BAD THROW, GOOD CATCH!

The ball whizzed by about six feet from my head. “I’m right here!” I shouted, “not over there!” I was 14 years old, playing catch with a member of my softball team. And this kid’s aim, or lack thereof, was annoying. Every time she threw, the ball went way over my head or off to the side out of reach. Dad, who helped coach my team, was watching. I ran over near him for a drink of water.  “I sure wish she would learn to throw!” I complained in frustration.

“Hmm.” he said. “Seems like that’s quite an opportunity she’s throwing at you.”

“Huh?” I asked taking off my hat and wiping the sweat off my face. I looked up at him, squinting into the sun. I didn’t understand his point any better than I could see his face. “What is he talking about?” I wondered silently as I ran back for another round of expected torture.

Everyone on the team was told to rotate. Every time my new partner threw, the ball landed right in my glove. The two of us fell into an easy rhythm of catch-step-throw, back and forth and back and forth. “This is more like it!” I thought. I loved feeling the solid smack of the ball landing in the center of my glove. I loved the moment of suspension as I landed the catch on my back foot, then lunged forward. I loved the stretch of release as my weight shifted, my arm whipped out in front of me and my whole body propelled the ball through the air.

“Good throw,” Dad said as he walked up beside me. We were both proud of my arm that had developed slowly over the last few years after hours of playing catch together.

“Thanks,” I said without losing my stride. Back and forth and back and forth. He was still standing there. “What?” I asked, sensing he had something to say.

“Well, I’m just noticing how much easier it is to catch that ball when it’s thrown right at you,” he says.

“Yeah’, no kidding,” I snickered.

“In fact, it’s so easy, almost anybody could do it,” he added casually.

“Huh?” I broke my rhythm and held on to the ball, watching as he walked away. What did he mean anybody could do this? He knew better than anybody that it had taken me years of practice to be able to effortlessly execute this complex series of movements with such precision. What was he talking about?

“Throw the ball!” my partner yelled impatiently. Too late. The coach called for another rotation. One of our newer team members stepped into place across from me. “Here we go again,” I thought and threw the ball to her. Her return throw was way over my head. In a burst of frustrated energy I jumped up and grabbed it.

“Wow! Good catch!” she yelled across the grass as I lobbed the ball back. This cycle repeated. Determined to catch that ball, I ran, jumped, reached and dove, a puppet to her every erratic throw. It required a ton of energy and focus, but surprisingly enough, I caught more than I missed. Even more surprising was how exhilarating it felt!

As the season continued, I discovered that experienced players who were able to actually throw the ball to me provided me a chance to smoothly, flawlessly catch and return with a satisfying rhythm. But the girls who erratically threw wild balls gave me a chance to be a superstar! I started looking for chances to partner with less-skilled team members rather than avoiding them. My motives were not altruistic; I was pushing my skill level. I learned to jump behind, in front of, up to, or down on anything that flew, rolled or bounced anywhere near my proximity. I was positioned as shortstop and commanded the infield. I learned that bad throws create opportunities for great catches.

I AM THE ONE WHO

Breathing underwater. That’s my earliest memory. I know it sounds absurd, but there you have it. I don’t know if I was in the womb or floating in some primordial soup or a mermaid lurking in some long-ago myth. Long ago perhaps, but not forgotten because I remember. Still.

I remember a sea of light beings gathered before the Council, each one of us a vibrant splash of crystal light. I was a resonating drop in this big crystal pool. I remember my arm shooting up when they asked for a volunteer to go anchor light on Earth.

“Pick me! Pick me!” I called from the crowd. “I can dive into the deepest darkness! I can anchor light better than anybody!”

I remember my thighs, monstrous five-foot femurs and how they moved when I went up for my screening. And the chair I sat in…. It was more like a throne, a crystal throne carved into a crystal mountain. There were a dozen or so, arranged in a semi-circle, each occupied by a Council member who was very, very tall. A Council of giants discussing a big topic. They were sending a team to Earth. They were recruiting volunteers to anchor light on Gaia.

I remember how everything shimmered with a rippling radiance that could change with a single thought or feeling. Even the mountain….it could stay a mountain or it could just as easily melt into a river and flow into something new. I loved this ever-changing landscape I called home. I was connected to this group by a deep, timeless bond. But I knew I needed to go to Earth. Go back to Earth. I had been there before. Lots of times, but never with such an important mission. My resume made me the perfect candidate. I was experienced. I was motivated. I was bright. I was ready. Let’s get it done!

The Light Council cautioned me: “To anchor light on Earth, you will need to penetrate the darkness of the third dimension and remain whole. Are you up for the task?”

I brazenly replied, “Yes! I can do it! Let me do it!”

And with that, I spiraled through the void, faster and faster, until I slipped into stillness, warm and wet, floating in my mother’s womb. I knew that soon the birth process would start and so would my Earth-bound rendezvous with darkness. And suddenly, I had second thoughts.

“Hey!” I called out to the void. “I’ve changed my mind!” I don’t want to do this. Get me out of here! I can’t do this. I’ve changed my mind!”

But there was no answer. I resisted to the very end. I was born three weeks late with the cord wrapped around my neck. I was born breech, feet first; actually, foot first, a single foot… I tore my mother wide open, but there was no way I was coming in head-on. I stuck a foot out first, just tentatively testing the water….

This is an excerpted scene from my new, recently-completed one-woman show titled, I Am the One Who. This biomythography portrays my healing journey from childhood trauma to empowerment.  I am performing its debut on October 12, 7:00 pm at the Red Sands Castle Theatre in Toronto, Canada. This debut performance will feature internationally renowned taiko drummer Tiffany Tamaribuchi!  (Yahoo!) Come check it out, but be aware that even though its grounded in a message of hope, it does include scenes that portray and reference sexual violence and childhood ritual abuse. Run time is 2 hours and includes a 15-minute intermission. A post-performance discussion will be held.

For tickets, go to universe.com/iamtheonewho

NEW ADVENTURES

Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended a workshop in Toronto Canada with Anne Marie Scheffler on how to create a one-woman show. As I revel in the excitement of this new adventure, I feel a whole new world open before me. I am reminded of other pivotal moments in my life and a dream I had long ago….

I am walking down the street in a hurry. I am having problems finding my way. I am confused, disoriented, distressed. Am I in Chicago? Fort Wayne? Hong Kong? I hear a loud, male voice directing me. I am trying to locate it, but it has no source. It is everywhere and nowhere–it is disembodied. But it is giving me directions, telling me where to go, so I listen and take heed. Turn here, turn there. The voice leads me to a subway portal. I go down the stairs and am standing at a turnstile, hesitant to enter, not wanting to commit. “Take the subway!” The voice booms. So I do. I get on the subway train and take a seat.

I am the only one on the train. The world outside the window races by in a blur. Sometimes the train is below ground and I see only darkness. Sometimes the train is above ground and I see a whirlwind of color and shapes, but I can’t make sense of any of the images. I am blindly traveling through as if I am being carried in a womb. Inside the subway car, the temperature is controlled; the seats are comfortable. I nap, I eat, I read. I am grateful for the opportunity to be still and rest. When I finally get bored, the train stops. I am as hesitant to get off as I was to get on. Where am I? I stand at the open door, unsure. “Get off the train!” The voice booms. So I do.

I take the stairs to the street and emerge at a familiar intersection in Fort Wayne. I look up into a blue sky as a bright sun warms my skin. A soft breeze carries the song of birds and the lively banter of people. A man sitting across the street smiles and beckons me over. As I get closer, I see it is my deceased father. I run up and hug him. “What are you doing here?” I ask. “I am so happy to see you!”

He pats me on the back. “I just want you to know how proud of you I am,” he says. “You’re doing a good job.” There’s that voice. It was his voice directing me!

I burst into tears. “I’m tired all the time,” I say.

“I know,” he nods.

“And I’m afraid. Half the time I have no idea what to do.”

He nods again and gets up as if to leave.

That’s it? That’s all he has to say? The man has traveled beyond and back and all he offers is a nod?

He starts to walk away, then turns. “You don’t have to always know up here.” He taps his head. “Just pick a direction, then go along and enjoy the ride.”  He turns away and disappears.

To new adventures….Bon Voyage!

THE DIGITAL AGE

The box was full of newspaper. It was Christmas morning and I was opening a present from my son–a large box of newspaper. I rummaged through it while he sat laughing until I uncovered a much smaller box wrapped and tied with ribbon. Opening that box, I was stunned to find an iPod. I had mentioned I was finally ready to leave my CDs behind and tentatively enter the new digital age, but I hadn’t expected him to buy me an iPod for goodness’ sake. He was a senior in college, in his last year of design school; he wasn’t yet working. “You have no business buying me an iPod for Christmas!” I said.

He shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said, “You’re my mom.”

A little overwhelmed by his generosity and more than a little techno-phobic, I carefully set my new iPod on the table, still in its box, waiting to explore it after all the presents had been opened, all the paper had been gathered and all the chaos had settled. When I returned my attention to my unexpected gift, I carefully opened the hinged plastic cover and found the iPod encased in a plastic sheath with small prongs on each end. Mechanically challenged, I nestled my cup of coffee between my legs so I could use both hands to free the small electronic device. I carefully pulled and turned and twisted the plastic case until the iPod suddenly popped out of its protective cover, flew up into the air, somersaulted and plopped into the cup of coffee in my lap. My hands froze mid-air and silence filled the room as all eyes riveted on the tail end of the now-immersed iPod that peeked over the rim of my coffee cup.

My son broke the silence. “I can’t believe you just did that,” he said shaking his head.

“I can’t believe it either!” I cried in dismay as I yanked the iPod out of its private pool of caffeine. “I have no idea how that just happened! Do you think it still works?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed and continued shaking his head as he walked across the room, sat down next to me on the couch, took it from me and began pushing buttons. He placed the iPod in front of a fan and suggested we give it some time to “dry out.” Apparently, caffeine doesn’t boost electronics the way it does me because about 30 minutes later my son officially pronounced my new gadget was “not responding properly.” Still shaking his head, he repackaged the iPod and handed it to me with the receipt saying, “Maybe you can take it back.”

Looking at the receipt, I once again felt overwhelmed by his selfless act of generosity. It swept over me all night long as I continued reliving that unbelievable moment when my incredible gift somersaulted through the air. The next day I went to the store and handed my iPod and receipt over to the man working the customer service deck. “I received this as a gift and would like to exchange it,” I said.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” he asked.

“It doesn’t seem to be responding properly,” I said as a subtle smell of coffee wafted between us, feeling no desire to describe the caffeine adventure we’d shared during our short time together. “I’d like to exchange it for one just like it,” I smiled. I gratefully took my new iPod home and humbly let my son remove it from its case.

THANKSGIVING GOODBYES

I develop clarity and focus and set my intent. I act on that which comes to me.

My four-year-old grandson died Thanksgiving Day 2018. On Tuesday morning he went to school with a slight cough and no fever. On Tuesday afternoon the school called his parents saying he wasn’t feeling well and they needed to pick him up. Before they got him home, he quit breathing. They started chest compressions and called 911.  By the time they got him to the hospital, his heart had stopped and started three times. They transported him to a larger hospital. He arrived with a pulse, but was not breathing on his own. They put him on a ventilator and began testing for brain activity and there was none.

Tuesday morning he went to school. Tuesday evening he was brain dead. On Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, he was taken off life support. By 7:30 Thanksgiving morning, he was declared dead. The doctors tell us it was a respiratory virus that seized him fast and furious; three strains of parainfluenza narrowed his airway. He was a healthy 4-year-old…it is a harsh truth for my family and me.

We are in shock. Our numbness is penetrated by waves of grief. We have no profound insights; we simply move from one breath to the next.

His parents decided to donate his organs. On Thanksgiving Day, a number of families on organ waiting lists received the call for which they had been waiting. Who is to say our grief is bigger than their joy, relief and gratitude? Talk about an exchange of energy….Donor Alliance tells us that his heart, liver, and kidneys were successfully transplanted, saving four lives; his pancreas and cartilage went to research.

We are grateful even as we grieve. We are grateful that in the wake of this tragedy, in spite of his short time here on earth, his life has meaning…not only to us but to others as well. We are grateful for the opportunity to know him and to love him. I trust he is on his path and his story is unfolding as it should. His mother tells me that out of the blue last Friday he asked her what happens when you die and then he asked what happens when you stop breathing. She said he wasn’t angry or sad or upset or even particularly serious; he just casually asked these profound questions as he continued playing. She explained that if you stop breathing you die and no one really knows what happens when you die and then she asked why he was asking. He said “Because I think I’m going to quit breathing and die.” In typical Mom fashion she exclaimed,  “Don’t say that!” so he dropped it. And then a few days later, that’s exactly what happened. I choose to think an angel was there with him while he raced his toy cars around the room, talking to him quietly, preparing him with a gentle spoiler alert! It reminds me that the veil between the worlds is thin… the veil is very, very thin.

In the midst of all this sadness, I bless and celebrate both his sweet short life and his passage. I develop clarity and focus and set my intent: I intend to explore a new relationship with him now that he has left this 3D world. I trust an exciting journey awaits us. I choose to act on that which comes to me.

 

SWELTERING HEAT

I rushed into the car rental place, bringing the heat outside into the air-conditioned room. “I need to keep my rental car for another week,” I explained to the man behind the counter.

“Ah, Allison,” the man said walking towards the customer service desk. I was a little startled. I didn’t realize Gary (the tag on his shirt said his name was Gary) knew my name.

Of course, I had been in several times the previous week. My old beat up Subaru was on its last legs and was in the shop. For the last several years I had been commuting to graduate school in Chicago. My car and I were both weary of the eight-hour round-trip. I was now finishing the last few weeks of my summer fieldwork assignment in Chicago and was desperate for transportation. I had come in the first time the previous week asking for a good rate on a rental car. My budget didn’t allow much room for the unexpected and it certainly didn’t allow for extensive rentals of expensive cars.  I came in needing a cheap car for a few days. Simple enough.

But then the mechanics working on my Subaru reported they were having problems and it was going to take more time and cost more money…so I went back to the rental car place a second time to see if I could keep the car longer. And to negotiate the cost below their normal rate, somehow trying to make it fit within my precariously unbalanced budget. Now the mechanics were saying my Subaru still wasn’t done and probably wouldn’t be done until next week. So I was back again. Good grief. Gary didn’t seem particularly happy to see me.

“I need to keep my rental car for another week,” I said again. “But I don’t need it the whole week. How about I keep it on your lot and only actually rent it from midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday and from midnight Wednesday to midnight Thursday?”

I figured that way I could get to Chicago on Tuesday and Thursday as needed without having to pay for a full week’s rental. I had no idea who was going to give me a ride to and from the rental car place at midnight or how I’d get around the rest of the week; I was just trying to focus on one thing at a time. Like expensive rental cars, planning and prevention were luxuries I could not afford. The demands for my time, attention and money kept hitting faster than my limited resources could keep up. The best I could do was triage and try to tend to whatever problem was screaming the loudest at any given moment.

“If you still need the car, why don’t you just keep it for the week?” Gary sounded slightly annoyed. I probably would be too if I saw myself from a well-planned, well-ordered perspective based in a world of plenty.

“Because I can’t afford a whole week’s rental,” I said bluntly. I was way beyond shame.

Gary held my gaze for a moment as if considering. “Your car is in the shop, right?” he asked. I nodded yes. “Didn’t they tell you it was going to be ready last week?” he probed.

I nodded again. “Yes, but I guess they’re having some problems with it.”

“What kind of problems?” he asked.

Good grief….I don’t know! Problem problems. The kind of problems mechanics have when they work on cars. How was I supposed to know?  “I’m not sure,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. Gary was still looking at me.

“Maybe you should have your husband call and talk to them about your car,” he suggested.  Great idea Gary, but that leads us to yet another problem.

“I don’t have a husband,” I said flatly.

“Well, then your boyfriend,” he said, shaking his head, exasperated and gesturing, obviously annoyed by details that were beside the point. Clearly, his point was I should ask whatever man was in my life to talk to the mechanic.

“Look,” I said, suddenly embarrassed. “There is no one to make that call. I mean, there was someone…” Why was I embarrassed? Why did I feel the need to explain? “I was married. But then we separated and then we divorced. And then he died. Suddenly and unexpectedly…”

And then suddenly and unexpectedly, I started crying. “He died last Christmas Eve!” And then I started wailing. “I still can’t believe he died on Christmas Eve! He left our kids standing on his porch, knocking on his door, looking forward to having Christmas with him…they were still in his driveway waiting when the police came and hauled his dead body out the door!” By then, Gary seemed embarrassed too. Poor Gary.

“Well, maybe your Dad could call and talk to the mechanic,” he said quietly. He no longer sounded annoyed; his tone was beginning to twinge with compassion.

Oh boy, I could feel it coming… is he ever going to be sorry he said that! I involuntarily rested my elbows on the counter and held my head in my hands while great sobs wracked through my whole body.  “Daddy’s dead too!” I cried. “He died the year before! They’re both dead and I’m trying to finish graduate school in Chicago while I live and work and raise my kids here in Indiana!” I was beyond embarrassed. I was pathetic.

Gary must have been afraid to say anything else because he waited in silence until I regained some composure. He handed me the tissue box from his desk and asked quietly, “Allison, where is your car and what kind of car is it?” I told him and he looked up the number in the phone book. He dialed the shop and said, “This is Mr. Ballard calling about the Subaru that my wife brought in last week. I’ve been on a business trip and just got home and discovered the car is still not ready for pick up. I had understood it was supposed to have been ready last week. I’m not happy to find that she’s still driving a rental car. I need an update on the Subaru’s status and need to know when it’s going to be finished.”

Go Gary! The conversation went back and forth on the phone. Mechanical banter appeared to be a language my new husband could speak.  “Okay,” I heard him say. “So she should be able to pick it up this afternoon? Great! And if you have any problems, could you please call me at this number? Thank you. Goodbye.”

Gary got off the phone and handed me his business card. “Allison, if your car isn’t ready for you this afternoon, give me a call.” He came around the counter and awkwardly patted me on the back.  “It’s okay,” he said reassuringly. “Everything is going to be okay.”

I resisted the impulse to bury my head in his chest. Instead, I mumbled thank you and walked out of the cool air conditioning, back into the sweltering heat.

BEGINNER’S MIND

I turned to see him carry it in through the front door. My family was exchanging Christmas presents at my mother’s house. My friend had gone out to his car, saying he had forgotten something. I was sitting on the couch with my back towards the front door, but turned to see him carrying in a large black case that looked like it might be housing a large instrument.

“Is that a cello?” I asked curiously as he carried it into the living room.

“Yes it is,” he said and set it down in front of me.

“You’re giving me a cello?” I asked, stunned.

“Yes, I am,” answered the man of few words.

“I’m going to play the cello?” My middle-aged mind raced, trying to make sense out of this interesting turn of events.

“If you want,” he shrugged nonchalantly.

My family watched as I struggled to unzip the case, my fine motor skills failing me in the midst of my excitement. The case finally opened to reveal a cello and bow lying in wait. Joy flooded through me and then I’m not really sure what happened.  I’m told I spent the next 20 minutes or so manhandling my new bow and picking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as my family continued opening the presents my friend brought for them…brain teaser puzzles he intentionally selected to give them something to do while I explored my new cello as he anticipated I would. I eventually laid my new instrument to rest as we continued our holiday celebration, but went to bed that night tingling with excitement…I was going to learn to play the cello!

During the two years since, I have been screeching and fingering and bowing my way through this whole new world. Once again, I am a beginner and once again, I am falling in love. I am learning scales and struggling through basic technique. I am becoming reacquainted with pitch. I am playing simple songs. I am working to develop finger agility and striving to coordinate my bow. I am frustrated and elated and inspired. And nervous.

I am about to play my very first cello performance as a member of Fort Wayne’s Terrible Orchestra! This orchestra gives adults playing beginner instruments an opportunity to play in ensemble with other beginning adults.  The name doesn’t insult me; it reassures me. It reminds me that the expectation is low…very low. So low, it’s really hard to fail!

So low, in fact, that no one laughed at me when during my first group rehearsal my bow knocked the music off the stand of the person sitting next to me. (A cello is a large instrument that I am used to playing alone or sitting next to a teacher with plenty of space around us. When playing cello as a member of an orchestra, you sit close together! So close, that spatial awareness has become yet another facet of my learning curve!) Oh, most everyone in the orchestra, including me, did indeed laugh as our song was suddenly interrupted by scattered music cascading to the floor…but no one laughed at me! Everyone realizes that such things are bound to happen when playing in a terrible orchestra.

Attending orchestra has not yet heightened my technique or finger agility or intonation or quality of sound….in fact, those things are suffering because they are no longer getting my attention. Instead, I am learning the bass cleff. I am sight reading real music that doesn’t have fingerings written under the notes. My music at home has fingerings. When I was handed music the first day of orchestra, I realized I didn’t know the notes, much less how to play them. Some of them seemed vaguely familiar, but without the finger markings, my brain simply couldn’t make the transfer. As we played, I would sometimes ask the people sitting nearby, “What is that note?” They would give me a quick answer….which wasn’t particularly helpful because whatever note it was,  I didn’t know how to find it on my instrument. But my eye was able to follow along the path of music and I excitedly played open strings whenever I recognized an A or D. By the end of our first rehearsal, I was doing this fairly consistently so all the As and Ds in the song were nicely accented regardless of whether those accents were part of the composer’s vision!

The first Sunday after rehearsal I spent several hours studying my new music and identifying notes and fingerings which I carefully marked in pencil (I’ve learned it’s not good form to mark music in ink!). When I returned for my second rehearsal, I was given new music and once again I was sight reading. But this time, because of my hours of independent study, I recognized most of the notes AND knew how to play them…I just couldn’t do it fast enough. I trust that speed will come in time. For now, I celebrate my progress.

So much so that I am excited (and nervous) for my orchestral debut. I have invited a few friends and family members and will show up in my performance blacks, ready to play what I can, confident that at the very least I can accent the As and Ds….most of them anyway!