Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Such and Such

I wrote this nearly a year ago. With my recent resignation from guiding, I guess it is all the more poignant and real just how overwhelming the work can be. And now for the such and such... I was told by someone recently, a very smart someone who I am still yet to really know, that every action speaks a need. It seemed to me that the space between two people is filled with this speaking and needing and yet we are often hard pressed to be speaking exactly the same language. Over the last few years of working within behavioral health, from adult trauma therapy patients or (currently) at-risk youth in the wilderness, it feels like I have had to choke on this idea more than once- when they start abusing again, it has nothing to do with you; when they say fuck you, bitch what they really mean is this is scary and I’m homesick. But still, I love people and as much as I have placed myself in a space of ‘helper,’ I sure as hell would not have done any of it if not for the fact that I grow into an easier, happier life learning through and from these humans I have met. My last week on trail was one of the more difficult weeks I have yet walked out of. A friend and fellow guide, in decompressing from the week, said it sounded like something of a ‘staff development’ sort of shift. By that, we mean that I felt like I barely kept my head above the water, numbed my own emotional needs to care for those of my students, and in the end saw some beautiful humans showing their ugliest sides. I learned even more sharply that these young boys and girls in wilderness programs for the greater part of 10 weeks have so little choice and autonomy that it must be created. Many were yanked from their warm beds in the ungodly hours of the morning and sent to Utah by parents at the end of their long, though some shorter, ropes. Sometimes, the best gift I can give to the young boys I work with is to ask them where they think they want to make their backpack line rather than telling. When you have to stand in a circle to brush your teeth every day for exactly two minutes with your whole group and then do pretty much EVERYTHING else with them too, it doesn’t really matter how small the blister is- sometimes you just need someone to give you their undivided attention and support. I’ve seen this with boys, girls, young adults, and fellow staff. The trouble is, I guess, when the action does a poor job at speaking this need. I went to Burning Man recently, my second time in three years, and was amazed at how differently it felt this time around. My first year was like being born. I remember walking up to my friend Ethan one morning as he played around in the Yum Cart and told him, “I get it.” In the time I had spent on the playa, up to that moment, I felt like I understood why it existed, at least for me. It is a place where people are given the space to cut out from under the weight of their chosen lives and run and play and explore and love with other people doing all of those same things. My greatest need the first year I came was to find the sort of community of spirit I had found myself in for two years living in Africa. America, I thought, would disappoint me. Seems not, and I left the dusty desert knowing that the space I create around me, the speaking actions of needs, is what can draw near the love of strangers and friends and self. My second voyage to the dust introduced something slightly different. Out there in that Black Rock Desert, I saw a lot of humans expressing themselves in ways that were at once real and full of life. It looked like people being their most-selves: their sexiest, funnest, deepest, playfulest, wildest, highest selves and it was spectacular to see. Next to this, I also caught wind of a great amount of sadness about the ‘default world’ they would be forced back into. Why was it that these folk were their “–est” selves here and not away? Why was it that a friend told me, driving away covered in dust, that he wasn’t as nice at home? Why was I more paused and positive in that place than in my own home, with my own students? Maybe it is that chosen weight we carry, the one that feels comfortable yet debilitating, that keeps us doing the same things even when the results are decreasingly satisfactory, the same need with the wrong speaking. The same weight of impatience that explains it is easier to tell a kid rather than ask, the one that steps on my toes when I want to skip and tells me I should rather walk. Hard to say where the weight comes from and where it goes, but however you slice it, your guess is probably just as good as mine. and she asked that this time the world to come gently round to her, B

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