30 September 2005

Purifying Fire

Fire is helpful and harmful, depending on the circumstances in which you find it. I struggle with it tremendously, but I do believe that in my life, fire of the allegorical variety can be experienced as destructive or purifying. I put forth this idea with wary trepidation because I know where it leads many theologically: all tragedies happen for a reason, all tragedy is God's will, all of this is meant for our good. I simply cannot go there; I find so much more nuance in the hard times of my life than these simple conclusions.

Still, I have experienced purifying fire and feel strongly called to share those experiences for the sake of others' hope. Yesterday was one of the more strange days of my life so far, and I feel incredibly vulnerable sharing my experiences. At the blogger panel for Theology on Tap, I was startled to hear that our faculty, fellow students and staff at the seminary peruse our blogs and talk amongst themselves about them. I heard my friend C speak to the vulnerability of blogging, and realized that I haven't made myself particularly vulnerable yet online. It is not required, but at times it is warranted.
Yesterday I missed a flight. It was for a meeting I should have attended for General Convention matters. I thought I was supposed to leave tomorrow rather than today, and by the time I realized my mistake I had been a no-show. There was nothing that could be done, and I called all the necessary people to explain what happened. Although I felt a huge wave of adrenaline when I discovered what happened, I didn't do what I usually do in these situations: freak out. I took several deep breaths and visualized myself in a month: how will this mistake affect my life overrall? Probably minimally. I felt overwhelmingly irresponsible and normally this feeling would cause a lot of anger to rise in me. This time, I was more realistic: my anger bouts never helped a single unfortunate event, and it usually made everyone around me uncomfortable as well. I have since received an email that I will be billed not only for the flight I missed but for any charges the hotel may give for cancelling on short notice. This is no small amount, and though it was my fault, this was only more bad news. I was somehow able to hold a sense of peace inside myself despite everything going on.

If it doesn't seem like much of a fire to you, or seems more like a struck match, I understand. I think some people, my husband for instance, would experience this situation as something like a minor setback, and go on with life, head up, shoulders back. If you know me, though, you probably have some sense that this is not my usual reaction. I am a schedule freak, a perfectionist, extremely organized. The peace I kept throughout the experience has allowed me to see growth in myself. Whether a small or large fire, I am able to see through an embarrassing mistake that I have grown. Before this experience, I had much less confidence in myself to deal with stress, an accident, a setback.

On a much more exciting note, I accompanied some acquaintances from back home on a tour of Cal-Berkeley and GTU campuses. I didn't know them well so I wasn't sure what to expect at all, and did feel a bit nervous as a tour guide in this town brand new to me and for these people fairly new to me as well. They ran a bit late and so while waiting I found myself studying greek at the downtown station, listening to street performers and fights among the onlookers, expletives flying over my head and gestures dancing around me, cops awkwardly looking on from a distance. As I was reciting, "Pas, pasa, pan" for about the 300 jillionth time, this woman approached me. I didn't really feel like talking to anyone, but she said very softly, "Excuse me. I'm sorry...if this, um, makes you uncomfortable....but you are....completely beautiful." WHAT???!!?!! I almost regressed into the self-hating "No! I'm the most irresponsible person ever!I missed my flight!" or better yet the sappy and self-centered, "You know, I REALLY needed to hear that today." Instead, there was peace in my heart again and I just felt very complimented by this also beautiful person, and I beamed a thank you and we just stood there for a minute. I don't know if this stranger saw me tearing up a bit as I was thinking of: flights, strangers shouting, strangers coming for my tour of Berkeley, self-loathing, anger-management, stress over the pending greek test, stress over money, but after a minute she said, "Well, have a nice day." and that was that. I grinned for a minute not knowing what else to do, and then put my nose back in my Greek book and tried not to analyze the experience, but just to be thankful for it. A part of me could go in a lot of directions with that, right? I am being too comforted by compliments about my looks --> my looks aren't me and this is patriarchy at work --> I am continuing to buy into patriarchy. I am being comforted by someone who is possibly hitting on me. I daresay it felt like an angelic encounter. Please, no comments on the sap-factor of this.

The acquaintances turned out to be fast friends. After a very pleasant tour talking about seminary life, California life, and all manner of things, they treated me to dinner at Chez Panisse!!!! It was delicious and such a treat not just to eat that amazing food but also to get to know better my guests, who are amazing and very spiritually uplifting to me as we spent the meal together. It was like water to my soul to eat and talk with these people. They were completely at east talking with me about things like spiritual warfare and prophecy. I felt completely at peace. After they dropped me off and I stepped out of the cab onto Euclid, I felt a pain in my foot, and removed my shoe to find two HUGE blisters, seemingly arising out of nowhere. One had already popped and was causing a searing pain, and the other was much larger but had not yet popped. I think I will be barefoot for a few days while I heal. Here's what I don't get: I have been walking everywhere in Berkeley for two months now, in these shoes no less: HOW did these pedal monstrosities develop at all, and why could I not feel them unti it was much much much much too late? I decided to take it as a sign I shouldn't be doing any more traveling for a few days, on foot or otherwise. All signs point to: STAY WHERE YOU ARE. By the time I
caught up with friends back at Community Night, other people were having bad days, too. Though our community conversation about alcohol at Community Nights was productive and helpful, there was a solemn feeling in the air among those with whom I spoke. Still, I felt peace. The fire seemed to burning away ideas I no longer needed

So there you have it: I am walking double-blister with anger management problems who missed her flight, went out to dinner with a prophet and a doctor, and is beautiful to one stranger in Berkeley.


Blogger Emily said...

Ohh, I'm one of those obsessers about my own perfection, too.

I wouldn't say I'm completely healed of that, and it really tends to come back out under stress, but seminary did teach me to let many, many things go.

9:11 AM  
Blogger The Smoker King said...

You are a whacko, and I think you have lost your freeking mind. People like you is what is wrong with this country today.

5:41 AM  

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