Do you remember the sorority and fraternity scene in high school with all its hazing rituals for testing the ‘pledgies’ with public humiliation? I was always amazed watching girls sink to their knees to sing to an upper-class Sister,
“I’m a whale down soror, a down-at-the-bottom-of-the-sea soror…”
What the boys were put through, I don’t even remember, but I was one of those kids who avoided the whole scene altogether. But then again I don’t think I had a choice because nobody ever invited me to pledge a sorority – even then I was in the outsider group. We were a smallish band in our school at the time, but I think the ‘outsider’ folks are now a growing group of troublemakers who don’t fit in, but are finding one another to join together in our own ways to dream up new responses to old injustices.
It’s a testing time: it looks like we who don’t belong to the old paradigms are asking the pertinent questions, and are giving ourselves the time and space to seek one another out in the noisy crowd. How are we finding one another, those of us who don’t quite belong to the dying ways? We’re being tested to stay alert and ask the right questions now, those who don’t comfortably belong; we’re being taught to pay attention to the clues. And sometimes they are not so subtle.
I’m going through some tests myself, at the moment. If it weren’t so painful, I’d find it funny. I’ve twisted one knee and sprained the other ankle, meaning I have to sit it out on the couch until they both heal, and patience is not my strong suit.
But I’ve got so much to do right now! Then last night’s rainstorm took out both the Internet and the phone line – yes, I still only have a landline – so I am adrift on an ice floe, alone with my thoughts for the duration. Sigh. So, nothing to do but sink into it and take a breather. What was like a multiple insult may be an unexpected gift of time and space in the midst of chaos. Maybe I’ll use the time to write a piece about how to find cunning ways of reframing the tests we all seem to be receiving these days.
After all, if the milk goes sour, rather than throw it out we can make cheese. If schoolteachers go on strike, as they are currently doing in my town, we can come together to start a neighborhood school. Bit by bit, we change the rules by turning our backs on humiliation and creatively dream up new scenarios that gradually change the system.
Though nobody ever said it would be easy.
Some of our best and our brightest these days – the young ones being born with deep sensitivity and commitment to the world they live in – collapse psychologically once they reach their twenties. I’ve seen these psychotic breaks often enough lately to wonder if these young people might be advanced souls with a mission, whose nervous systems are not developed enough to take on the job? I wonder if we are all being put through a grinder to see who can withstand and not be broken by the hardship of our times? I wonder who amongst us are being given the heaviest loads to carry as we all stumble our way across this time of transition in the world; is it the oppressed, the women, the outsiders who have nothing to lose? Who are the ones to break trail with the heaviest packs on their backs!
Today is my daughter’s birthday. Back then when our babies were very little – three born in less than four years – and we were poor and our parents were ill on the other side of the country, and the Vietnam War was raging and the Civil Rights Movement was underway, we had our work cut out for us. Many marriages collapsed under the strain, and some of the Mommies at the playground had already been divorced, a few more than once.
Herb and I had our share of hard nights and days, and the kids were indeed a full-on handful, but there was love in our house and a penchant for fun. To the extent we could, we turned our crazy hard times into big adventures and told ourselves the stories: like the dramatic stomach flu all five of us got late one night. As each child threw up all over their cribs we grabbed them into the bathroom, stripping them down and tossing their pajamas into the bathtub, gagging and working fast. Then it was us, and Herb stripped off his pants as he and the kids retched again, then I threw up right into the bathtub. We all stank and we changed their pajamas again, running water in the bathtub, and then stripped down ourselves a second time. Then, just as we thought it was over and both buck naked, we cleaned up the kids for the last time whoops, there it was again and we had to start all over from scratch. All of us.
Then we discovered Herb’s wallet in his pants’ pocket at the bottom of the swill in the bathtub, every bill covered in wet vomit. That was the last straw and we wailed with the kids, changing them again, and then ourselves again, pajamas and diapers and all.
It was only then that we discovered the cat, behind the bathroom door, puking his little guts out all over the floor!
I still have something like hysterics when I remember that scene. We all survived, even the cat. The lesson I got from that night was something like this: Don’t worry, it can always get worse, and don’t be too surprised if it does.
A second lesson was this: if I could actually survive an onslaught like that and still love my children, I’m probably stronger than I think and can take on pretty much whatever comes down the pike.
I believe the angels who are guiding us through this eye-of-a-needle time want to be assured that most of us are able and willing to stick it out no matter what is coming at us from in front of us – not to mention from behind the bathroom door. So they’re testing us for character and strength. And humor.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Right now, today, things are going haywire around here, and I had a good hour of panic before I remembered to follow my own rules: I’ve injured both legs and can hardly walk; last night’s storm flooded the line, so neither phone nor Internet is working; a houseguest arrives in a few hours with no way of contacting me, on the farm our sweet, small herd of goats multiplied into twenty-two ravenous creatures and ate every bush in sight, three of my oldest friends are seriously ill – and it’s my daughter’s birthday!
So what to do?
I started by brushing my teeth, then smiled into the mirror. Not too bad. Then I remembered I actually have a cell phone, and used it to contact AT&T. Then, since nothing is working, I had the freedom from distraction to sit down and write this piece. Then I made hot chocolate and drank it – slowly. My legs will heal, the wires will get fixed – or maybe not – the baby goats will find new pastures or feasts in which they will star, my daughter is one year older and she’s a beauty!
And my friends will eventually move on, as will I.