Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the roles we play

Got an email today with this subject line: 
Sycamore Begins Year 2 on Sept. 9 -- Welcome to The Art of Spiritual Direction.  
Although I was a participant last year in a Sycamore program called Contemplation in Every Day Life, what is set to begin on September 9 is a whole new ballgame.  What was an experience of being contemplative is now training for an art or ministry.   My mentor is now my supervisor.  Last year it was not possible to be right or wrong, and while I am sure that will be the spirit of this upcoming year, the word “critique” has come up and also, “constructive criticism.”  I know they love me.  I know the gentleness of each and every one of their hearts but I’d be lying if I told you I am completely anxiety free about September 9, 2011. 
And then there is this.  Tucked away in the middle of the email under the innocuous heading, “Scheduling conflicts,” I read this passage: 
The next two years of spiritual direction training involve important skill building, educational presentations, realplays/roleplays, small/large group work, Contemplative Group Engagement, and interactive practice of spiritual direction with the team and your peers.
Don’t like to do that. 
Not at all.     
Oh, but it’s FUN, you say.   It’s just pretend.  My grandmother would have said it’s “play actin’.” 
But here’s how “play actin’” usually turns out for me.  Last year for Halloween, Michael and I dressed as Magenta and Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Our costumes were dead on and Michael OWNED his. But I did not own mine.  I LOOKED the part but when asked to get in character and pose for photographs, I just could not pretend to BE Magenta.  I felt too self-conscious.  My costume was right on the outside but in the end, I didn’t have what it took on the INSIDE to pull it off. 
A few years before that, when Little C was a toddler and we had been cooped up for far too long, Michael and I took off alone for New Orleans and what we refer to as The Lost Weekend.  We had a great time.  I’ll leave it at that.  One evening on Bourbon Street, we were dancing to a (really good) live band.  A few Hurricanes in the wind, alone with my husband for the first time in what felt like years and having a blast dancing, I was having way too much fun…UNTIL… the lead singer plucked ME out of the crowd and up on stage.  I was 40 something years old and twenty something pounds heavier than I’d like and he made ME and the very sexy song he was singing TO ME the absolute center of attention. 
I wish I could say that the spirit of the Big Easy (and the Hurricanes!) carried me and I was able to play the part the singer clearly wanted me to play.  But I didn’t.  I froze.  I stood there.  I was a total snore. Can you say buzz kill?  It was awkward for everyone.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying I should have flashed the crowd but I could have played along, just a bit.  I couldn’t wait for that song to end so I could disappear back into the anonymity of the crowd.      
That song still plays fairly often on the radio station I like to listen to while driving.   Although no one in the world except Michael and me (and now all of you) knew what happened that night, my face STILL turns beet red when I hear that song and I change the station just as quick as I can.   When the negative self talk in my head finally winds down, I wonder why in the world that singer picked me in the first place. 
The only thing I can come up with is that I must have appeared differently when I thought that Michael was the only person paying any attention to me.  For one thing, he’s my husband!  And I trust him implicitly.  But mostly, I know that he sees me differently than I see myself.  I know this because he’s told me so.  (Plus, he didn’t witness all those “awkward” years.  Pregnancy doesn’t count, only thick glasses and bad perms.)  You should ask someone who loves you to describe in depth how they see you.  I know that you will be blown away by what they say. My friend gave me “this” as a birthday gift this year.  She wrote me a love letter!   Try doing that for someone you love.   It really is the best gift, ever!   
The thing about participating in a program that teaches you to live more contemplatively is that, well, you begin contemplating things.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the roles I have played in the past.   Some were a perfect fit and I relish them to this day.  Some used to fit just fine but now are outgrown, like my kid’s shoes from two months ago.  Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where someone else wishes to claim our cherished role!  How frightening is that to the ego?  Pretty darn scary!!!  “But I am the (smart one, pretty one, helpful one)!   Scoot over you, get out of my way and let me be ME.”
And then there are those roles that I would be glad to leave behind but for whatever reason I don’t. Sometimes I get really mad at my teenage self…my twenty something self…my thirty something self…my yesterday self… for playing roles that were/are limiting, self defeating, or outright soul f’ing crushing.  I get mad at myself and vow NEVER to allow that to happen again and then someone invites me to do something new and I say, “Oh no.  I CAN’T do that.  I’m too….”
Sometimes I blame others, insisting that they force these roles on me.  I verbalized that while in conversation with a friend just the other day.  “She needed me to be…”     But when we got off the phone, I had to ask myself if that was really true.   If I am truthful with myself, I will admit that I needed to play that role just as much as my friend needed me to play it.     
No one can force a role on me except me. Not really.  And no one can stop me from choosing a new role.
 No one except me, that is.   
I always have a choice.  And so do you.  Let’s contemplate that. 


  1. I think we are often our own worst critics. Although there is plenty I don't remember from the Big Easy, one of the things that am sure I don't remember is you being pulled on stage and being boring. I do remember you getting pulled on stage. I remember you were a bit shy and maybe even embarrassed. I mostly remember you being very cute.

    I know why that singer picked you. He must have seen a glimpse of what I have the pleasure of living with and loving every day.

    Let your star shine when you are “play actin’" this next year. I hope it can become fun for you. No role has the ability to contain you whether it is imposed by me, other people or yourself.

  2. And yes, that is EXACTLY why I married him. :)


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