
How do adults define the shine and when is it enough to overcome the dirt?
How many times I have seen only the dirt? What eyes are needed to forgive the dirt?
What if the afterlife were a sort of bardo (limbo) where your image is the very worst concept of how you see yourself and you are constantly tortured in a way befitting the thing you craved most and never achieved?
I know I would sit atop my grave similar to a first cousin of Jabba the Hutt with a bit more style – perhaps a hat – and a flair for the dramatic. My gelatinous, lumpy body heaving with each breath, barely able to move. I imagine being covered with hundreds of mouths constantly being filled by as many hands shoveling McDonald’s sausage and cheese biscuits into each inflamed set of lips.
“Strange, isn’t it? To have dedicated one’s life to a certain venture, neglecting other aspects of one’s life, only to have that venture, in the end, amount to nothing at all, the products of one’s labors utterly forgotten?” ~ George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
My torment would be watching the living accomplish all the dreams and ideas I held inside, never finding the strength to begin and never developing the energy to commit.
Lincoln in the Bardo has left me with these images and one question: “How have you lived your life?”
I don’t know if anything will change, but I want to focus on the ‘good’ and ‘better’ parts of myself because trying to address the ‘negative’ usually results in heightening my awareness of the ‘bad.’
“We must see God not as a Him (some linear rewarding fellow) but an IT, a great beast beyond our understanding, who wants something from us, and we must give it, and all we may control is the spirit in which we give it and the ultimate end which the giving serves.” ~ George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
The first book that I recall making me cry was Charlotte’s Web. The love and need of that relationship unlike any outside that with my mother. I thought all friendships would be that of Charlotte and Wilber, but spinning is required of all of us in every relationship, and I had little temperament to commit.
The last book to illuminate the little understanding I have of myself was The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes novel of life sometimes ending before one’s physical manifestation disappears. Barnes’ novel came at a time when I acted as if life were over.
Today I finished a novel, that in 337 pages illuminated my greatest fear and deepest faults. In those same pages, I also found courage and guidance to recognize that I am evolving but moving little.
George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is an unexpected, imaginary, uplifting tome of humanity; I surrendered to his words and floated through the story simultaneously sobbing in both anguish and relief, my sadness morphing into hope.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a crystal ball into what holds up back when the mind can only focus on our own sorrows. My wish is to walk a little lighter before leaving this world.
There are people who test my abilities to remain positive while also creating an Atlas-like struggle to acknowledge their contributions without the filter of exasperation due to the extra work they create.
Today, following an effort that seemed to bring me to a new place, I found myself abandoned and used, filled with resentment and bitterness. I reached my precipice and angerly watched as my ‘rock’ slid behind and away – Atlas my friend – frustrated, I asked,
“What more can I do?”
I retreated and found a solution in Psalms 56:4 (verse of the day on Bible app).
“In God, whose word I praise —
In God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
I realized that this person did nothing to me. I let circumstance and my perceptions, real or not, infect me and who controlled my emotions and character. I quickly grabbed my ‘rock’ and found the burden of this mortal to be light.
When asked by my supervisor, “What do you want to do next?” I not only had no answer but told my supervisor I was happy to not ask myself about “next.”
I spent a lifetime driven by “next,” and I currently want nothing more than to remain steady and content with who, where, and exactly what I am.
To be honest, I may be afraid to ask the “next” question. I am nauseous about who or what might escape when ‘want’ or ‘need’ pull focus. I hypothesize that at this exact moment “next” has little to do with work.
The answer to my “next” lies in discovering the unknowns created through a focus on relationships and saying hello to dreams.
This reflection is not about “what might have been” or even “what is not.” Riding the El while visiting Chicago, I found myself behind a gentleman whose black topcoat sat beside his black attaché and moving around in his hand, the brightest red apple I have ever seen.
He was wrapped in wool from the rust-colored socks to the gray/brown tweed slacks and huge-hooked, high-collared gray sweater. His brown-rimmed spectacles sat on his high, angular nose further solidifying his sophisticated countenance.
I traced his neckline, examining the boundary between flesh and hair, which was classically quaffed and brown, his reddish, well-manicured facial hair lending age and masculinity to his lean frame. The only words I heard were solid, heavy, and sure.
He was the urban man who I thought I would become when I move to Chicago. I am not disappointed that my metamorphosis did not occur, but for a solid 20 minutes, I floated with the man of my inspiration.
It has been eight years since I first visited the wonderfully dreamy and emotional Salvador Dali Museum. I roamed with an awareness that the last time I visited was with Matt.
Matt is/was a large, jovial, young man who had the misfortune of being the anchor I latched onto in the wake of my mother’s death. Matt absolutely knew who he was: colorful, loud, funny, and generous. He filled an indescribable emptiness absent the voice of my mother.
When looking back, Matt is a fatality of finding and loving me while I was lost to anything other grief.
We reconnected a few years ago. This young man had stage 4 cancer, fighting it, and doing pretty well. He maintained that warm and funny outlook, filled with hope if not the energy to live life the way he had.
Last year he returned to his parent’s house and now there is no response to his cell or text.
I thought about Matt today and our trip to the sea.
Much like the cosmos, I am energy that releases light when interacting with the universe.
Come Friday, the energy released to complete work, to clean the house, and to engage others leaves a diminished light. I embrace the opportunity to close out the world and silence the noise and need of the everyday. I become like dark matter and do little other than exist; I am unashamed.
Renewal is found in long-term bed stays and silenced phones. Energy sources can be a Netflix marathon, meditation, but mostly from the pages of a book.
Last night I had a series of dreams that seemed to culminate in what felt like ‘life after death.’
Dream # 1: Dinner with a fellow, I can’t see the food, and can only make out his blond hair and round face. His smile permeates the drowsiness and follows me into darkness.
Dream #2: I ‘wake up’ and apologize for falling asleep and thanking the fellow from dream 1. He says, “I tucked you in.” He smiles; I feel safe and connected.
Dream #3: I am in a hospital, my fellow is next to me. I see a needle and scream, but what is ominous quickly transforms into a lightness with the presence of a woman. I know her, but I can’t clearly see her face. She readies a needle, sticks my fellow, sticks me, and life ends.
Dream #4: My eyes open to a kitchen. Images of friends pass the windows and the doors. There is a celebration in this home. I ask, “Honey, pass the milk.” The smiling fellow passes the milk…we are complete.
I turn to face the woman, mom, I lean in and say, “Thank you.” I kiss her and the dream melts into a fog of orange and yellow.
I physically wake up.
That soft-spoken “thank you” and kiss return to me throughout the day. A sense of pure serenity and gratitude accompanies the recollection.
If dreams expose the emotional state, I am happier than I realize.