This picture was sent to me. I don’t write about every person who stops by and asks for a creative approach. I feel like some editing on my end is important. I wasn’t going to write about R but I was really touched by her gentleness and her story.
There are inscrutable positions that we find ourselves in. Rocks. Hard places. Swords of Damocles hanging over us…and then it falls.
There is this Shangri-La we hope to live in sans difficulties, sans sorrow with abundant happiness.
While I certainly agree with the Shakespeare quote:
Nothing is either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.
That doesn’t mean things will be easy or happy for that matter. It doesn’t mean they won’t be either, though.
So where does that leave us?
Life is not for happiness. Nor is it for sorrow. Life is not meant for ease nor for struggle. But life has these things in them and to be present to them when they arise is to be alive and participating fully in the action of life.
In the artist section of Union Square there are a regular cast of characters who show up every day selling their wares. Many scrape a living out of it.
R is the estranged wife of one of these men. I have seen her around and she has said hello before and we have briefly chatted in the past but recently she sat down to talk. She took four wadded up dollar bills and opened them up and then folded them together before she sat down.
I insisted that she didn’t need to pay for anything until I did something. But she insisted.
R has been married to this man, the vendor, for a few years but three years ago she had a stroke which left her not able to work. She has been on disability since and has a small inheritance she uses to stay afloat. R speaks with that sort of a slushy lisp from the stroke and she apologizes for it in a very endearing way. After her stroke her husband started getting upset that she wouldn’t (but obviously couldn’t) do the things around the house any longer – laundry, cleaning, cooking.
He encouraged her to move in with her sister. She did that and he started seeing someone else very quickly.
She is staying married because her husband is a veteran and in three years she will start getting a pension. R says that the whole thing has been painful because all her friends know about this and she always feels embarrassed that she is staying in this relationship for a pension – which she would need but also because she knows how angry it makes her husband that she is going to get his pension. She said that it is very strange for a Jewish girl to have found solace in Jesus but she said that her Judaism and Jesus have together given her much solace.
But she asked me
What do you think I should do?
What do you say? This story is crazy and terrible and R is totally sympathetic. I asked her if she had ever considered connecting with a new circle of friends who didn’t know her husband. Maybe connecting over shared interests?
R said that she hadn’t made new friends in years.
I have a routine. I talk to who I talk to and I go where I always go.
And I could feel the grooves that she had worn into the sidewalks from her apartment to her various destinations.
I asked her about movies or a ceramics class or playing an instrument. Something that interested her where she might meet other people. Here I was just listening to this woman. I think that she valued just that alone – the listening, the asking. She smiled in a reminiscent way and said
Do you know that I have always wanted to be in play? It doesn’t have to big or on Broadway or anything like that. But plays have weird people in them sometimes and I am a weird person.
I said that I didn’t know of any plays she could be in but I asked her what she thought about taking an acting class and seeing who she met. She might make new friends. She moved from her slumped position to the front of the seat and wondered aloud
That could be really fun, right?
I wrote down a few names of acting schools and I told her to do some research before she spent any money and to talk to someone at the school to see their thoughts.
Should I look on the computer first?
That seemed like a good idea and then actually visit the schools and find out about an eight week course or something else.
R sweetly thanked me by kissing my hands and left the table with the same words that many arrive in New York saying:
Maybe I can be an actor.
This whole talk was beautiful and heartbreaking. As sweet and genuine as R is she is equal parts an odd duck to be sure. I wonder how she will fare in her search. I felt like I couldn’t do much for R except listen and offer what I could where I could but sometimes that is enough.
The difficulty that R was experiencing wasn’t assuaged by our talk. But just listening to what she had to say and both of us being present to it allowed for a new door to open up that may start to change her day to day experience. It won’t necessarily change her difficult situation but it may allow for her situation not to be the overriding thing in her life.
In permaculture philosophy it is said that if your garden seemingly has too many snails and slugs your problem is not a snail/slug surplus but a duck deficiency (ducks eat snails and slugs).
All too often we try to eliminate the slugs and snails of our day to day lives rather than putting something in place that can keep the slugs and snails in balance.
Perhaps an acting class might be the duck to R’s snails. What struggles are you simply present for? What might be the duck you would add so that you have just enough snails?
If you think a conversation or a creative approach like this could be of use to you where you are now…