Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reflections from Santa Fe

During my last individual session with my CPE supervisor, V, we talked about this part of me that feels about 15 years old.  There were a lot of things that got this kid all activated, and I’m not even entirely sure what all of those things were – people who (rightly or wrongly) remind me of my sister, an impending vacation to one of the places D loves most in life, the purchase of a new shirt, an incident at church where they “passed the peace” (seriously, what the fuck is this ridiculous tradition?). 

The church in which I grew up did not “pass the peace” on Sunday morning.  The shaking of hands and a polite word happened in the aisles during the postlude as people made their way to the fellowship hall.  When I happened upon it in my early adult years, it was strange, foreign, awkward, and uncomfortable.  Why was I being forced to interact with total strangers in the middle of a church service, between the Assurance of Pardon and the reading of sacred texts?

A couple months back, I was at church one Sunday morning and feeling particularly anxious.  It was my birthday and I had been feeling burnt out and I needed a break from people but I went to church anyway.  It was Easter, after all.  I was at church for the scripture and the sermons and not much else.  In the weeks before Lent when the peace had been passed, I had politely shaken hands, but this particular Sunday, I knew I did not have the energy to just get through it.  Five minutes of absolute fucking torture is how it read to me in the bulletin.  So, when the Assurance of Pardon had been spoken, I (sitting in the far corner of the back pew) quietly stepped outside and wrapped my arms around myself and tucking my hands into my armpits, protecting myself from the cold. 

One of the greeters, who is a rather lovely man and whom I appreciate(d) greatly, followed me outside.  “Is everything okay?” P asked me. 

“I’m fine.  I just really hate the passing of the peace,” I told him.  “Figured I’d step out and avoid the fray,” I said.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” P asked.

“Yeah.  Everything’s fine,” I said.

“Well, okay.  I just wanted to check and make sure,” P said, before reaching out his hand, touching my arm, looking me in the eye, and saying, “Peace of Christ.”

I went home on a rampage.  Seriously!  What is it with people?  I had clearly stated that I hate the passing of the peace and was seeking to avoid it and then it’s literally forced upon me by a person who just learned that I hate it and want nothing to do with it?  Somehow the coercive nature of the act seemed at direct odds with stated intent of offering “peace.”

And that was the thing that stuck with me and the first time I ever put the pieces together.  Church was the only place in the course of my entire childhood and adolescence where my bodily autonomy was respected.  It somehow seems quite obvious, from this side of the revelation, how and why it is I ended up in seminary getting an MDiv.


Anyway, fast forward to my 15 year old’s conversation with and I remarked that I wish I’d had Harry Potter during my childhood because I feel quite connected to the story and the character.  V encouraged me to write a verbatim between my fifteen year old self and Harry.  This being the play unit and all.

The thing is, I tried.  I really did.  But I came to realize that the adult me connects and responds to Harry Potter and Hermione Grainger.  The fifteen year old me just wasn’t having any of it.  Harry and Hermione and Ron had their group and they were a thing and everyone loved or hated them, but they had each other and did pretty okay.  And there wasn’t room for me in that group.  They didn’t need another Brainiac and they didn’t need another neglected kid and they didn’t need another poor kid in their group.


When we got to Santa Fe Wednesday night we had dinner with B and N and their two kids, H and S.  B and N were classmates of D in undergrad.  After introductions and as we started our meal B asked me, “How did you decide to become a chaplain?”

“After it became obvious that my first career choice was not going to work out, I kind of tripped over my own feet until I landed in it,” I told him.

“And what was your first career choice?” B asked me.

“Well, when I was little, all I really wanted to be when I grew up was a Disney princess,” I replied.

While it is true that as a kid I imagined, A LOT, about how my life might look if I were really a princess who’d been switched at birth or had a spell cast upon her by an evil witch and how much better things would be when my parents or prince charming came to rescue me, on reflection I realize that I didn’t really ever want to be a Disney princess.  I just wanted to live in a home and a family where I didn’t have to pretend to be switched at birth or under a spell just to survive.


On Friday we did the Phaedrus seminar and it was wonderful to be back in an academic setting with a bunch of other people excited to geek out about stuff like Plato.  I had also finished Rousseau’s The Social Contract in preparation for Saturday’s seminar.  During the day on Saturday, D had alumni stuff to take care of, so I went to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum on my own before meeting him on campus for the seminar.

The museum didn’t take as long as I thought it might and having no other plans for the afternoon, I carried my laptop up to campus and failed at numerous attempts to write the first iteration of this reflection, which was intended to be a verbatim with Harry Potter.  Afterward, I sat by the koi pond and watched the fish swim and enjoyed the warmth of the sun.  I started to cry, but got myself mostly put back together before D found me.

“Are you ready for the seminar,” he asked me. 


“Are you okay?  You look like you have a tear there,” he said, pointing to my lower eyelid.

“I’m fine.  It’s just warm and bright out and I’m sad.”

“I’m sorry it’s warm and bright,” D said.  “Wait!  Why are you sad?”

“It’s nothing,” I told him.  “Just thinking dumb thoughts,” I explained, because my fifteen year old had been pretty present during my efforts to correspond with Harry and shit was just falling apart in my head.

“Let’s skip the seminar,” D said.  “I don’t have the energy in me anyway.”

“But you were looking forward to the seminar,” I argued.  “I’m fine.  I was excited to discuss Rousseau,” I told him.

“Yeah.  I don’t want to.  I’m tired and I don’t have the mental energy for it.  You can go if you want to.  But I’d rather take a walk.”

Preferring to see more of this place D loves, I went with him.  We walked.  D showed me the math hall and the science labs and he asked me why I was sad.  “Sometimes, when we’re in places like this, I don’t know what I bring to the relationship,” I told D.  “I feel like our relationship is lopsided and you have all these things to share with me and I don’t have anything to offer you.  Sometimes when you share these things with me,” I told him, “I feel like you’re trying to fix all of the things in me that you think are broken and unacceptable.”

“I’m not trying to fix you,” D said me.  “This place is important to me.  And you’re important to me.  That’s why I want to share it with you.  This place is my Hogwarts.  I know I’ll never find anyone else like you.”

“I know all of that, it’s just it feels differently and that’s all my stuff.”

“Thanks for talking about it with me,” D said.

We walked and we talked for a bit more.  D showed me the upper dorms and the lower dorms.  We spent some time sitting on one of the second story porches.  As we left campus that evening, I said to D, “The thing is, you have these places that are meaningful and important to you; places you want to go back to; places you want to share with me.  I don’t have that.  I don’t have any place that I want to go back to.  I don’t have any place that I would want to share with you.  I’ve spent my entire life working to get out of and away from the places I’ve known.”

“Not even Union?” D asked.

“Well, maybe Union,” I conceded, “but even when I thought about Union today, I’m not sure if it’s the place or the people, if it wasn’t just Tim, who made if transformative – a place where I really started to create myself.”


Sunday, D took the car to campus again for the Alumni Leadership Board discussion and vote.  I had initially toyed with going to the cathedral for church, but I just wasn’t feeling like being an interloper at Catholic Mass that morning.  The plan became to stay in bed and read for a bit.  But I wanted to go to church.  So, I googled for a UCC in Santa Fe and sure enough the only one in town is also O&A.  I showered and dressed and walked three miles to church.

I took a lot of pictures of the things that captured my attention on my mountainous desert walk to church.  I texted D and asked him to pick me up from church rather than the hotel sometime after noon.  Neville Longbottom and I had a conversation, because I was still feeling very, very fifteen.

“I know what it’s like,” Neville said, “to feel out of place; to want to connect with people but feel more at home with a herbology textbook; to not have much for family and to not be good enough for the family you’ve got.”

“Yeah?” I said.  “It’s really lonely.  And I’m okay with that when I’m left to my own devices, but my parents berate me all the time about the fact that I’m not spending time with people my own age.”

“My gran wants me to have more friends, too,” Neville said.  “I’ve tried.  But I just don’t fit in.  But you do fit in.  People like you well enough.  Your high school classmates don’t remember you as weird or awkward or not fitting in; they all miss you and reach out every time there’s a class reunion.”

And this is true today.  But when you’re in junior high and then high school and you can’t invite friends over, you never get invited over.  And when you’re an introvert and you end up overwhelmed by the noise and the number of people and the gross feeling of the grease paint on your face at the only Halloween party you’re ever invited to, so you sit in the bathroom crying for an hour before you walk home because you’re parents refuse to pick you up until your curfew in three hours, people don’t invite you to another party.  And when you’re in junior high and you sign up for the TAG science fair and speech/performance competition and you win a spot on the spelling bee but you end up missing all of them because your parents separated after you were taken into foster care and your father moved twenty miles away when he finished rehab and your mother is working 80 hours a week to keep a roof over your head so you don’t have a ride to the school some 13 miles away and your teachers don’t care why you missed these things, they just tell you that you’re irresponsible and if you don’t plan to keep your commitments, you shouldn’t participate at all, you just stop trying to do the extra stuff.  And when your parents get back together and you’re moved to yet another school (the sixth school in five years) and you end up walking the three miles on a mid-December night to the school for your winter choir performance because your dad was at an AA meeting and your mom had to pick him up and they didn’t get to the school to see you sing because they only made it in time for the last performance by the jazz singers that you didn’t join because you couldn’t afford the $20.00 rental fee for the stage outfit and the choir director was clear that if you couldn’t come up with the fees you shouldn’t bother trying out, you just stop singing.

And when you’re fifteen and your parents demand that you spend time and socialize with other people because it’s “good” for you, but they’ve moved you around so much and changed school so many times in the formative years of that social development such that you don’t know how and no one wants to hang out with the weird kid who likes to read in a corner by herself and can’t afford to participate in any other school or social activities, your parents are thrilled beyond measure that the twenty-two year college senior whom you met at a reunion is calling you up and taking you out and occasionally getting you home just after curfew.  “It’s good for you,” they say, ignoring the fact that you cry every time you come home and you’re cutting your wrists every time he calls you to takes you out, and you’re spending longer and longer in the shower after you “hang out” with him, and you’ve suddenly developed a panic disorder and you can barely get through the school day without panic attack after panic attack and your parents tell you to just suck it up because there’s nothing to be afraid of, everything is fine, and so you start carrying razor blades to school and cutting in the bathroom between classes because how the hell else are you supposed to get through the day?

“But you have no one to blame but yourself.  You could have stopped it at any time.  Was being punished by your parents for not having a ‘social life’ really so much worse than what he did to you?  God, it’s no wonder you don’t have any place to go back to; you don’t belong anywhere.  You never fit in and you never will.  If you weren’t good enough for your own family (I mean, my God, have you ever considered the low bar they set, and still you couldn’t figure out how to fit in), what makes you think you’ll ever be good enough to fit anywhere else in life?” asks the quiet voice of one of my particularly cruel protectors.

“Shut up!” Neville shouts.  “Just shut up and leave her alone!  I’m here.  I’m her friend and she fits in with me.  You don’t get to talk to her this way.  Not now, not ever!  Come on,” Neville says, taking my hand.  “Let’s go.  She (meaning the adult me) can sort things out later.  Right now, let’s just take care of you.”  And we stop and take pictures of all of the incredible flowers blooming in the middle of the desert – this place where there is little rain and the ground is hard and parched.  So much life in the midst of landscape that looks to promise little but death.

It’s Pentecost Sunday and this church I do not know but which I attend because the UCC is where I grew up sings a few songs not found in the hymnal.  They are songs from other places in the world.  Songs sung in Spanish and Swahili.  They are songs I know because of my time at Union.  In spite of the passing of the peace mid-service and the awkward demand to discuss with the person sitting next to us where our lives intersect with the text, I am there.  It is Communion Sunday, and being in the last row, when I make my way forward, I request a gluten-free wafer, skipping the chalice which has been cross-contaminated by at least fifty people at this point.  In spite of the desert sun and the deadening social engagement and the dry wafer turning to dust in my mouth, I am refreshed.


I got up Monday morning feeling better than I had the entire rest of the vacation.  I still wonder what it means that I have no place to go back to, no place I can share with D.  While the UCC is some of that for me, it is not a place where D will go.  And I still mourn the fact that I don’t have a childhood home or any place that I long for.  Still I mourn that my history is one of brokenness and pain and that I had to create a life for myself entirely out of the barren landscape of my childhood and adolescence.

I think about the fact that D says this kind of terroir makes the best wine.  “Grapes have to struggle to be any good.”

But there is no place and there are no people that I long for or who long for me.

Facebook reminds me that on this day, seven years ago, A and I became friends.  A and I met when we were eleven, the first day of sixth grade, another new school for me.  We went to the same middle school for one year.  Our friendship really started in the talented and gifted class – SAILs (Students Autonomous In Learning).  We had partnered together for a speech/performance competition – a two woman performance of the interaction between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan when Hellen remembers what water is.  My mother worked the Saturday of the competition and I couldn’t get to the school in time.  A performed a one woman play, acting as both Helen and Annie.  She won first place.  I won the reprimand of my SAILs teacher and never again signed up for any competition at school. 

Of all the people in my Facebook friends list, A is the one I’ve known the longest.  I haven’t seen her in 24 years, but she’s the friend I most often wish I could reconnect with in person.  She’s just the kind of person I like best – she’s a ridiculously liberal atheist with a Master’s of Science in the Evolution of Language and Cognition and she’s pursuing another degree in History and the Philosophy of Science.  A is fiercely passionate about social justice and has a keen interest in human sexuality and power dynamics.  It was hard to lose her friendship after that first year of junior high and I imagine I would enjoy her friendship even more today if circumstances permitted such a connection.

I “shared” the reminder from Facebook commenting, “Facebook friends for 7 years, but I have been richly blessed and incredibly privileged to have known this woman for 25 years.”

A also “shared” the Facebook reminder of our seven years long connection.  I got the notification when our plane landed at MSP.  This is what A had to say about my socially awkward and reasonably inept middle school self:

Brat Disrupted. In middle school I had a friend named MB. She had the qualities that have always drawn me: she walked to her own beat, liked dorky sci-fi lit, was intelligent and wildish. Her spirit was alternative, before being 'alternative' was even a thing. I had one foot on those virtues and the other foot on the virtue of conformity – conforming to be accepted by "the popular girls." Uniform was tight-rolled Z Cavariccis with an oversized college football sweatshirt (liking sport not required).

In English class one day, the ringleader popular girl and her vice ringleader were making fun of MB. As this became slow-motion etched in my memory, I looked from one girl to the other to MB. The girls waited for me to pitch in some mocking, and I did. I was on their team now. I thought maybe MB hadn't heard me, maybe I was able to play my teasing to just the audience I wanted, maybe she'd only be mad at them since they were the real culprits. MB sat silently and fixed on me. Class began and then carried on as usual. Leaving class, my feeling of being a dick and getting away with it was interrupted: "You're my FRIEND. DON'T EVER DO THAT TO ME." My brat face was punched. She's the one who got in trouble.

The next school year I had moved out of state. As the web and social media developed over the next couple decades, I looked her name up many times but never found her. I wondered how she'd turned out; I wanted to tell her how much she stuck with me. Power questions like "what was the most meaningful experience of your childhood?" or "who impacted you the most as a kid?" always had me going back to MB. I can't actually know if her punch to my brat face was the most meaningful or impacting moment of my formative years. It's that I've always wondered who I'd be if she hadn't.

Out of all the folks I'm now connected with from that past life – having never seen again my LaPorte City people since the move after middle school - she's been the most impressive (she's a minister), entertaining, wise and kindred person to stay in orbit with.

I don't know what created her. I grew up with a relative amount of ease. With things like being tracked into the "Talented & Gifted" program which then tracked me for subsequent chains of opportunity and self-development, enriching experiences were handed to me. I created nothing. The only way people like me might ever become genuinely cool and wise is because of people like her. I wasn't special as a kid; she was. I was the type of kid who wanted to be liked by dickheads. She was the type of kid who knew her dignity for herself and who was bold enough to publicly command respect.

Strong live the authentic and disruptive women who wake up an authentic and disruptive nature in other women!

(And with that, MB, I respectfully but resolutely reject your notion of being privileged to know me :) ).


I still don’t really have place to go back to.  I will probably never have a home with roots that call to me.  I’m pretty sure I’m not rooted in anything or any place in the world but my Self.  And I don’t really have a tribe.  But I do have my people, few though they are, spread far and wide.  And I do have my Self.  And I am enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment