Thursday, November 22, 2007

22 Year Wind.

The sky was cloudy on August 27th, twenty-two years ago. On the 29th a storm was brewing. By the 31st it had become what Texans call a twister.

He didn't know any better. It was his first time in this world. He stayed inside for the next few weeks and slept.

18 months later he was learning to walk. It was a whole new experience to have to balance himself. He had to lean into the strong wind. Sometimes it would knock him on his ass. A cloth diaper and plastic pants to dampen the impact. Sometimes it would knock him on his face from behind, his tears would wash the dirt from his face. He began to develop reflexes to the slight change in wind to keep on his feet.

Age 5 he found himself in Oklahoma running around like a banshee, despite the wind. His muscles now seemed unaware of the resistance. He knew nothing different than the first day of his life. He couldn't say it was harsh and unrelenting. It was strong and consistent.

age 12 He began to realize that the wind was following him. People around him had no idea what he was talking about when he spoke. They couldn't hear him over the howl of the wind, yet they didn't seem affected by it. He couldn't understand them for the roar in his ears. He found music to be a distraction, and he could crank it up to drown out the wind.

Age 15 the wind picked up. He now noticed it was harder and harder to get up out of bed. Harder still to get around. He would fall down for the count multiple times a day. Tears washed face again. Now, when people spoke he had to read lips. Despite the constant practice he couldn't get the hang of it.

Age 17. The wind was blowing with the weight of the world against his shoulders. He decided to let it blow him elsewhere. He pulled up stakes and caught a gust that took him a ways from home. It felt good to move and let the wind take him. The landing was a different story. He had sea legs. Getting his balance again took almost 3 months, and on top of being disoriented, the wind was now blowing harder than ever before. Head down he braced himself against it and carried on. The new hard wind dried up the wells of his tears. It was too loud now to consider the outside world. He spent a lot of time in his head. He was unaware of the major exercise he was getting with this new load of resistance. Not to say he bore it well. His back began to arch from leaning into the wind.

Age 18. He again decided to uproot. He landed in Utah for a short reprieve. But before he even tried his footing there he was swept up and blown south. He landed on the Mississippi. The wind had switched directions and soon thereafter it had doubled in strength. He hardly left his house, much less his bed. After 8 months, he was all but beat, but he decided to give it another go around. He packed up and headed back to Utah. This routine of settling and uprooting was becoming easier and easier. He was certain he had a knack for it and contemplated a way to capitalize on it. He was coming to terms with the possibility that he was going to live this way the rest of his life.

He raised his head up, and looked around... just to be sure. Here he was, 21 years old. He was no better off now than when he first took flight. It was dawning on him that he might have taken the wrong approach. He tried running from the wind one more time. The wind blows harder in Alaska.

Now after 22 years of being blown around and held down he has made it his goal to use his 22 years of conditioning in a more effective manner. He's finding that he is exceptional at reading faces and lips now. He has also made progress in deciphering the muddled tones of those around him. Instead of carrying his life possessions on his back, He decided to set up camp and dig in for the long haul. He is taking on tasks one at a time. Shedding the weight of all his worries has given him the extra energy to get where he want to be. He's moving in leaps and bounds. Using the wind to his advantage. He is facing it head on, noticing that he can stand more upright when he doesn't cower from it. The force of it is now straightening his backbone. He is learning to rest from time to time, and he's found a good way to do that is on his knees.

All isn't resolved. If anything he's gotten a late start and is just now making motions to catch up.
All isn't sunshine and song. He still falls in his ass. He still gets knocked on his face. He still wonders if the wind will ever subside.

I'm sure it wont. And I think that is a good thing. If, after 22 years of leaning into the wind , it were to sudden cease. He would be starting all over again. Learning to stand up without having to lean-Sea legs all over again. Plugging his ears against the prickle of unmuffled words. I wouldn't wish it on him. He would spend years on his face, trying to figure out where his strength will come from, spending what strength he has left to lift himself up. Only to eat shit again, and again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Moonlight tramp

I can see the faint moonlight through the overcast sky. It shines blue on the rusty steel of my cage, my refuge.
A dampness in the air penetrates my blanket and numbs my skin. My nose has caught the worst of it and it spreads to my cheeks
My ears burn beneath my cap. I look out through a small hole by my head. The night is still and the moon seems stronger in it's
reflection on the water. I become aware of the rhythmic sway of the rail car where I'm perched. The corresponding, steely percussion.
The tracks are right along a river now, The water is silently keeping pace with me and I am certain I can see it behaving faintly
as if it were a woman dancing in a blue gown. My breath mixes with the night air and condenses on my beard. little icicles forming
and holding my whiskers in place. I pull my feet in beneath me and try to imagine a face for the nymph in the river.
blinding silver streaks of moonlight become jewels about her neck, a pin in her hair. a glimmer in her eye.
It warms me to see a smile. Notably the first in many months. I swallow the lump that rises in my throat as
I think of the last time I smiled... A naive girl, No more than 8. She handed me a flower from her hair as I sat
beneath my jacket in the rain. She fought the gentle tug from her mothers gloved hands, and stretched her arm
to mine. She dropped it at my feet and for a moment I thought she would never forgive herself.
I scooped it up and held it tenderly, pressing the white blossom lightly to my face. I smiled. She turned and embraced her
mothers arms as they walked away. I have yearned for a like experience in the months since. It's like watching ghosts
I sit in silence and observe as people walk through each other, oblivious. their eyes are hollow. When they drop change in my palm I see a glint
but they catch themselves and the spark is snuffed out. they compensate with tightened lips and a nod as they move on in the throng of passerby.
Keep your change. Just lend me a smile.
The tears on my face are freezing but I dare not shift to dry my face. In a few moments it will crumble off.

The train is curving around to cross over the river. The car rocks hard against the wind. I take one last look into the water as it passes beneath me. I let my head down and sleep begins to set in.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What are you thinking?

What a great question.
It's empowering. Among leaders, this question is one of the most helpful tools possible. It's offers a reprieve from the constant stress of trouble shooting and organizing, gives power to someone else and offers them an opportunity to shine. Leaders are not the only ones who think, they are just the final say. When someone is given the opportunity to give their own input, they are being given a chance to change something, hopefully for the better. They will feel more involved, mostly because they ARE more involved. and the chance to influence things becomes a driving force, a chain reaction of critical thinking and troubleshooting throughout the "ranks" is started. I think it's great. Ask someone what they think, and they will think more. When they think more, it eases your burden. If your job is to fix a structurally compromised skyscraper and you ask someone what they think, make sure it's not someone who will reply "COTTON CANDY!" (although that may be a great idea in other circumstances, it's just not as relevant in the proposed situation). And of course, it's on you (as a leader) to evaluate their thoughts and suggestions. you don't have to trust someone with their life to ask their views on the situation. (Especially not if its a toddler or sweet-toothed construction worker).

What are you thinking?

It means so many things. First of all it means that you care what someone has to say. (ok, actually, technically "first of all" it shows that you deem the person capable of thinking.) It shows that you want to hear it. It means that you're not going to dominate, it means you want to be on the same page, and the same level. It means you are open to constructive feedback. It means that whatever this person has to say, you asked for it, and you wont fault them for thinking it.

This question is possibly the most important question we can be asked. Because of the level of trust behind it. We are given the chance to divulge our inner selves, and we cannot betray that. Because what we are thinking is who we are.

It's not just a question, it's a charge for honesty, which bears a lot of weight. Sometimes this question catches us off guard. Maybe we are thinking the unthinkable. Maybe we're thinking that we have nothing to say. Maybe what we're thinking is too much to say. Maybe sometimes we aren't thinking at all. If we cannot answer, it's a sign to ourselves that we have room to grow, trust to earn, or more to be mindful of. Because your answer matters, one way or the other. silence is not a good answer for the person posing the question. In fact, I would say it's another question posed to yourself. It's a chance to analyze yourself, an opportunity to evaluate the status of your relationship to the person who wants to know what you think.

I propose that it's sometimes healthier to answer even when it doesn't feel good. If you are thinking critically of someone and they ask to hear it, would you feed them a white lie? Seems harmless, right? But think about it... lies beget lies. There are situations where bending the truth to spare someone a senseless criticism is perfectly fine (in my book). But practicing selective honesty is a good way to build a false pretense in your relationships with people, It's an easy habit to get into, and a pretty tough one to get out of. I think honesty should take priority over acceptance or approval. Don't tell someone you love them to spare them the pain of rejection. I used to tell people I was fine, just to keep from connecting on an emotional level with someone. I've seen countless times where someone will think one thing, but say another to validate someone who could have used the honesty.

If the primal desire of every person is to be understood, why do we cower? I think it has something to do with conditioning. We aren't exactly accustomed to people caring. Personally, it's disorienting to hear someone ask me what I think, or how I feel. I, probably along with most everyone else, require a certain level of trust before I am open to sharing my thoughts and emotions, to be sure they aren't discounted, discredited or dismissed. I think thats fine. I hope I am able to communicate assertively when I feel uncomfortable with sharing my thoughts.