Friday, May 30

The Mayas in Our Lives

I love this introspective gaze.
This week we lost a beautiful and talented lady...Maya Angelou. She was a person full of light, despite the darkness that so often surrounded her. She was deeply introspective and had a way of conveying that emotion through her storytelling. If you have not read some of her poetry or prose, I can't express how much you are missing. I began with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - like most of you, it was assigned reading in some English class. I didn't get it at first - because I was this goofy white kid who had led a pretty sheltered life and here was this woman talking about her struggles. Every time I read it, I find a new level to appreciate. It is much like watching a garden mature...tall trees lending a hushed luxury of green everywhere.

Since I did not get to know...or even meet!...her in real life, she will live on in her powerfully written words. Thanks to wonders of the internet, I can even see her sing and hear her recite Still I Rise. I mourn the loss to the world - but the most direct affect I felt at her passing was the moment I thought of some of the Mayas who have directly affected my life.


Deeply introspective.


Tenacious friends.

This reminds me so much of Susan
It became apparent when a friend posted on Facebook how she would miss Maya Angelou being in this world. And I reflected on how very much like Maya this friend is. She is a free spirit, lives in some frozen tundra in California? I never realized how much it snowed in Lake Tahoe - but she posts crazy pictures of snowshoeing and bears eating bird feeders and her whole body smiles in pictures! I met her when I was a theatre rat. Hung out at the theatre ALL the time. Sets, lighting, props, painting...I was game for anything.

I met Susan when she stage managed the annual performance of The Nutcracker. And for regional ballet, these people pulled off OUTSTANDINGLY professional performances. And she scared me a little bit. But I learned how to stage manage just watching her. Those were my base skill sets for most all of my employed life - some of my favorite years were standing in the wings. She was my best friend's mom, and hanging out with them was always a time a uncontrollable (snorting milk out of your nose...) laughter, intelligent discussions...acting, singing, passion! Susan Shank Mix, one of the best Mayas in my life.

Yep, Carlton laughed just like this!
Another one was a guy, but he was definitely a Maya. A fierce educator, a defender of children's need to learn in their own way, larger than life. Carlton filled up a room with light from the moment he walked into it. He laughed fully - he would just throw his head back and howl! He gave my family (and a think a few hundred other families over the course of his teaching career) a catch phrase that helps us get along in the world: "Keep it in your head." Reminding us that we all know what you are thinking - that it isn't something helpful - so the best course of action is to just swallow it down. No need to say it. Just keep it in your head. Be the bigger person. Let it go. My sister commented on Facebook today (May 30, his birthday) that Carlton would have loved Facebook. Indeed he would have. The world lost him wayyyy too soon. He was one of those rare people who could look you in the eye and talk to you and make you feel like the most important person in the world. He and I had a chance to have several conversations during a turning point in his life - as he left his position as my sister's roommate in Richmond. He never treated me like a kid sister - I was proud that he saw me as an intellectual equal. Which I found incredibly inspiring.

People change our lives in tremendous ways. They change them in subtle ways.

It reminds me of a favorite quote from Maya Angelou. It was in the April 2011 edition of O, the Oprah magazine (had to Google that, but wanted to be respectful of her intellectual property). "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told,'s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."

I've always kind of shorthanded the same perspective on life...We are the sum total of our experiences. Whatever you are going through is giving you something for the road ahead. Maybe you'll be able to share your life experience with someone, help them to avoid a pitfall or endure a rough patch. Be sure to soak up all the experiences that you can!!!

Thank you to all the Mayas in my life (this post would take till Tuesday if I shared everything!).

Friday, May 2

Skidding along the edge

Well. I did it again. Came close to the edge and dodged death again.

The first time I remember doing it was my first year working at Kings Dominion. I was headed to Richmond for a preseason weekend of work at the Mason Dixon Music Hall and left a little later than planned and ended up in dark driving rain. Rolled my mother's 74 Superbeetle. When it stopped rolling, my foot was on the dashboard. Oh, that's right...beetles got no dashboard. Leg was out where the windshield was supposed to be. What saved my ass then? Seatbelt. And back in those days I was horrible about wearing my seatbelt. Still not as good as I should be... I walked away. Pretty much unscathed.

Another time, I was in Canada. We were headed from Canmore to Banff to pick up one of my Canadian brothers from work. It was October. I had just arrived that day and moronically was wearing shorts. Anyway, black ice...spinout...come to rest against the center barrier. Figuring, "cosmetic damage" and about to get pointed in the right direction when the truck came up over the same hill where we had hit black ice. And so...he's headed straight toward us skidding along the same barrier we were on. All I could say was, "Johnny, get us out of here." Stupid, right? Like he has a magic wand? But all of the sudden, the truck jackknifed to the other side of the road, up on the jersey barrier on the right shoulder. Double trailer. The gas tanks by the cab blew just before it slid past us. No one was injured. The truck burned for 4 hours. We were stuck on the side of a cold highway for a very long time (unable to reach the brother in Banff, who pretty much had figured we were goners hearing reports of wreck and fire on the highway. didn't help that he was at a bar during the wait.) But once again, walked away. Still pretty much unscathed.

And it happened again yesterday. That train derailment that happened in Lynchburg? I was there. Front row seat. Glad we hadn't opted to eat out on the deck. I think I'd be in therapy if I had watched it that close. Instead I was with my co-workers from Rush Homes at a farewell lunch for an awesome volunteer who helped us through major transition. We had just finished lunch and handed off payment to our lovely server Nicole (who I loved at Jazz Street Grill and still love at Depot Grille) when we heard strange train noise. If you dine at the Depot often enough, you get used to the sound of trains passing by. I don't think it is possible to have lunch without at least one train passing. Unless you're on the deck when the brakes are squealing...eeeeek. But this sound was just weird, and sudden. And then I think there were some thuds and I looked up and saw the look on the faces of servers standing by the window at the kitchen. Something was seriously wrong. Seriously. So you stand up. You look out the window.

You see tanker cars. Not where they should be. And tangled. And on fire. And black smoke. And you think, "what the hell?" And somebody a shade more able than you says "go. get out of here. just go. now." And people go. And nobody is trampled. And nobody is screaming. They are just going. But you lose track of the people you were with. And you head where your logic tells you to go. And then you can't find the person you thought you were with. And you look at the cars and the flames and wonder how long they can withstand that heat before they blow. And take everything you can see around you out. Including your dumb ass crouching behind a car, taking a couple of cell phone pics - because, why not? Something to identify your body with.

I shifted perspective there - because that is what happened at the time. All of those times. I step outside and see this incredible thing happening around me. And I know there isn't a damn thing I can do to change the outcome. So, there I was. But they didn't blow. And we got away. Once again, I walk away. Pretty much unscathed.

There may be something I need to examine here. I can tell you...yes, I felt the heat. It was like a bonfire. (the train conflagration, not that I am headed to hell. no matter what some of you may believe!) And yes, I was unsure what the next minutes, or seconds would hold. But, nothing happened to me. Sort of.

I'm headed to the beach where I will ponder these things.

I think I must still have something I need to do, or learn in this life. I know I've blown through at least 3 of my 9 lives. Maybe 4 or 5...

Could have been a different day today, but it isn't. Just another incredible story to tell Alex Trebek when I finally make it on Jeopardy.