Monday, November 24, 2014

So, my life is a snoozer?

I was in such a deep pit of pain that I felt like I would never be able to climb to the top and return to the land of the living. Carrying the heavy burden of my grief every moment of every day was exhausting. I couldn’t do it anymore. All I wanted to do was cry and sleep. Well, that’s not entirely true. All I wanted to do was fade away from everyone and everything, but that wasn’t possible. So I cried and slept. When I slept I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up, but I always did. How long will this go on? I wondered. I wanted the pain to end and it didn’t seem to be going away on its own. 

I knew it was time for me to find a counselor, but I was new to the area and wasn’t sure who to see. Several people I knew had gone to see Dr. M and he helped them, so I decided to make an appointment and get started. 
When Dr. M met me at the door to his office, I could see that he was a gentle soul, advanced in years. He showed me to a comfy chair opposite his own. After some preliminary chit-chat, he asked me to tell him about my life. I started right in. I told him about all the tragic twists my life had taken. I cried. I bit my lip, and I pressed on. I didn’t want to leave anything out. I wanted him to know about all the pain I had endured. Occasionally he said, “Yes” or “I see” or he grunted. As I spoke, he nodded, which was all I needed to feel affirmed, so I continued. I was telling my story, with all the sordid details, and he was listening. He cared. He was going to help me live again.

About half-way into our session, I assumed Dr. M was nodding when his chin fell down to his chest. Quickly, his head snapped up and for a moment I wondered if he was having trouble staying awake. But how could anyone possibly sleep during the riveting re-telling of my life story? Again his head fell forward and slowly his eyelids closed. Perhaps he is concentrating, I thought. His eyes are closed to block out all distractions, so he can hone in on my words. So I continued to open my woundedness to him, trusting that he would receive the secrets I shared with compassion and wisdom.

And then I heard it. Snoring. He was snoring. Snoring! My life, my pain, my drama had lulled the man to sleep!

I stopped talking for a bit to see if he would notice. But this was no cat nap; he was heavy with sleep. So I quietly gathered my purse and let myself out.

At the time I was livid. How dare that man fall asleep during the story of my life! It may have been lacking in a lot of ways, but no one could say that it hadn’t at least been interesting! I was hurt. I risked opening myself up to a complete stranger, I shared thoughts and feelings I had never shared with anyone, and he swept them into the dust bin. 

Last night over dinner I told this story to a friend and I laughed to the point of tears. About 15 years have gone by since this incident with Dr. M and, remembering it now, I find the entire episode hysterical. The man fell asleep during the story of my life! Isn’t that great?

He had probably heard it all before. I wasn’t that usual after all. Every day he met with people whose lives had taken a nose-dive into the crapper. People like me, who experienced excruciating grief. People  so depressed they didn’t think they were ever going to survive. It happened all the time. Here I thought that, in the entire history of the universe, there had never been any grief like mine. But to Dr. M I was just another woman telling her tale of woe. And the man fell asleep!

The real beauty of this memory is that in the retelling of it, it has become one of the funniest things that ever happened to me. He fell asleep. I think it’s just perfect. Perfect because I lived to tell the story. And my tears have been replaced with laughter. If that’s not healing, I don’t know what is.   

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Missy the Great

The day after Missy was born, the doctor told her mother, Lib, that she had Down syndrome. This was 50 years ago, back in a time when children like Missy were often hidden away and what little the general population knew about Down syndrome was often wrong. One of Lib's friends insisted, “She’ll outgrow it.” Her sister told her to put Missy into an institution immediately, to never bring her home from the hospital.
Missy’s parents and her four sisters had a better idea. They received her as the newest member of their family and went about including her in their lives. There were challenges, to be sure, but they learned that the blessings far outweighed any struggles along the way. From Missy, Lib says she has learned that “imperfection is beauty.” She stands in awe of her daughter’s compassion and her wisdom. 
When Missy was a young adult, she worked for seven years at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in food services making salads, then for a short while at the Marriott making beds. When she lost that job, there was no more work to be found. Opportunities for people with special needs over the age of 21 were scarce. So, Missy’s parents decided to take matters into their own hands.
Because Missy had always enjoyed getting dirty, Lib thought, “Why not pottery?” She enrolled in a class and took Missy to learn with her. Those classes were followed by another class at the University where the instructor gave Missy and Lib their own studio for a while. Then Missy’s dad said, “Let’s build our own studio,” and that’s what they did.
Missy sells her pottery at shows. Its childlike, primitive quality with colorful creatures painted on the sides give her work a style all its own. I happen to have several Missy Moss Creations in my home and at my office; people always admire them and they want to know about the potter who created them.
Missy’s favorite thing to paint on her pottery is butterflies. They have whimsical, big eyes and their wings are spread to fly. Butterflies are one of her passions. She works at a nature museum, where she gets to feed them. She also is a friend to the turtles there and serves them gourmet salads that she creates especially for them. 
When I hear about all the activities that Missy is involved with, it makes me dizzy. At one of the local churches she goes to dances and plays bingo. She attends art classes. She participates in her “Circle of Friends” with over 200 developmentally delayed people from all around the city. At church she enjoys cooking and cleaning up. Her obsessive-compulsive tendencies come in handy because she has a knack for keeping everything in its place.
At night, Missy has a ritual of putting things to bed because she doesn’t like anything staring at her while she sleeps. So she’ll turn her pictures to face the wall every night. Interestingly, she doesn’t mind being up front during worship, where she clearly has the attention of everyone in the church. All eyes are upon her whenever she serves as an acolyte.  
Lighting the altar candles is a challenge for Missy because she has some issues with her eyes that leave her with no depth perception. Have you ever tried to light a candle with one of those long candle lighters and you can’t tell exactly how far away the candle is? It ain’t easy! When Missy first began serving as an acolyte, she took the candle lighter home to practice, but on Sunday mornings, she rarely hits her mark. We learned that the best way to handle this is to have another person stand behind her and help guide her arm toward the candlewick, if necessary.  I am always watching and hoping that she won't need the help, but she pretty much always does.
On the Sunday after Missy’s 50th birthday, she was serving as acolyte. Before the service, as she pulled her robe over her head I noticed she was flushed and a little teary. “Are you all right, Missy?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I just love it! I love it so much!”
When it came time for her to light the first candle, Missy struggled to get the flame near the wick. First she was short, then she was long. She went to the right of the candle, then to the left. So the assisting minister who was standing behind her gently touched her arm and guided her to the right spot.
Missy bowed at the altar and moved to the second candle. This time she slowly and deliberately moved the candle lighter in the direction of the altar candle. She touched the fire to the tip of the wick, and a flame popped up on top of the candle. As soon as she saw it, she looked over at me and I gave her a thumps up. She smiled smugly in a way that said, Of course I lit the candle, that's what I do; I'm an acolyte! and then she gave me a big thumbs up of her own. It was a moment of absolute triumph and joy. Nothing else that followed in the worship service that morning could top it.
After worship, when I greeted Missy, I told her, “You did a great job lighting those candles today!”
Missy hugged me and said, “I did GREAT!”
That’s the way she saw the day. She did great! There were two candles on the altar. She lit them both. One, with some assistance. And the other, all on her own.  Yes, she did great. And she knew it. The meaning of her deep wisdom for my own life was not lost on me.