Monday, October 22, 2012

Everything's Gonna Be All Right

Rise up this mornin',

Smiled with the risin' sun,

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singin' sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou:")

Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Singin': "Don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

~ Bob Marley

I had planned to write about a different topic, but life has a way of directing one’s thoughts and that is what happened to me this week. Everyone in my circle is experiencing stressful times, and as a fixer and a pleaser, their stress has affected me.
No matter how co-dependent I am and how much I want to take the reins and steer the horse back on course, I’ve learned that is not my most useful role.  So I’ve had to learn how to assist people in other ways.
The thing about life is that things happen and even the best prepared of us can be knocked down on occasion.
Sometimes I think how rote our lives are. Up at a certain time every morning, same morning routine just about every day, off to work or something else, bills to pay, laundry to wash and fold, groceries to buy, lawns to mow, bathrooms to clean, this TV show on this night, another one the next night, books to read and new ones added to the list, exercise, nutritional meal, splurge meal, a movie, or a concert or a road trip on the weekend. Then something happens that snaps us upright and out of the mundane. No one said life was going to be easy, and sometimes it’s downright boring and that’s not easy either. One isn’t better than the other, it seems.
Right now I know people who are out of work (some for a few years), who struggle to pay bills, who lost a loved one, who have an illness, who are making a life transition, and others who just feel overwhelmed. I feel for each of them, wish I could help them better, and wonder when it will be my turn.
A couple of weeks ago, Ronald and I went out for dinner. That’s something that has become rather common for us as empty nesters in a new location (I hate to keep calling it new when we’ve been here five years) where we can’t seem to find friends. As we approached the restaurant, there was a man sitting on the bench. I noticed he watched us as we got closer and closer.
“Hey, you look like a nice couple,” he said. “I don’t want no money, but I sure could use a ride.”
My shyness made me retreat a step. Ronald glanced at me then spoke.
“Where do you need to go?” he asked.
The man identified an intersection a few miles away.
“Why don’t you go in, and I’ll give this man a ride,” Ronald said. He opened the door for me and, as it closed behind me, I heard him introduce himself to the man.
I sat in a booth, ordered a soda, and told the waitress I was waiting for my husband because he offered a ride to someone that needed one.  “That’s so nice of him,” she said.
I had my cell phone out on the table, watching the digital numbers change as time passed, and figuring out at what precise time panic would set in if Ronald hadn’t returned.
Finally I decided I would give him three more minutes, and then figure out whether I would call his cell phone or 911. Just at that moment, he slid into the booth.
“I had my cell phone ready in case you didn’t get back,” I said, laughing, relieved.
“He had to go a little farther than he initially said,” he replied. “He never would have gotten there walking.”
Last week he shared a similar story. He had gone out to shoot pool on a weeknight. He played quite a few games with a guy he had never seen before, sat and talked afterwards over a soda, and it was late by the time he finished. I had long ago gone to bed so I could get up for work in the morning.  A teenage girl flagged him down as he drove home. He stopped and she asked if he could give her a ride.
“My God,” I said, “you could have been a serial killer.”
“I dropped her off at the corner of her street,” he said.
“She was lucky.”
“I see a lot of girls out late around here,” he said. “I don’t know why they are out at that time of night.”
“I taught Cara and Mackenzie to not get into situations like that if they could help it,” I said. In theory I hope for equality among the sexes, but in real life, brawn wins out in certain situations.
“She acted like I was going to ask her for something,” he said.
“She was expecting it,” I said. I told him about a reality show I had watched where a teenage girl was getting into strangers cars and offering sex in exchange for rides. Her father had died and her mother had been in a car accident that had left her paralyzed. This girl was angry at life and out of control.
“Yup, but she got me instead,” he said. I felt relief. I could have been reading about her in the paper but instead she got home safely that night.
A year ago he came home asking if we had any wire hangers.
“This guy is locked out of his truck downtown, and he doesn’t have any money to call for a tow truck or help,” he said. “I stopped at the dry cleaner, but they wouldn’t give me one. Probably thought I was going to do something illegal.”
I handed him a hanger, knowing that as a retired firefighter, he knew how to open a car door. He turned and headed back out, and I knew I’d hear a good story that night at dinner.
Ronald is nonjudgmental about the circumstances when a person asks him for help. He’s not thinking, “this guy is homeless” or “he’s going to take my money and buy drugs” or “he’s going to do me harm.” He assesses the situation and determines if there is anything he can contribute.  He learned to do that on the job. It didn’t matter if it was a prostitute who had been beaten up by a john or the drug addict who suffered a bad trip or the wealthy guy who rammed his BMW into a guardrail. He was there to assist.
A lot of people wonder why Ronald hasn’t continued to work in firefighting in some way, but he is adamant that he wants nothing to do with it. Over twenty-five years he saw things he would not wish anyone else to witness, and they haunt him as many others who work in such fields will attest. He knows what death looks like, and catastrophic injury, and terror, and mass destruction. He knows those things are equalizers. He still has a strong need to serve, to protect, and to assist.
I know a few of my readers probably think I am crazy over Ronald. I am. I’m crazy in love and crazy full of respect for him and how his presence makes a mark in the world. It’s an honor to have someone like that in my life. In many ways, he saved my life, but he has told me I did the same for him.
It still frightens me, though. It’s not that I don’t want him to help, but that I don’t know how to read the situations like he does. Sometimes I worry about the danger he might encounter. But I know I have to trust him in those situations, just as I told him a long time ago when he was still on the job that he could rely on his intuition because it never failed him.
Another dinner out a few nights ago, and another situation arose. The guy who held open the door for us first asked us if he could cut ahead since he had been at the door first, and the line was fairly long. We both said yes. Then he started a conversation with us.
He said he was new in town, was in the military, and worked for the FAA. He said that since he had moved to the city, he hadn’t really been able to meet people, and he wanted to know what places might be good to do that. I chuckled because we hadn’t been very successful at meeting people. Ronald made a suggestion or two. We exchanged introductions, and, in the meantime, he had worked his way around to being behind us in the line. When we reached the hostess desk, Ronald waved him in front of us, but he begged off. The hostess asked, “Two for dinner?”
We looked at one another and silently assented, as people who have been together for almost forty years tend to do. Ronald said, “Maybe three. Would you like to join us?”
The man seemed surprised and said that he was actually waiting for a friend and that he would stop by our table to exchange phone numbers.
He never stopped by although I saw him several times on his cell phone racing to the restroom. It made me suspicious.
Later, on our way back to the car, Ronald said, “I don’t know about that guy. What was his name again?”
“Adam. He was strange,” I said.
“A lot of times, guys are trying to sell drugs or buy drugs, and they tend to look for a black guy. They make their assumptions,” he said.
“You know, I was thinking that,” I replied. “It’s like the guy that worked in the dining hall when we were in college. One day he asked me if I liked to party. I was confused and didn’t know how to respond, and he never asked me again. Now I know, just from this situation, that he was wondering if I did drugs.”
“It took you all these years to figure that out?” Ronald asked, laughing.
I know Ronald relies on his intuition, and that’s true about my daughters, and even myself. My fear in certain situations is my intuition telling me, “you can’t handle this so don’t get involved.”  That’s why I didn’t answer the dining hall employee when he asked me his question. I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good.
I may not be in the position to help people the way Ronald does, but I’m the cheerleader who isn’t afraid to shed a tear and feel your pain alongside you while I listen to your story. That’s what I do best: letting people share their burdens or vent, helping them believe in themselves, to reach for something better, or to help pick up the pieces after life has been shattered by some event.
I can think of many times when I met a stranger – someone who walked into my office or that I met at a function or in a store or who rang my doorbell – and my intuition told me they needed to talk to someone. I’m that someone. I can listen and listen and listen, for hours if need be. I can sense if that person needs more than that and offer suggestions, a contact name or place to assist, or some lovely platitudes that lift the spirit.  Maybe I’ll never see that person again. That happens frequently. My hope is that I left a gift for that person, maybe recognition of one’s own strength. Each person leaves me a gift as well – the gift of connectedness.
Trusting your intuition is true for you, too. Listen to it. Withhold judgment. Hear what it really says, not what you think it should say or what you want it to say.
When those things in life occur that knock you down, trust in yourself. You’ll find your way. You’ll figure out the outcome, even if it isn’t the one you first wished for or imagined. In the end things have a way of working out just the way they are supposed to – everything’s gonna be all right.

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