Habits – #3


I am not the sum of the voices that ring in my head, but rather the choices I make before bed.

I am three hours into a 13-hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore.  Despite the fact that the afternoon sun is shining on the nose of my Boeing 777, it is “evening” inside the plane. We’ve had our supper and dessert.  People are dozing under blankets, proverbial bumps on reclining, video-equipped, tray table-fitted logs.  The shades are down on the windows, so those of us who remain awake read, write, or watch movies with our lights on.

We play this game theoretically to get us ready for the time change at our destination. It makes sense in a make-every-minute-count sort of way.  We humans love to remind ourselves that we can control outcomes despite circumstances.  Well, not all humans, mostly just adult humans.

There’s a boy on this flight.  At least, I think it’s a boy.  Every 20 minutes or so, he flies past me, running as fast as he can, up the aisle on my side, and down the aisle on the other side of the plane.   He’s a blur really, but I can make out short black hair and pumping arms and legs.  I feel the wind of him more than see him, and since girls don’t usually run with such gusto, I assume the blur is a boy—a boy who chooses to run like he’s in an open field on a Saturday afternoon, despite his surroundings.

Children are little balls of combustible moments until we begin the work of turning them into “someone.”  My son “the doctor,” that little “troublemaker” who lives in the yellow house, the “fat girl with the alcoholic mother”…

“What do you want to be when you grow up,” we may ask them, because we desperately need the combustion to settle down and become a label.  We like labels. They appeal to the lazy coward in all of us called Humanity.

Labels tell us who to like, pity, or protect ourselves from without us having to do the tedious work of relating, learning, or forgiving faults and offense. Without them people just “are” whoever they want to be around us.  Expectation and predictability—read safety—go out the window.  They take up space in our brains reserved for surprise parties and crises, the place where we give ourselves permission to be powerless and caught off guard.

What would children become if we encouraged them to surprise us and keep us off our guard every day? If we didn’t have to collect the moments they throw at us and make sense of them, and we invited them to shatter our expectations, might they settle for being miraculous?  If we loved them more than our lazy coward, could they wake up every day and decide to put “be amazing” at the top of their To Do list?  What does it look like when the “running blur” is free to run into old age?

Many months later, I would have my answers.

My friend Sheralyn’s mother, Dr. Rosalyn M. Blake-Jones, age 75, is reciting poetry to me from her bed in a Florida nursing home.  It’s hard to make out some of the words.  Diabetes and a stroke have left her with a rebellious body, often going its own way, or not going, despite her efforts.

The verses—composed in her head because she cannot see or write—soar.  From memory she speaks of Forgiveness; of angry words and bitter emotion released from the prison of the heart, through explanation, and set free to be forgotten.  The flow and rhythm of her prose pass unhindered over halted speech and muscle tremors.  Her beauty is stunning and I am rapt.

Mommy—my name for her— is blind, but she guides me to a truth I could never have seen without her.  She is that black-haired boy on the plane, friend of the wind, choosing light and choosing joy instead of opting for what makes sense to the rest of us.

Sheralyn feeds her mother lunch, combs her hair and straightens up around her while we visit.  She knows I am in town to speak at a woman’s conference.  “Tell me what you talked about,” she says between bites, and then gives me her undivided attention.  She interrupts with the occasional “Oh!” or “That’s so beautiful!” to let me know that she is with me, present and accounted for.  Could I be so generous and helpless all at once?

We are not what happens to us or what is happening around us.  A doctor can tell us we are dying, but we decide how we’ll live our last days.  We can lose our legs, our money, or our spouse, but still move from regret to gratitude for what—and who—we have left.

Beyond my labels or my appearance—past what I do or what has been done to me—who am I really?  The raven boy and beautiful Rosalyn challenge me.  I don’t want to settle for a life that merely shouts, “I am what you see!”  I will keep choosing light and joy until it whispers, “You see who I am.”

Then I’ll be free.


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