I was tempted today to do another TOP 10 List, that was a pretty easy and (nearly) concise way to communicate to the whole world the travels and travails of my day and get in a blog post and a poem at the same time, but I immediately decided against it. How can we really tell which moments will qualify? Especially so early in the day. Yesterday, I left out an important, maybe the most important, event of my day. I ran into my friend and former roommate, Sarah, who I hadn’t seen in just over 3 years. We were neighbors in Memphis and moved out to San Francisco together in 2009. Both of us were (and still are) couples with dogs, and serendipitously decided to move to SF at the same time, so what better idea than to live together? Sarah and her boyfriend, Sean, found a place on Lucky Street, a tiny two-block alleyway in the Mission, and Ariel and I managed to arrive on International Friendship Day (August 2 of 2009, August 4 of this year – CELEBRATE IT!). After a 6 month stint of road-tripping, Ariel and I were changing permanent addresses from Hope Street in Brooklyn to Lucky Street in San Francisco. Life couldn’t get any better. I remember getting the phone call that S&S had found a place. I was on the beach with my family in Florida and started jumping for joy, singing, “If you need me, I’ll be at 39 Lucky Street, the sunniest part, of the sunniest part, of San Francisco!” (We don’t live there anymore, for anyone with the weird desire to stalk me.) But the why of us not living there is at the crux of today’s post. We had a disagreement. Amongst roommates, this is a common thing to do. Humans don’t always agree with everything each other says and/or do-s, and living together and sharing space and seeing each other constantly is maybe the quickest way to find out just how much you are able to disagree. Long story short, Ariel & I moved out rather suddenly. Just as we had left Memphis rather suddenly, and in a different way, just as we had gotten engaged rather suddenly. (I didn’t even have a ring, but that is a different story for a different day.) Our lives have often been ruled more by impulse than rationale.
When Ariel & I decided to find our own place, I did not expect that it would take three years of basic radio silence with our old roommates to even get the slightest rekindling of communication. When Sarah and I ran into each other yesterday, we were both so happy and surprised to see each other. After the shock of the “accidental” meeting, I could sense relief washing over both of us. We both admitted to thinking of and wondering about each other often, and easing our curiosity by mildly facebook stalking each other, which is an easy and terrible thing to do. Why couldn’t we just reach out? Why would it take 3 years & a chance meeting to reunite? My obvious answer is fear. Fear of admitting my own fault in the situation, fear of the other holding on tightly to what I so badly wanted to let go, fear of flying, fear. And the reuniting, how could that happen? Like two magnets attracting each other slowly but surely, our paths have already crossed so many times and it was just a matter of time before they crossed again. One of the funniest parts was that she was wearing a shirt that we had made together on a craft day at our house. It was a a pterodactyl surrounded by lightning bolts, a fun shirt made with stencils and fabric paint, a solid memento of the good times we have shared together. I felt like we were the pterodactyl and the lightning bolts around her collar were the magnets bringing us together, and I’m thankful for it.
When I was a teacher in Tennessee (I taught high school theatre for one year directly out of college), one of my favorite improv warm-up games to play with the students was one called “My Fault.” We would begin by walking around the room, weaving in and out of each other, practicing seeing and being seen, and at some point I would introduce a ball into the equation. Students were instructed to make eye contact and give a gentle, underhand toss. If the ball hit the ground, both the tosser and the potential tossee would have to say “my fault” and sit out until the next round. These were the only rules of the game, and we would make things more complicated by adding more balls and switching speeds (If I remember correctly, I used a scale from 1-10 to describe how fast we would move). But regardless of how complicated we tried to make the game, the lesson remained simple: admit fault and move on. A participant may feel resistance, but better a little inner struggle than an outward blame battle.
I’ve gone back and forth on this as an appropriate notion with which to approach life, and have my own hangups about guilt and fault, partly stemming from growing up in a church that asked me to pray a “sinner’s prayer” regardless of how perfect I thought I had been. The older that I get, though, the more I recognize the therapeutic value of admitting imperfection. Of being present with it. OK with it. It eases. Being whole and honest with myself about my idiosyncrasies and shortcomings makes communication easier, both internally and externally. I recognized the resistance the students would feel when it was so obviously not their fault. It didn’t matter if “she didn’t make eye contact,” or “he did that on purpose” (out of flirtation usually rather than spite). My response was simple: “say my fault and sit down.” One of the great rewards of a teacher is watching students grow, and learning from that growth, both of which I did. I watched them realize that resistance was not only futile, but they would get to come back to the game faster if they just followed the rules. I watched it get easier for them. I watched myself have the same resistance and I watched it begin to melt away inside myself. The resistance melts away even now.
None of us are perfect in any given situation, it’s the collective celebration of this that makes humanity, humanity. It takes forgiveness of self and of the other to begin the healing process. Sure, it may leave a scar, but better that than an open wound. And while this is no guarantee that the other party will be all bread an butter about the issue, air is made clearer. Relish in each others’ imperfections as you relish in your own. Celebrate them as you celebrate yourself. Some burden will be lifted, even if it is not expressed, the burden of being a human will be acknowledged. The burden that we all share. That we can share, if we are willing.
An exercise, if you have read this far, is to dig through your memory and choose a relationship gone awry or aloof, and allow yourself to admit fault in the situation. If you can’t think of a relationship with another, what about your relationship with yourself? Keep in mind that the goal is not self-flagellation, the goal is releasing the burden of perfection.
Start by keeping that other in mind, even if that other is yourself, and thinking the words “My fault.” Literally think it now.
Do you feel it?
Try physically speaking the words out loud.
With your lips and teeth and tongue and breath,
You can do it now, even quietly by yourself.
While openly and honestly thinking or speaking these words, allow forgiveness and acceptance to envelop you. Such a simple complex little phrase. If you are feeling especially brave, reach out to the other person, speak the words to them. “My fault.”
Hey Sarah, hey Sean, hey Nico, hey Isaiah, hey Rufus, hey Travis, hey Matt, hey Steve, hey Lane, hey Yonah, hey you:
“I love you.”
PS – Here is a demo recording from February in Memphis I made with my sister Anna, my brother Alex, and my impromptu sister, Laiken. It’s a work in progress, a meditation on these ideas, even if I didn’t know it exactly at that time.
PPS – I love you