Last night as I waited for a girlfriend to show up (ultimately she didn’t and I left at the hour late time stamp) at a restaurant in my neighborhood I frequent, I watched as the bartenders (who always take very good care of me) basically work around a couple at the end of the bar. I couldn’t attribute the lack of service to anything in particular but it bothered my psyche somehow – and I dwelled on it, and dwelled on it and now this post.
My sister-in-law recently sent me a hyperlink that touched me in a way that Hallmark cards ‘use to’. Her accompanying words were only, “saw this, thought of you”. Even when we live small lives (by that I mean not a speaker on the TED circuit or appearing in the tabloids on a regular basis) our very basic human condition cries out to be seen. (She clearly ‘sees me’ even though the rest of my family think I am a freak.) In expressing this ‘need’ to be seen I don’t mean in billboard sized gestures, I simply mean each of us deserves to be ‘not invisible’. In our hyper-connected world we are so incredibly disconnected from observing, acknowledging, extending kindness, or even offering a smile to our fellow beings it hurts the heart to consider. (I might be particularly sensitive to this because I had a German boyfriend some years ago – before Smart Phones – who “documented” everything taking pictures constantly but never actively being present; PUT THE DAMN TECHNOLOGY THINGS AWAY, YOU ARE MISSING LIFE!)
Last Friday morning, slipping inside the sanctuary offered by Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston (my former place of worship and community) to connect with the Divine, I was acutely reminded of our collective path. The pew I selected included a fresh take-away bag from L.A. Burdick’s with a fork, a napkin and a fresh, wrapped, untouched treat. In my kneeling humility I asked, as always, “expand my territories; make me an instrument of your will”. I believe that for the grace we desire to manifest we need to exist in a constant state of mindful gratitude, it’s never lost upon me how quickly I know that ‘my prayers have been answered’ as a result of this intention. The following took place in a physical space of less than two city blocks over the course of perhaps three quarters of an hour (least you ever question if the God you pray to is listening).
First, before we even left Emmanuel, as my girlfriend Jennifer and I slipped into Lindsey Chapel the chamber music ensemble began Easter weekend rehearsal and I was met with the nod of recognition from the 1st violin – I was “seen” as someone familiar and welcome though it had truly been years since we had had any interaction.
Outside a young man in a hoodie weighed down with a box of potted daffodils each wearing blue foil wrappers to adorn Boston in conjunction with the Boston Marathon on Monday (he looked so incongruous I had to take his picture) provided a physical manifestation of Boston Strong – renewal, determination, solidarity, resilience and of sunshine.
Next, as Jennifer is newly divorced and starting to date again I wanted to introduce her to the luxurious beauty offered by La Perla lingerie, so we walked down Arlington to Boylston where this haven of femininity is located. My current circumstances preclude purchasing and I think Jenn is still recovering – understandably – from price point as mortgage payment for the jacket she fingered but it was the level set for grace to happen, next.
As we left La Perla for Jennifer’s car parked alongside Boston Public Garden on Boylston another car identical to hers disoriented me for a moment – and that’s when my prayer “make me an instrument of your will” was answered. You see, I am ever mindful of ‘but for the grace of God’ and it was the homeless woman crossing the street coming toward me that the L. A. Burdick’s bag was clearly meant for and the synchronicity of our meeting was ‘ordered’. As I gave her the bag, our eyes met and hers replied back “thank you for seeing me” and I wrapped her in my arms and hugged her tightly and both of our eyes welled up with tears. (If you aren’t aware of the brouhaha some of my other Episcopalians are stirring up in North Carolina – click here and here and this will help explain the rich blessing of tears I experienced as a result of my encounter with this woman, this despite the fact that I do not consider myself a Christian.)
Years before, and years after, my friend and former colleague Kurt Anderson wrote on the back of one of my business cards “Use your power wisely” I recognise that I function best in a place obscured from scrutiny and floodlights. The validation of “me” I require isn’t large, taking up too much space is something I struggle against in a society which encourages celebrity and grandiosity – this woman walking in the shadows of Boston’s Four Seasons, Hermes, Anne Fontaine, St. John and other such shops saw me and I saw her fully and completely in our common human struggle. Maybe it was the first time in days or weeks that she had been seen, her view of my being just as elemental and important.
Our filters, honed and influenced over a lifetime, determine our perception, how we will act and interact, what transparency is offered, how we see and what we see. Toward the end of this same day, I dragged Jennifer (who had already stated loudly via email that she didn’t need anymore books) into another hallowed ground of the Greater Boston area, that of Cambridge’s Harvard Book Store. People who love books surrounded us on this Friday evening but one in particular stands out for me – because while he was immersed in the pure joy of what he was reading, tucked into a wall niche that I had long forgotten existed, he graciously let me interrupt his revelry and let me take his picture. For myself it was the laughter which spilled forth from “Mario” (clearly not his real name based upon our later email exchange) that garnered my attention, only when Jennifer said “Captain Jack Sparrow” did I make a connection to Johnny Depp physically. But I didn’t see him as the lead character of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series, what I saw instead was “Roux” from Chocolat. My lens, partly based on our tiny conversation, transformed Mario into the romantic drifter that makes things right in the face of prejudice and who subsequently ceases to wander as a result of what he finds when he opens his heart.
When we wake up in the morning we can’t know what actions we will be guided to take, or the impact these might have on the world around us. As Amanda Palmer so eloquently points out in her TED talk (link above) there is a give and take of our human condition where each action provides is more gift than payment. In this post-Easter season when righteousness runs a little higher in some folks (just as it had for Chocolat’s Comte de Reynaud) I think that there is an analogy around lingerie that is useful – “to be seen” can also mean to have impact without being seen by anyone at all, the power of lingerie is its secrecy; just as actions that bring about positive change can be quietly accomplished, one hug at a time.
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