Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making Frozen Moments Fluid

Larry Losey. That was his name. He was a member of a church where I was working as a youth and children's ministries director, and was not your stereotypical children's ministries volunteer. A former rock-and-roller, long haired, and into eastern spirituality and meditation, he had no children and had never (that I know of) been married. Somehow we clicked and became friends. What struck me about Larry was the strength of his integrity. Integrity is something that is very important to me in my own life, and seems to have been the defining characteristic of those people I've chosen to become my friend-- not just acquaintance, but real friend with access to my heart and emotional energy-- over the past few years. Larry was who he was-- no small task in our modern society-- and seemed content to just be.

At that time in the church, the youth ministry (middle and high school) had been struggling for some time, and believing very strongly that the preteen and teen years were crucial in helping to establish a connection to something greater than oneself, I made it my mission to grow the youth group. I put out a call for volunteers, and personally invited a few friends to join in the effort. Larry was one of those friends. When I asked whether he'd rather work with middle school or high school, his response was that he wanted to serve wherever he was needed.

Through the experience of working together on youth group events, Larry and I developed a closer friendship that was based on time together, and lengthy talks about the nature of the universe. He came to our kinda-annual murder mystery party, bringing a bottle of non-alcoholic wine with him (he didn't drink). It was a 60s themed party, and he was probably the only one there who had been alive in the 60s! And when Jesus Christ Superstar came to Tampa and he had incredible box seats for the performance, he invited me and the Hubster to join him. It was wonderful, and our conversations with Larry (and the Catholic priest he also invited) were amazing that night! In any case, we didn't spend tons of time together, but there was still a mutual respect and mutual admiration between us, and I thought he was an incredibly interesting and unique person.

After leaving my job at the church and preparing to move to South Carolina, I decided to have a final get-together with my friends before the move. I invited a handful of people to join me at Applebees for karaoke (Hubs volunteered to keep the kids so I could have a night out-- he hates crowds and noisy places anyway)-- Larry was one of those people. That night, free from the yoke of having been bound by a volunteer-supervisor relationship, and with me free from the pressure to "say the right thing" as a representative of the church, we talked.

All night long, we talked between songs, talking about Paramhansa Yogananda, whose teachings had been influential in Larry's life, and about each other's histories. We talked about Roy Eugene Davis, chosen successor of Paramhansa Yogananda (who left the monastic life and gave up his successorship to be married), whose retreat center I had visited and with whom I had spent a little time. I learned things about Larry that night that I had never known before-- how he had lived his life before placing integrity and growth before other, less important desires, and about his recovery story from a painful past to a place of peace. He learned things about me, who I was, and some of the events that had shaped where I was going in my life. We talked about God, relationships, family, our pasts, our presents, and it's only in retrospect that I realized how little talk about futures there had been. We talked about karaoke, and friendships, and bungee jumping, and being silly.

And at some point in the night, shortly before I sang my last karaoke song, Larry became very serious. He looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "You are something special, you know. Just really, really special." My usual awkward and giddy self, I looked away and tried to change the subject. He focused in more closely on me, with a gaze I knew I couldn't escape, piercing right through to the core of my being. When he knew he had my attention again, he smiled a little, with the same look of sincere caring and amusement of a loving father. He added, "You are such a free spirit! Just really a free spirit, and I think that's awesome. Don't give it up. Don't let them get you down."

There was something in the way he looked at me that night, and the way he said what he did, that has been permanently burnt upon the film of my life and the story of my soul. It wasn't that he admired me or my free-spirited nature that stuck with me, but rather the overwhelming sense of longing I felt from him that night as he called me out for who I was. He wasn't telling me anything that was completely an unfamiliar idea to me-- I've always considered myself a bit quirky and free-spirited. But it was the nonverbal, the part of his communication that extended beyond his simple words and held me out in the open where I couldn't hide from myself, that made an impression. I knew that night when he said what he did that there was something more than a simple interaction going on, but I wasn't sure what.

And then my family and I moved to South Carolina, and I never saw Larry Losey again.

Shortly after the move, a friend and youth group volunteer from the church back home called, crying, to tell me the news. Larry had just passed on, and I believe she said it was from a rare form of pancreatic cancer. At that moment, on the phone, I understood what I had felt from him that night at karaoke. I still can't put it into words, but I recognize fully the emotion, the longing, the realization he was placing into my heart and for my future, from his own place of staring into the stark reality of not getting well again. For a few months, I saw him in my dreams. And then he just went away.


Our move to small town South Carolina in 2004 was initially a good one. The first year we were there, we realized we didn't fit in very well, but were okay with that, thinking it would be short term. Then, as our time there continued, I began to try to preserve my spunk, my uniqueness, in little ways, including using this blog as a creative outlet and emotional sounding board. And then, somehow, over time, I began to give in, in little ways, to the banality of stereotypical family life in a small town and to those who would do me harm. I quit singing karaoke, quit dancing in my living room, talked less and less about my past (even though that involved talking less and less about some of my life's most awesome lessons and insights), quit saying things that might not be socially acceptable, focused my blogging on more light-hearted and less personal things, and began to worry a great deal about fitting in and what other people thought of me. I willingly gave up so much of who I was in the name of maintaining connections-- ANY kind of connections-- with the people around me and the culture in which I was immersed, and left all my free-spirited parts behind. From talking to my husband about our lives and how the move impacted us, it seems we were going through different, but parallel, experiences of feeling we had to choose between being outcasts in our community (or at least oddballs) and giving up huge parts of who we were.

And so, last year, after the quest to become like all other nice families in our area had sucked the Life out of both of us, worried about what we were providing for our children, feeling like our integrity had been sacrificed, we decided we needed to move. Neither of us wanted to be in a big city, but neither of us wanted another super-small town, either. We wanted somewhere progressive, where we wouldn't be the oddballs, and where spontaneity, intellectual curiosity, and spiritual seeking were the norm, and where we could more fully express who each of us wanted to become. We researched, and inquired, and prayed, and finally settled on a smallish (but not too small), crunchy town in North Carolina near a major university. We planned for a few months, and then made our move on a short term lease, which we knew would be up on June 22.

Since moving here, we've become familiar with the local culture, local opportunities, and love where we are. We were feeling the gentle nudgings of Spirit, urging us to once again become comfortable with who each of us is, flaws and all, as long as we were being real, honest, kind, compassionate, and maintaining our integrity. In spite of nudges, however, neither of us was really sure what to do, or experiencing any major life changes or shifts in the past four months.

Until the day we signed the lease on the new place we knew would be a more permanent home. Somehow, over the course of that day, I began to think of Larry Losey and our connected talk at karaoke night years ago. I remembered the way he looked at me when he declared me to be a free spirit, and felt like a disappointment for having become someone so different over the past few years, someone so predictable and boring. I felt as if my spirit had become bound up so greatly in my own fears of disappoinment, of rejection, of loneliness, and of failure, and seeing Larry in my mind's eye, smiling as he reminded me of who I was, tugged at me day and night for several days.

This one moment, frozen in my memory, reminded me of how un-fluid everything in me, everything in my life and soul and spirit and being had become over the past few years-- years that began with one betrayal and were quickly followed by another-- years in which I realized that even those people I had trusted the most and loved the most might be flawed and imperfect and leave me hurt and bewildered. The past few years were years in which I began to feel the need for something outside of me to be stable and steady and predictable, and tried to make it that way by making everything within me as stable and steady and predictable as I wanted my environment to become. Thinking of Larry and his simple assessment (one made with a delight and appreciation I haven't felt from anyone other than my husband in recent years) reminded me that this one moment has become so crystallized in my memory because it is one of the last times that someone else (other than my husband, who knows me through and through, better than I even know myself, and loves me unconditionally-- craziness, quirkiness, intensity, and all) took the time to really get to KNOW me, and further, to encourage me to be comfortable in my own skin, without having to pretend or meet a certain standard of "good"-ness before being accepted.

It's been a long 5 years, and very lonely in many ways.

And frankly, I'm glad to be moving on.

I think I realize now why Larry has been so ever-present in my thoughts over the past two weeks. I'm being reminded that we are here now, not there. I am free now, not bound. I am allowed now to open up, to explore my reality, and to become who I am. I am being reminded that deep down inside, under the wounds and scars and anxieties, there is a free spirit. Someone who is very, incredibly special and unique, and who I'd like to get to know again. Someone who, perhaps, other people might want to get to know, and come to love, and want to befriend. Someone who has something to offer that isn't tied up in social appropriateness but is nonetheless powerful and exciting.

Thank you, Larry, for the reminder. Then, and now.

1 comment:

stacey abshire said...

Welcome back!