Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wishing a Gold Star Would Always Work...

Yesterday, it was said that I was cheerful. Well, that was then, and this is now.

I couldn't muster the energy to get up early today, didn't feel like getting out of bed at all, and others at the cafe seemed to be the same, disjointed and grumpy. Sometimes I think the universe has proclaimed it an off day, and not just with the threat of rain. I can be happy in the rain, oblivious to it, or enjoying it, even without an umbrella or rain boots, giving myself over to it. But something else is in the air today, something that feels very akin to doom. (Warning: do not read on if you are subject to depression.)

A man heard me talking to the guy behind the counter about his gold star. He was wearing it, had chosen the shirt he'd left it on on purpose, but didn't really know why. He said when asked what it meant to him, that it meant nothing. But still, he proffered, "I like it, I wear it..."

As I sat down, the curious stranger questioned me at length after I gave him his gold star. In hindsight I can see it clearly: he was looking for hope. He immediately checked out the blog on his Blackberry so as not to forget, and suggested after some conversation about the responsibility we all have to bear on the current economic crisis, on the displaced anger at only a select few, "Maybe you call the blog 'a bailout for each of us'?!"

But who, he wanted to know, asking in his thick Hispanic accent, was responsible for deciding who deserved a gold star? Surely, he said, there has to be someone put in place to judge...

I laughed. "Everyone deserves one," I said, "Anyone can give them out. It is about the receiver, not the giver. People have to come to the deserving feeling themselves once they get the gold star. It's up to them."

"Maybe some people should get an angry face instead of a gold star?!" he suggested, leaning toward me with feeling, basically begging me to differ and defend well my reasoning.

I tried. "No! That is exactly the point! People who are angry are just angry because they never got enough encouragement, enough recognition of their greatness. It is a cycle we need to break," I argued optimistically, invoking the pointlessness of death row, of our penal system's unrepentant punishment model. There had to be a way to turn people around! The gold star was at least a start...It was his turn to laugh.

"I put bad people in jail," he said, leaning back in his chair, coming clean about where he was coming from. In his human rights work, he said, "it's hard to have hope for someone who has killed 100,000 people."

I often say the Holocaust could happen again, and does every day in different ways. We are primed for it in the way we like to blindly believe, to find easy answers. This man knows that's true, is working to figure how to put a stop to it. Not easy. I should have given him a ream of gold stars.

I wanted to go to yoga, but knew, at this point, that it would probably be useless. People sling yoga mats over their shoulders these days as a sign of spiritual wealth much like they drive BWMs as a sign of external success. But it's not that easy. You have to be able to breathe and believe, to really relax and elongate. And some days it isn't easy. It is just going through the motions. The energy outside Studio B at the Y as people wait anxiously for yoga to begin on Saturday mornings is so toxic it would take 10 straight hours of intensely focused meditation and yoga in a silent Ashram in India to recover, I often think.

I decide against yoga and talk with a woman who really deserves her gold star, who is trying so hard to protect her kids and herself and, of course, her husband, from the reality of her husband's terminal cancer. Just getting up in the morning, getting dressed hopefully in beautiful scarves and jewelry, getting to work, is a major accomplishment for her.

I leave the cafe in a state, but I manage to get to the gym and run it out, at least for 15 minutes. On my way home, I pick up a piece of wood from a pile of abandoned building parts. I always want to pick up pieces of wood. Somehow, they inspire in me a sense of possibility, of what could be if you work at something. The piece I grab is finished on the edges, for I am practical after all. I know I am not likely to start sawing wood anytime soon, though I'd like to. Carpenter is one of my top 10 dream jobs. But, for now, with this finished, slatted wood piece, I can immediately envision it's new life: on it, I will place a plant, in the hopes that it will live and grow, happy.


  1. Every day is a challenge, some more than others, and more for some people than for others. My advice: keep growing the plant; keep giving out the stars; skip the yoga. Also, make sure ALL the construction materials you find on the street and bring into the apartment have finished edges.

  2. Speaking of wood...You should come see the loft Spencer and Chris built! Thank you Steph, I loved reading your blog this morning and Geordie's comment about the finished edges made me laugh. Thank you!