Navigating the Crowd

I have always been fascinated by how things move. Even as a young child I was one of those who played on the beach by building dams and waterways in the sand, watching the different gullies being etched away, detecting the ebb and flow of the tides, following the eddies in the lee of the jetties, trying to predict how it would all flow together. And sure, this is part of my greater love of water, but it has also deeply informed how I watch other things move. Especially crowds. 

I don’t know exactly when I started, but by the time I was hitting puberty, I knew how crowds worked. I can predict their movement. I am easily aggravated when I know the best way to do something and the designers clearly do not. (Don’t get me started on bathroom design…) Probably the first time I remember really being aware of crowd disfunction was at a women’s conference and all of us were trying to get to the exit, and none of us were moving. Everyone was putting themselves first and so keeping anyone around them from going where they needed to go. (Is it irony that this was a Christian conference? I’m thinking so. We have so much to learn.) 

Since then, I’ve watched crowds at theme parks and ball fields, traffic patterns on hi-ways and parking snafus, people who are oblivious in conferences and airports, and the thousand other places I’ve been since. I get annoyed at people who don’t understand that they shouldn’t block an entrance, but simultaneously recognize that I have been thinking about the crowd around me while the individuals in the crowd are concerned with other things. On some level I know that I am over-thinking how the crowd moves, but I also want each individual in the crowd to know the best way for the crowd itself to move. I don’t believe that is ever going to happen. I’m not even sure it should. 

When I was in Tokyo my sister informed me that the cultural pedestrian right of way is passing people on the right (always take the left side of the sidewalk when facing oncoming walkers). I religiously adhered to this in the same way that I always take the right here in the United States. Sometimes I would forget, and it would cause a pause between the two of us. But, because I was a visitor in a new culture, I always corrected to fit the culture norm. I consider it one of the most important things about travel, observing and respecting the culture of those with whom you walk, both metaphorically and literally. Don’t walk into people seems like something that shouldn’t have to be said, but I am constantly surprised of the number of times this feels like a relevant reminder. 

When I watch crowds, it is always a dynamic observation. I know how to interpret these people in each individual place, and each group can move slightly differently depending on whether they are hungry, scared, joyful, tired, friendly, cautious, or anxious. Interpreting on the move can have advantages, but it also means that sometimes I leave people behind. I’m learning how not to leave people behind, but instead lead those with me so that we all get to the same place at the same time, together. It’s taken me over thirty years, but I have learned that getting somewhere together, with your people with you, is more important than getting there first. It is all about learning how to navigate the crowd. 

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Worth a Thank You

My daughter frequently asks to listen to the Moana song, “You’re Welcome” in which the demigod sings a self enthused celebration about how much he’s given to the people of the islands around him. It’s a fun song, as long as you remember that the song is making fun of people who think too highly of themselves. My two year old has learned words and motions for much of the song, and enjoys it when my husband and I sing along.

Doesn’t it feel like there are all too many people telling us we should be grateful for things that we didn’t need in the first place? Or perhaps I simply feel that there are people who expect thanks for things I didn’t want to have happen. I am reticent to acknowledge folks who require thanks for what they have done.

A thank you is far more genuine when it is unexpected; I want to thank someone when they’ve done something surprising or sacrificial, when I’ve not expected to find or receive the gift that is presented.

It’s funny, we were traveling in DC this past weekend on the metro and I think I was given a seat to sit in far more regularly than when I was further along with my previous pregnancy during our trip in NYC. Not that this is a comment on the metro riders of either city: it was still chilly in NYC when we were there while it was hot the whole time we were in DC, and the clothes I wear when I am pregnant can sometimes greatly reveal my changing shape and sometimes deeply conceal how I am bearing another human being. Also, traveling with a toddler might have affected the responses of strangers.

I most want to thank people who did something outside themselves. The act can be as simple as giving up a seat on a metro train, or as involved as preparing a meal for me while the other was fasting. Or it can be something that the person may not have realized was a huge thing to me, like my friend who consistently makes sure that when we come over to her house for dinner, she prepares food that makes us feel good and fits inside our dietary restrictions, and is something that is delicious.

I cannot always thank people for what they have done, but knowing how I feel about people who act outside themselves makes me want to act outside myself more often. Each time I see an example, I want to follow and live that way, too. I want to live outside myself, give of myself, offer what I have and what I can do and who I can be for others to have a life that is more full. It is my way of saying thank you.

Laughter and Boundaries

I’m having a hard time finding joy, recently. I read a reflection today by my friend Sarah who had encountered wisdom saying that joy flows from compassion. I wonder if I am not finding enough compassion, either for myself or for others, right now. Or maybe I just see the great need for compassion and feel that the task is far too large to take on myself.

Joy is a big deal and I want to do it right.

My daughter has started a new game where she laughs and then does something that she shouldn’t do, such as hitting me in the face. I tell her no, and she does it again. Laughing again.

I love my daughter’s laugh.

I do not love being hit.

I do not want her to hit me, or learn that hitting is how we do things.

She laughs again.

I tell her not to hit. I take hold of her hand. I tell her not to hit.

I let go. She hits me again.

Still laughing.

And so I put her down out of my lap. I put space between her and me, so that she cannot reach me to hit me. She doesn’t like the space.

Nothing stops her until I do it. Saying no has not really become effective, even though she loves repeating the word.

The hitting stops.

So does the laughter.

But then she hugs me. And we are better together until she decides to try a new boundary again.

I’m wondering how she interprets the joy I share with her. Does she remember me laughing more than she remembers me teaching her a new limit?

And then, does God rejoice when I find a new game to play but is let down when I turn the game to my own destruction?

I believe God wants what is good for me, and that God wants to celebrate joy with me. I don’t believe that God is watching me to seek out an opportunity to punish me.

I am not a perfect parent. I lose my temper and get frustrated when my daughter keeps on doing what I have already asked her not to do. I have the feeling this tendency is far from over. Yay exercise of free will!

However, God is a perfect parent (among other things) and though God can and does get frustrated, God is more saddened by how I turn away from what God wants because it hurts me more than because it hurts God.

God wants what is best for me (and you) and goes out of the way to show love in whatever way possible. This is the compassion I long for in each of my relationships no matter if they are fleeting or forever.

Finding Inspiration

When I am looking for a new idea or a new way to describe an old idea, I need to go away from where all the bustle is, and I need to go to find a bit of peace.

When I am struggling with feeling dry and complacent, I need to go somewhere to clear my head. Generally I can go for a walk close to my house, or if I need to I can go take a shower, something that gets my body moving and helps to work ideas to the surface. Or, if I need to, I go to practice centering prayer, where I lie still and allow my mind to open, relax, and release into the presence of God.

Sometimes I am not searching for inspiration as much as it is placed on me. When I go to the top of the mountain, or to the shore of the ocean, or even to the edge of the local creek, I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel. I become fully present.

It seems that the common thread in all of these places and situations of inspiration is the ability to become fully present in those places and in my own body. When I am at the edge of the ocean, I can taste the salt in the air, feel the sand under my feet, hear the waves crash against the shore, and see the water continue its endless and never replicating cycle of movement. I have no choice but to sense the place of where I am, and so stand more solidly in myself, rather than have my mind flit between a hundred different places and a thousand different thoughts.

It helps if I don’t have my phone on, tethering me to everyone who has my number. Sometimes I need to get away, and be where I am, rather than wondering or worrying about this friend or that family member. I need space to remember who I am, in my own skin. When I do that, I can more ably respond to others with grace and kindness.

When I know who I am, I am better at being who I am.

I guess, in a way, that I find inspiration in places that allow me to be myself at my fullest potential. When I am not able to be myself, I end up rehashing old ideas and lack the creativity that lies silent and deep in my core. I can grow crusty with old things, but when I crack the shell of routine I am able to do more than I could ever do before.

When I go to find inspiration, I find more than that. I find joy.

It’s Bigger on the Inside

I wrote this week about Doctor Who, the TARDIS, and Eucharist. It’s something I’d been thinking of since my Commissioning interviews with the Board of Ordained Ministry. How appropriate therefore, that my post is on the Conference Blog the week after I was Commissioned as a Provisional Elder in my Conference.

To read the article, go read it on the Conference Blog Website. I’ll post it here in a couple of weeks.