Last Saturday, my husband and I got together with my two brothers and their wives. It’s the first time in about two years because of pandemic separations.
There is something wonderful about being in the same room, breathing the same air. Yet, I immediately started to tell myself stories about my separateness. It’s an old story. I am not like the people around me, goes the story. I am somehow separate. I don’t fit in. There is a tiny hope of superiority in this story. Perhaps I don’t fit in because I’m somehow Special. I see the world differently than they do… And my way is better than theirs.
Being in the wheelchair exacerbates this story of difference. These days, my controls come around in front of my face. With my water straw on my right and my air straw on my left, I am not available for hugs. I can’t belly up to the table and sit with others while they eat. I sit back and someone feeds me. Separate, separate, separate.
This is the voice of my monster-mind, assuring me that I am not worthy of love and belonging. The truth is that I am not separate, especially from my family. We share large swaths of DNA. My parents were older when they got around to parenting me (I am the youngest), but only the outside circumstances had changed. Their values and styles of relating had not. My family is larger than just my brothers and sisters. After all, I share more than 50% of my genome with plants and other animals. Beyond biology, I believe we are kindred critters, spiritually connected citizens of the earth. I reply to those monster voices as I usually do:
It seems that after all this time, I’ve simply forgotten how to connect. Introvert that I am, I need to remind myself of my rules of engagement::
Arrive in the space.
Let go of the effort and flurry of getting to the gathering. Switch mental gears to move out of solitude and silence and into joining mode.
Greet my long-lost friend.
The Dalai Lama suggests that we create one another like long-lost friends. What a celebration it is to be together in a safe space. (For the family gathering, we all tested negative for COVID-19 before arrival.)
Make eye contact!
After months of watching people’s faces on Zoom, I now make eye contact now! What a luxury! I see micro-expressions and hear tones of voices without an electronic mediator. Yay!
Find common ground.
If I were meeting someone new, it would be helpful to comment on something we have in common. Why are we in the same place at the same time? What do we share?
I am in the presence of miracle. This human being facing me has a marvelous history. Their thoughts create a whole world for them. They have gifts and face challenges. How do they spend their time? What jingles their bells?
Listen to what they say and how they say it. Remember active listening: creatively restate what I’ve heard to make sure I have it right. Allow them to tell the whole story without interrupting them or overriding their thoughts with mine. (Remember St. Francis’ prayer.)
Listen for what makes them marvelous and reflect it back to them. We all need to be reminded of our greatness.
Make sure I thank them (and the host) for taking the time to be with me. As they say at St. Mary’s, “it’s been an honor and a privilege.”
Next time I’m at a gathering, may I remember to show up with a little more grace and a lot less separateness.
In your journal:
- what are your rules of social engagement? (Or do I seem silly when I could just “relax and have fun?” What’s with “rules?” What’s a better name for it?)
- Describe a recent gathering.
- What do your monster voices say?
- Have a dialogue with one of your monster voices. (Remember they lie!)