SPACIOUS is a movement of open-hearted people who love to gather around tables and through all sorts of fun. Are you in? Share your stories here; email us!
As I slowed down to make the left turn, I saw him out of the corner of my eye.
He was near Massachusetts Avenue and the entrance to 395 South here in DC. He was standing between construction cones and Jersey barricades. It was dark, and there weren’t any streetlights nearby either. He wasn’t far from several other panhandlers.
Without thinking much about it, I assumed I knew what the sign he held would say.
But it didn’t tell a sad story (“Wife died. Vietnam vet. Hungry, tired and cold.”).
It didn’t make a joke at his own expense (“I’ll admit it; I just want beer.”)
His sign simply said, “Just Be Kind.”
And I burst into tears.
Because we shouldn’t have to request that. Especially when we’re in tattered clothes, on a cold night, standing in the middle of a busy intersection in the dark.
With car after car speeding past.
I love what Neighbor’s Table is doing and, especially, how they are doing it.
They say they are “a love mission of ordinary people loving extraordinarily around the table.”
They are also spreading the ethos of just going ahead and getting past the excuses, past the perfection, past whatever keeps you shy and reticent and alone, and gathering a bunch of people around a table.
And they’re also able to sell you a big old table with benches so you two can seat 20 people in one place.
You can find out more details and see great photos and video of table gatherings through their Facebook page.
I talked by phone to Sarah Harmeyer, the visionary and the chief love officer. I wanted to hear the love ooze through the phone (and I did). I came away glad that she’s on my planet, spreading table-love.
Let’s join the revolution. Let’s emulate Sarah’s gatherings. Let’s buy her tables and invite our own people over.
The book I’ve been talking about for so long (How long? Three and a half years, seven rewrites and 25 readers’ opinions worth of “long.”) is finally out in the world.
It’s a spiritual memoir, and it’s the background story on why “spaciousness” matters to me. Yes, it’s quirky. No, it can’t be easily categorized. It’s not a tame Sunday school story, but it’s full of Jesus. It’s an exposé of my own judgmental and critical nature, racism, ethnocentrism, fears and — ultimately — the beginnings of change and healing and freedom, love and joy. It’s got some road-tripping. It’s got some colorful characters. It’s sad. I hope it’s funny.
The fabulous cover painting and all the artistic design and editing were done by Ben Kolesar, whom many of you know from his stellar One Page Bible project.
Here’s how you can get it, and I hope you will:
Shop local at Politics & Prose Bookstore in DC. Call ahead (202-364-1919) for availability..
On Kobo, the indie e-reader
(And it’s coming soon on Audible and in French translation.)
Within a few days we’ll be celebrating the publication of Burning Down the Fireproof Hotel, the spiritual memoir I’ve been working on for three and a half years. Thanks to so many of you readers who’ve asked when it’ll be out, helped in editing, cheerleading, various ways. The countdown continues….
I was on the subway coming home from my workplace downtown. A man changed seats mid-ride and sat unusually close to another passenger. He leaned over too far into a man’s personal space and began looking at the other’s laptop screen. My anxiety rose. We all know not to do this, don’t we? I got up and moved seats, far away.
I’m not proud of this.
In a minute or so, the man came and sat directly in front of me, facing me, though a bit of a distance away. I saw right away that he was mentally disabled. And alone.
He noticed a pink balloon on the floor that a little girl had dropped. He picked it up like it was a rare treasure. He touched it, stretched it, smushed it, smiling and with rapt attention. The little girl clung to her father, aware in spite of her young age that the man was not “normal.” The father rather glared.
I noted that a touch of anxiety remained for me. I wasn’t sure how to react if the man approached me.
I’m not proud of this.
A woman across the aisle from me was watching him too. She began smiling, rather broadly, at the picture of this young man in his neat red plaid shirt, delighting in the balloon, all alone on the train.
And all of a sudden I realized I could hitchhike on her smile. I could jump right on.
In fact I had.
Her comfort and enjoyment of the man were all I needed to lose that anxiety, to even begin to wonder about the man’s life, to empathize, to ache over what it must be like to ride the subway and to have people (like me) move away from you when all you are trying to do is to get from point A to point B like everybody else, to express curiosity, and — imagine! — to interact, even, with a few fellow passengers.
I was playing a game with two toddlers and another adult. Everybody understood the rules: walk around until you’re instructed to sit down on your choice of colorful silk scarves spread out on the ground. And then we’ll take turns telling stories based on the color we’re each sitting on.
The younger of the two little girls doesn’t yet talk much in a traditional, technically accurate way, though she has specific sounds and understands any and everything. The other three of us have quite a lot to say, and we can say it clearly. And be understood.
We did a few rounds. It was fun to hear what the older girl had to say about a green cow named Brownie and all the things that befell that cow in a green world. It was fun to hear purple and yellow stories. And it was especially fun to hear from the girl who didn’t have any comprehensible words. She gesticulated. She made a sound or two. We answered as one might answer any storyteller, “Really? Then what? Tell me more!” And she did tell more. All of it quite clear to her. And not so clear to us, the listeners. In fact, we have no idea what her story was about.
When her turn finished, we all clapped as we did for each person at the end of their story.
And she beamed. As did we.
My granddaughter fell off her little bike and scraped her finger. Blood flowed. Or trickled, more accurately. She cried. Blood, as we all know, is B-A-D. Our bodily integrity has been compromised. We’ve been affected, impacted by something outside of us. And it’s B-A-D. Or so we believe.
After tending appropriately to my granddaughter (she IS three, after all), I told her what I really thought, “A little blood is good. It means you were doing something cool and you tried something new. It might hurt a little but I think it’s better to be on your bike and have a little blood on your finger than to not have done anything fun today.”
She told her grandfather later,” I had blood but it means I did something fun.”
And that, my friends, was me preaching to myself, reminding myself of what I know: that one of the occupational hazards of love (for I do believe love is our duty, our work, our purpose) is pain.
I read a passage this morning in a Bible study by Beth Moore. She wrote, “I stuck my heart out there and, though it’s been broken, it has not grown cold.”
I whooped out loud. Amen! That’s what I want — for me, for all of you, for everybody — that we would care more to avoid cold hearts than broken ones.
Smashed ones I’d rather not have. Betrayal, loss, devastation. I’m not courting any of that.
But the normal (albeit painful) wear and tear of trying to love people… bring it on. We’re all prickly. We all rebuff others’ efforts at times. We all are inconsistent in our reactions to others’ social bids towards us. We do some heart-breaking, some hurting, some challenging. And those things happen to us. Loving is dangerous business. And yet, as I’m not the first to say, “nice work if you can get it.” (more…)
There is one segment of our population which is not experiencing much spaciousness. It is veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).
We sent this group off to war, they did their jobs and, as a result, many have been so traumatized by their experiences, they’ve come back home unable to cope with civilian life. Our government provides inadequate treatments that fail to help, rocketing a startling suicide rate.
The New York Times ran an article recently profiling one of these vets and his dysfunctional, abysmal life. I was so moved by his story I referred him to a website showcasing a treatment program called Saratoga WarHorse. No meds, no psychobabble, just a simple, natural, spacious (if you will) connection between a man and a horse.
Here’s the deal: oversimplified, a veteran and a retired racehorse are paired in a round pen. They develop a bond of trust that dramatically affects the outlook of the veteran. It’s as if a switch has been turned on. Apparently it happens on a neurological level and on a spiritual level. It is good for the soul of both the human and the horse. It is saving lives. It’s about as “spacious” as anything I’ve ever seen. Simple, natural, vulnerable… creature healing creature.
I got involved in this work when I met people who had lost loved ones, young and in the prime of life, to suicide as the result of PTSD. There are so many problems that we all hear and read about it in the world. We can’t address them all. But we can get involved in something, and I knew that — for me — this was something practical and effective I could be a part of, and that lives are being saved through Saratoga WarHorse.
Most importantly, share news of this extraordinarily effective program, happening in Saratoga Springs, New York and Aiken, South Carolina, with those who might benefit from the relief it is bringing to veterans.
Anne Campbell serves on the Board of Directors of Saratoga WarHorse.
For someone who loves conversation, spontaneity, and learning people’s stories as much as I do, I play my own cards fairly close to the chest. I’ll open up to just about anyone, but only when and if opportunities for real connection present themselves. In the catalogue of possible conversational anxieties, misinterpretation scares me the most. Being a bundle of walking contradictions myself, that often seems a real risk.
So it’s been an interesting social experiment, living increasingly out and about in the midst of a long recovery from an accident, with no front teeth and walking with a cane. I’m blessed by friends, a partner, colleagues and collaborators who have rapidly, graciously recalibrated to assess me by what I say or build or write or sing, not for how I look — or, better, had no need to recalibrate at all.
With friends like these, who needs self-consciousness? I’ve had the distinctly luxurious blessing of being able to forget that anything is unusual. When I do interact with strangers, a pre-emptive smile helps. Most people take the cue and don’t mention it. It’s become a fun little game — I hold a very public secret, but I know no one is going to ask me about it. People know something’s up without me having to tell them; and I don’t have to say anything I don’t want to say. All very nice and controlled and safe.
On the other hand, as someone who craves intimacy with others, it’s also lonely and disorienting.
Nevertheless I was comfortably ensconced in my normal cocoon of privacy the other morning when I got a jolt of SPACIOUS in action. (more…)
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise?
If I eat my lunch alone and no one else sees it, does it truly nourish me?
Aren’t those variations of the same question: “Must a human being be present for something to matter?” Or in the case of the second question: “Must a second human being be present for me to feel significant?”
Everybody is posting food photos… Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, billboards on the highway (probably soon!). And at first I wondered why. I thought they fell in the “TMI” (too much information) category.
Then I found myself wanting to take a photo myself. The food wasn’t all that beautiful. It was just good, solid nutrition on a generic white plate.
I love being alone. And I think it’s good for the soul. But what I wanted in the moment when I wanted to share my food photos, I realized, was a witness to my life, to my day, to the moment.
What I wanted was someone at the table with me.
Someone with whom I could make lip-smacking noises of appreciation over having the gift of a meal when I was hungry.
Someone with whom I could share bites.
Someone with whom I could share conversation.
Someone with whom I could share — especially — me.
Someone who would say, “I see you. And your lunch. And your life.”
“And you matter.”
My new policy: When a friend shares a food photo. I say a prayer for that friend to find much companionship and joy. If they already have enough of each, fine… it can’t hurt to ask for more. And then I “like” their photo… so they know someone wishes they were eating with them.
That would be me.