the illusion of separateness

Tennis Ball Girl

5:58 PM

Serious tennis tournaments hire uniformed ball boys and girls to kneel at the net and watch the action of the game closely, rushing in at the first evidence of a ball out of play. Their task is to collect the ball for the players, and clear it from the court. This requires a particularly tuned level of hyper-vigilance, watchfulness directed at the game as it is played by others, the role of a servile facilitator. Although these kids are probably highly trained and rehearsed at their role, a role that is perched at the cutting edge of the game as it is played by the best of the best, they are not in the game themselves. They spend their working hours watching, waiting, supporting. 

With three sisters close in age, my family culture was a like a K-12 sorority made up entirely of Cherry, Lindy, Debby and Laury. Hoping to fit in as one of the girls, I would lurk around them, needily looking for opportunities to prove myself by entering into an unproductive series of hazing rites for which there would be no reward. My sisters weren't mean girls, taunting or excluding me on purpose. On the contrary, I think I was a bit under their radar, surfacing in their awareness mostly when I was being particularly annoying, or when I volunteered for a mission to amuse or entertain.

These are tough stories to remember, and even tougher to tell as I have spent decades attempting to create emotional distance from this little girl, Laury, a self with no boundaries. If I had any boundaries at all, they were undetected throughout the ritual initiations during which I squandered my self-esteem in order to build credibility with my sisters. 

It seemed worth it at the time.

Originated in the creative imaginations the girls, these challenges were like auditions for a show, the Big Time. I was sure that one day, these tasks would usher me into the club, and I would be able to sit in the bushes and laugh while someone else survived the humiliation of the spotlight. I didn’t have the foresight to read the writing on the wall; I was the youngest, and there would be no graduation. This was no audition; this was my role.

Naked exercises happened more than once, but most of the moments blur into this one iconic image: I'm riding a bike down Beverly Drive toward Sunset Boulevard in broad daylight. I am 8 years old, naked as the day I was born, and even though I can’t actually hear them laughing, I know my sisters are in the bushes, or watching from an upstairs window, peeing their pants in hysteria.

Another classic: I am asked to collect our German Shepherd Heidi’s ample, fresh shit, place it carefully into my underwear, and run inside the house to confess to my mystified mother that I have crapped myself. Oddly, as if this is the element that was most important for my brain to log and file, I can only remember with clarity the moment that I said a bold “YES, I’ll do it,” and the act of stuffing it in, as if the willingness to suffer humiliation and degradation for the tribe was a noble choice worth remembering. The road less traveled. 

I thought I was being brave, and in some sense, I suppose I was. 

Oddly, these acts of nobility were to leave me lonely, but I think I have always held a misplaced respect for what I perceived to be the art of sacrifice...

I get that these stories are funny, but I am also aware that these strange rituals imprinted some peculiar ideas onto my very young mind, ideas that dictated behaviors for years to come. Hoping to become integrated as a respected fellow, a resident in the upper echelon of my sister-tribe, I couldn’t have predicted the disappointing outcome. These pranks were supposed to work, to give me the keys of the kingdom. Of course, rewards earned through self-deprecating, even humiliating behaviors, are rarely lasting. Once the hilarity was over, I still felt isolated. 

Oddly,  my inner tennis ball girl is still running the same drills, occasionally expecting the same results.  I know, now, that the equation, longing plus sacrifice equals belongingdoesn't work,  but old habits are hard to break. 

The good news? Being willing to look at these stories, to pull them out of the shadows and allow them to be seen, shepherds that insecure, shamefaced part of me out of the shadows along with them. In the light of day, it's easier to forgive that daring ambitious little girl, along with the sisters who welcomed her offerings of entertainment without assigning too much meaning, or seriousness to them. 
The way my sisters and I related to each other as children bears little resemblance to the current closeness we enjoy today; we share a deep, lasting respect for each other. And now, I can at least notice when I am giving too much, or when I am abandoning myself to make someone else a little happier. 

We certainly don't get to design our original family relationships or the roles we played as kids, but we can accept responsibility for the faulty assumptions that continue to echo and influence the way we relate to others. If feeling less-than inhibits our ability to be present with others, or to offer an authentic and heartfelt contribution, then we may need to let go of it like the bad habit it is. 

Let someone else chase those tennis balls for while.

                           We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
                                                                   Thich Nhat Hanh

be present

Mining for More

9:32 PM

Aaron and I take an almost-annual spring trip to Paradise Village, a stunning resort on a perfect strip of beach that cradles the Banderas Bay in Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico. We love it there, and we breathe in every moment a little more deeply knowing that a week sometimes passes quickly. On my last night to sip tonic water and lime underneath a beach-side palapa at dusk, I worried about how to spend our dwindling hours in Mexico, concerned I’d miss something if I didn't carefully construct a plan, the right plan, and carry it out. Eventually, the urge to control the moment dissipated, and I was able to sit right where I was, and drink in the sounds and sensations of the rhythmic ocean waves.

As long as I can remember, this temporary fear of letting go, of surrendering one happy moment without having fingers or toes planted firmly in the next, has felt like a little eternity, a small death. What if I miss something? It’s as if the threat of change causes me to feel something like grief over un-experienced joy, or a life that isn't fully realized.

This odd awareness of the life and death that is embedded in every moment has inspired an albeit slightly paranoid tenacity for staying engaged with those I love at any and all cost. Whether this defines a co-dependent implosion, or a hero’s journey,  I am constantly aware that when it comes to people I love, “I don’t wanna miss a thing.” The last one to turn out the lights, turn off the TV, or put away the Red Vines, my tight grasp on moments that feel good to me, along with an unquenchable desire for connection, can paradoxically feed into a there's-never-enough perspective, leaving me discontent in the midst of abundance.

At 10: Yes, I enjoyed that piece of candy, but a whole candy bar would be better.  Better yet, 5 candy bars. At 20, Yes, I know I'm loved, but it's never enough. At 30, My husband is good to me, but it would be better if he would be more (insert current complaint)At 40, A glass of wine is nice, but more is always, always better.

And in my 50s? Thankfully, this decade has, through trial and failure, morphed into one of acceptance and surrender, about settling into the experience of all that resides in this present moment.

What if I knew today that I would be gone tomorrow? Would I waste even one second wishing, wondering, or looking in the rear-view mirror? Would I spend those minutes worrying about whether people visit my blog, or would I still sit lazily on the couch, unkindly focused on my embarrassing sausage-shaped toes?

What if there isn’t any more that can be accessed in this moment by wishing and worrying? 

There would be only this moment, lived more deeply. 

For me, mining for more looks like slowing down and focusing on what's right in front of me. Today, I went on my morning walk, and I began as I always do, running a virtual gauntlet of mental gymnastics. Thankfully, I have begun to notice much more quickly when my mind is dragging me around, the tail wagging the dog. 

I instinctively took a deep breath, whispered internally, "Lets think about all of that later," and I indulged in a sensory inventory, taking in the morning moon while she stubbornly held her place in a sunlit sky. I felt a brisk breeze on my face in tandem with the comforting warmth of the sun on my back, and I purposefully I widened my gaze, aware of all that I could pull into my peripheral vision, 

And that's when I thought to myself, sometimes, it's almost too much to contain.

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