Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It takes strength to not engage


Poet Tim is the first person I see today leaving the building as I'm coming in. He’s been up in the studio doing some work with RL. Heading out for a job interview. 

The people from the Three Language School are back again. Still interested. 
Deacon James comes in. It’s been awhile. So, James hows it going?
Going? It went. They’re giving me shots for flu. Shots for pneumonia. Shots for I don’t know what. That and the chemo. Hard to catch  my breath. Got no energy....We tell him we miss him. He asks about Bible study. We’re still studying. He stays as long has he can. 

Outside, Stephen and Jay have sent Christopher up onto the scaffolding to clean off all the refuse that has collected there. Our Christmas tree has joined the pile in front of the condo next door. Mulching and Central Park await. Poinsettias, wreaths, all gone now...

Cara comes in for another day of hard work. She sweeps, just like I did. It’s sort of the rite of initiation here.  Me, Danielle, Stephen, Jay, Christopher...we’ve all been sweepers. Starting with the steps. Gregory come in, looking for a warm pullover hat. 

RL stops in on his way to see Harvey.

Yet again, another visitor, another story. Once again my pocket empties. Sigh. 

Then it happens. Two of our people. A word gets misheard. Misunderstood. A button pushed. Trigger pulled. The need to defend surges. Bodies and faces get closer. Voices louder. Language intensifying. Coarsening. Doesn’t matter who the people are. Or the circumstances. It’s always the same.  As hands begin to come forward, Danielle and I step in between, taking protagonists to different corners.  

When you her the stories, there’s a shared (small) area of basic fact and then a radically different understanding of what was happening. Each person absolutely sure of their feelings of being unjustly attacked. In reality, it’s only a small part about what’s going on in the here /now. It’s really about a life time of hurts. Histories of abuse of one kind or another. Each person  here but also living in a past trauma at the same time. 

I listen, absorb the anger. Then say, you have to remember the first rule, can’t have a rational conversation in an irrational situation. The minute what you hear coming back sounds crazy, just stop. Just stop. 
Yes but...
I know but no yes but. Can't go anywhere. Nowhere good. Can’t do that here.
But he (or she).... 
Listen, when it gets to that point, when you are being accused, attacked, just don’t engage.
But I lived my whole life  as a doormat, I’ll never be a doormat again....
I understand, but hear this. There is a difference between being a doormat and choosing not to engage from a position of strength. Teddy finally got that. That’s what made him so good at what he did here. Just don't engage.
It’s hard.
Of course it is. But that’s where your strength is. 

Danielle and I switch dance partners. I listen to the second person. Bring the same message. Repeat it the same number of times. The situation cools. Calms. What’s left is frustration on the one part and sadness and regret on the other. One person walks out. The other remains. Very upset. Marc jumps in, offer to call an employee to report a worker will be late. 

So many who come to visit us are fragile. Just hanging on. They are survivors, sometimes of unspeakable experiences. And they have survived. Courageous really. And making it for the most part. But right beneath the skin are the wounded places. It’s tough. In these conversations I have to keep repeating my awareness of the goodness of the one I’m talking to. Because they are good.. And working damn hard to make the good work. It’s hard work. Damned hard. But good work. That's what brings them here.  To have that good, that work affirmed, supported, honored.

                                                                Ralph McTell
It’s quiet again. Marc pulls me over to the sound  system. Has a song to share by Ralph Mc Tell, singer/songwriter, interpreter....most famous for Streets of London. There was a song of mine Marc thought had been written by McTell. (Can’t remember which one. Been awhile since I played...) Close my eyes and listen. He sings better than I do. Most singers do. Writes better, too.  It’s a good song. 

Damn. I’ve once again lost my breath catching  time. Need to go catch John H and his Dark Lady Players in a cabaret performance in the Village. It’s getting colder. And darker.  

1 comment:

  1. just singing this song to myself yesterday... "How can you tell me you're lonely... and say for you that the sun don't shine?"...