Knowing Strangers: Seeker Seeking Seekers
A.A. envy is what I have and it won’t go away. It’s been decades already. I want to know there is a room I can enter, raw and real, seven days a week anywhere in the world. A space where emotions are not only tolerated but welcome, like therapy without the co-pay, church without sexual abuse or sexism and women’s consciousness raising groups – with men.
I love body work, self-help books and streaming Pema Chodron videos as much as the next seeker. However, there is something more primal and life affirming I am after – a community where roles are checked instead of coats. I want a zoo for the wide-eyed and open-hearted in process of becoming. It seems impossible to find but my hunger feels ancient and familiar.
I folded page 25 of Your Native Land, Your Life by Adrienne Rich, almost three decades ago, underlining and making star-shaped doodles by the following passage:
“There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors… I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it…”
But it hasn’t been made which is why I idealize A.A. even though I barely drink. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be both anonymous and intimate, disappearing into an audience, quiet and listening while feeling the warmth of knees near mine. A place where I could bring my heart which is like a hand shy dog backing away from petting, longing for companionship but afraid of getting hurt.
Could I curl up on the floor near the fire to lick my wounds without someone throwing me a ball to fetch and where my sour mug wouldn’t make another uncomfortable? Could I skip and dance and be silly without feeling childish? I want to go where I can show up as a seasoned mother baring a lactating breast, offering necessary and nutritious milk one moment and becoming a cranky, crying infant needy for the teat in the next.
With loved ones, I don’t always know how to balance openness and privacy, vulnerability and protection, nakedness with wearing appropriate clothing. Sometimes the pulsing beat of a cheery conversation goes too long and I can’t switch to instrumental. The engine gets revved and I am doing circles before shifting gears or changing lanes.
How do I admit, while at an amusement I wanted to go to that I am sick of cotton candy, loud music and want to get my bare back on green grass to look at stars? My feelings can be a brand new tie-dye in the washing machine. Can I keep the colors bright without bleeding into a load of whites?
Where are the places we can gather together as both log and fire, where everyone dresses in layers, bundles up or strips down ready to weather all temperatures?I am starving for the gutsy, gritty experiences of hearts unguarded and expressing not answers but experiences.
Maybe it would come in the form of story, the pale face of an uneasy stranger straining to hold down the pain threatening to overwhelm him because he is afraid if he allows it he won’t be able to get back to work? Maybe he can talk about his demons and knowing his life will get worse before it gets better and he’s not yet sure he can manage. Maybe his wife talks about how she chopped vegetables for dinner and realized the only thing cooking was the end of her marriage. And how, when that man came home and her children ran into his arms and they locked eyes for a moment and knew they could make it… or not…
Life’s difficulties can be beautiful when normalized. Storytelling is magic even when the story is unimaginable.
I don’t want to gather only for endings or celebrations. I am made braver watching tears flush away an ounce of fear or seeing the way color returns to cheeks. I love how faces and hearts open and soften, return to joy and playfulness on their own after sharing.
In those places where chairs could be available in a year or a decade regardless of what the guy did about his problems or the woman about her marriage. Uncertainty and indecision would be as welcome as action.
I have paid money and written away for butterfly kits that my daughter and I have rushed to open. We made sure the larvae sugar water gel food was out and peered in often to watch the cocooning. Days later, blood stained the netting before the butterflies found flight. Why can’t I accept for myself how transformation is rarely quick, bloodless or instantaneous?
Polished novels are satisfying but do not come before countless drafts, many revisions and the exploration of a few possible endings. New Englanders know trees may be their most glamorous looking during a peak foliage but are just as valuable offering shade in mid summer. They don’t lose when cold or bare and snow-covered in winter.
There are people with eyes that shine like flashlights illuminating warmth not “The Way.” They do not give out maps, directions or instruction but simply bear witness while one stumble around in the dark. I want those eyes. I want to feel them on me and I want to look out of them at someone.
My name is Christine and my life is entirely too well managed. My bottom is the sequence of moments turned into years when I’ve gone numb and thankless believing my time is endless. My ailment is not alcohol but forgetting.
I want the church of remembering, the school of awake and to binge on smelling salts for the soul. I strive to be the letter “c” who shows up the same in scared or sacred. She doesn’t lose herself or meaning no matter the context or setting. She knows the only way to travel into the heart of communion and communication is to align with the other letters in the alphabet.