Monday, June 25, 2007

A Glass of Water is Enough

I was listening to an essay on our local public radio station and a man was describing his experience of meeting Mr. Rogers and what it was like to be in his presence for an interview. The simplicity of him and the very simple centeredness. He described the impact of that brief meeting and how he later, after Mr. Rogers died found himself trying to be an entertaining dad to his own kids and it occurred to him that Mr. Rogers was simply himself, just himself and that was the message that he conveyed to little kids: It really, really is OK to be yourself. “There’s no one like you” Mr. Rogers would tell people, “no one just like you” and “I’m glad you’re my friend.”
Mr. Rogers landed on that paradox we know so well from being addicts and addicted people. That thing the Big Book talks about: the egomaniac with an inferiority complex. And this message from Mr. Rogers is the perfect antidote to that complex problem/situation/personality dilemma: we want to be special but we feel like shit. Or we know we are nothing so we try to puff up and be a big big deal. “There is no one just like you,” he says and it’s all there: no need to puff up, you are special but so is everyone else. It’s like the statistical improbability of Lake Woebegone: Where all the children are above average. In a sense we are all above average despite what that does to the averages.
This writer on the radio said that he caught himself being a clown to his own kids and buying them things and trying to be a “great dad” when he could simply be “their Dad”
He said, in his closing and this shot me through to my core, “I realized I could simply be a glass of water instead of a can of Coke.”
I got it immediately. I want to be a can of Coke because I think I have to be. Because even after so many years there is still a part of me that does not get it that I am enough. Or I think of the next recovering woman, “Well, she may be enough, but not me”.
A glass of water rather than a can of Coke. I think I need to be shiny and red and branded and sugar sweet instead of cool and clear and simply the most thirst-quenching thing on earth. Is there anything truly more thirst quenching than a glass of water? Anything more relaxing to be around than a person who just is?
Yes, this is another way to say “Be yourself”, and “You are enough” or “Go as me”. But I like this question: Am I trying to be a can of Coke or glass of water?
A glass of water is enough.

Friday, June 15, 2007

In the Deep End on Father's Day

He was there at the end of the diving board. He would tread water for an hour, waiting and watching while I practiced my dives. For years this was our Sunday afternoon ritual and delight. I was four-years old when we began, and on those summer Sunday afternoons I believed that if he was there at the end of the board I could do anything.

My father would wait in the deep water, off to one side. He would look around and give me the sign that it was OK to dive and I would stroll to the end of the board, tugging my stretchy lavender swimsuit, and bounce before I dove in.

I would rise to the surface sputtering, and look for his face. He would hesitate a moment to let me right myself, and I would cough and beam. He would grab the back of my suit and give me a push toward the side. “Swim to the ladder,” he would say, and he would stay at the end of the diving board waiting for my next dive.

I remember the feeling as I paddled to the ladder. The world was perfect: I was diving in the deep end of the pool; there was no pain in the world. There was no need or want in my life. I was a perfect, grinning, sunburned, water-logged four-year-old, in love with the world, herself and her daddy.

He died when I was 18. In the intervening years life happened to me and to my father. By the time I was 13, he was traveling a lot, and when we did spend the occasional weekend together we did not speak of personal things. As a teen-ager I felt awkward with my father so I would interview him about his job. He would tell me stories about work, grateful to have something comfortable to talk about. I know a lot about industrial engineering. It filled our time.

On a July evening, when he was 56 years old, my father had a stroke and died. It’s been years and I still wrestle with those two men--the daddy who waited in the deep water and the father who left suddenly, without a word, when I was 18. Somewhere inside of me there is a four-year-old still wearing her lavender bathing suit. She is at the end of the diving board, leaning forward trying to hear someone say, “You are so special.” The hunger for those words is so deep.

In romance we get some of that need met, but after a while no one wants to admire us every day. But when a four-year-old is anxious and needs repetition we search on. Another way to meet that need is with an affair. After all, clandestine romance is all about intensity of feeling and intensity of attention. Having an affair is a way that a four-year-old can twirl in a 40 year-old body and hear again, “You are the only one.” But satisfying the need that way begins to cost too much, and that kind of romance causes one to twirl faster and faster for fewer and fewer of those precious affirmations. And other people along this dervish path get hurt.

So what is the gift from a father who left when we were both too young? For a long time I resented the missing memories: no father-daughter chats, no drives to college, no adult conversations. But I have this other thing--a picture in my head and in my heart of my father at the end of the board. It’s a spiritual gift from the man who loved me but who left without talking. Today I believe in a God who looks around my life and says, “Hold on a minute. We don’t want anyone to get hurt”. Then, “Okay, go for it.”

Today there is a God at the end of my daily diving board who says, “Okay now, catch your breath. I’m here.”