Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Grateful for weird Portland

Normally this is a piece that fits more appropriately in another blog, but as I find my voice post-election, it occurs to me that a piece about tolerance more aptly fits in the conversation about change. One of the most tragic things for me in the vitriol we have endured in the recent political circus is that we are growing increasingly intolerant. I live in this City partly because, for the most part, we are kind. Even Garrison Keilor jokes about it. My blessings go to the two drivers I write about below. May their kindness be reciprocated.

The steady stream of downtown traffic trickling north on 10th Avenue stopped at the red light on Columbia. Across the intersection from the pickup and van stopped first in the line of traffic, a slight man and his quad walking cane stepped off the curb into the crosswalk like a slow-moving drain. 

 Though his right foot skimmed the asphalt in tempo with other pedestrians, his left foot resisted a lift from the pavement, defied resting a step ahead and required re-booting several times before it would allow the weight required to take the next step. The man was a third of the way across the street when the light turned green, signaling the van and pickup to proceed. Neither vehicle moved. The drivers made no eye contact to confirm some sort of covenant; they just sat behind the white line waiting for the man to cross the street. 

The man, head down, worked hard to move his unmanageable left foot, which grew more unruly with each step. By midway into the crosswalk, it appeared as though the foot had given up any forward movement and the man shifted his strategy to one of moving his body around the foot planted in short bursts, in order to gain some distance. The light turned red again and the man continued to coax his foot to behave and move forward. A driver a few cars behind the lead vehicles honked once. The lead drivers ignored the blast. 

The light turned green and the two vehicles remained still; step, attempted step, re-boot, re-boot, re-boot, traverse, move a few inches forward. The small man grew smaller with each effort ahead as the light turned red. Four long steps from the curb he denied an offer of help from a young woman walking his direction. Two long steps to the curb, the man arrived safely in the parking zone as the light turned green. The van and the pickup led the waiting traffic slowly through the intersection continuing north on 10th Avenue past the man stepping slowly onto the curb.

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The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.