Dust in the Wind

In the middle of the afternoon towards the end of January in 1979, someone threw the fire alarm in my dorm at college.  I was in my room up on the 3rd floor of East Hall, studying.  I joined everyone else galloping down the stairs and at the turn on the landing between the 3rd and 2nd floor I did something that made me twist my right ankle.  Later in the evening, after a long wait in the ER at a hospital in Lynchburg, I found out I had torn my ankle ligaments really badly and I could expect to be in a cast for 8 weeks at least.

I called home that night because I needed my parents to put more money in my bank account to cover the hospital bill. I was in pain and tired so I remember falling asleep sometime soon after that.  I’d been told to stay off my feet the next day and to come back in the afternoon to get my cast. I was still a teenager who could sleep in late.  And by the time I woke up, my mom had called the Dean’s office and the Registrar’s office and had withdrawn me from school for the remainder of my freshman year.  She had made all the travel arrangements to get from Cali, Colombia to Lynchburg Virginia, and also made reservations for us to fly together back to Cali.  She was probably packing her bags before lunch.

That afternoon, as I sat in the cast room waiting for the doctor to come in, Dust in the Wind was playing over the PA system.  I already knew all the things my mom had done and I had not stood up to her.  There was this line she could always get me with:  “you and I have worked too hard and given up too much for you to take that risk with your hip”.  She’d trotted it out first thing when she called to tell me what she’d done, insisting that with staircases and snow and ice and walks to and from class there was no way I wasn’t putting my “bad hip” at risk since I had injured my “good leg”.  I never put up a fight.  I simply collapsed into that narrative, the new sense of myself that I was working so hard to build up pretty much crushed.  I was mortified to have such a dependent relationship with my mom showcased for all my peers to see, right when we were all  beginning to figure out this business of being independent.  I felt like a coward and quitter. God, it was awful. I went home, I got through the rest of the semester working as a volunteer at Chiquitines, an adoption agency in Cali. I made the arrangements to go to summer school at George Mason University in Fairfax.  And I had no idea how fast and furious I gave into despair and depression.  I’d get over it, I’d get on with my life, in fact, my life collapsing in on itself made me rebuild, this time on firmer ground, finding my way into the Episcopal Church and faith and community.  But with a well-refined sense of drama, I decided Dust in the Wind was the theme song of that year and listened to it over and over again.

I have hundreds of songs on my iPhone and at some point in the past few years, I loaded Dust  so tonight, with the shuffle feature turned on, I walked and found myself listening to said piece of music.  Now, there are some pretty scary things going on with my work.  The ground feels really shaky under this part of my life.  I am working long hours, and trying to maintain, reassess, reinvent and reconfigure, all at the same time.  It all feels so precarious now.  It was tempting to give in to a good pity party as those violins wailed.  Instead, I found myself going back to the white board that’s taken residence in my mind, where I am keeping lists and sketching possibilities and alternatives.  I still like the plaintiveness of the song.  It’s just not my song. I managed to grow up.  I learned to stand up to my mother and then I learned how to tend to her and love her.  I’m still learning to stand up for myself and for my vision of the  ministry I’m working on, even if times get tough.

Towards the end of my walk tonight, I saw a woman walking her dog, coming towards me on Riverland Road.  As we got closer to each other, I walked under a street light and she said, “Rosa”?  I recognized her too.  She’s the wonderful physical therapist who worked with me after I had my hip replacement surgery.  She lives on my walking route. The first thing she said was that she was blown away by how well I was walking.  Yup.  I am. I no longer think of good hip or bad hip. They’re just my hips and when I’m out on my rambles and Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie plays on my iPhone, I dance down the street. I get to be the decider about risks and am much more inclined to consider possibilities.  I probably sound like a broken record, but, really, this is a miracle that keeps unfolding for me…



Sherod and I were looking forward to a nice evening with our girl last night.  A pattern is emerging with her: dinner somewhere most Wednesdays, time for swimming  and hanging out a couple of times during the weekend.  That’s what was in store until I got a call from the folks at BARC.  Maria had had a very bad day at her day camp and was now being “transported back”.  They would have to “implement procedures” as soon as she arrived.  I know what that means, of course.  A couple of strong people would help her off the van, and would use the techniques that have been developed to move a person from point A to point B with as little force as necessary, no matter how out of control that person might be.  They’d take her to a completely empty room and close the door behind her.  She would be in isolation time out until she had regained control and maintained it for a prescribed amount of time.   M, who made the call to me, asked that we not take Maria out last night.  Always, always, the mixture of relief, sadness, hope and fear.

The change in our plans gave me time to go walk.  After very heavy rains yesterday, my usual route would have large, deep puddles all along the way so I took another path.  I walked up to Davie Blvd and headed west. Davie is a busy east-west street.  It was a little before 8 and already, dusk was turning to darkness quickly.  At first I was irritated by all the noise and commotion of walking against a lot of oncoming car traffic.  Then I realized this was yet another experience of a more pedestrian life.

As I walked by a gas station, already lit up by harsh lights , I wished I had a camera with me.  A short, wiry man, with slightly bowed legs, wearing cowboy boots, faded blue jeans, long-sleeved plaid shirt and baseball cap, stood with his back to me, putting gas in his beat up pickup.  A couple of blocks later, I was almost at a bus stop when a bus, the inside lit up, stopped.  I stopped too and looked in the bus.  It was Friday evening, almost night, and so many of the riders, of all sizes and colors, had one thing in common.  They all looked exhausted, many of them slumped against the window, a few against each other.  Another caricature and icon.  I ended up going past about four bus stops and noticed something about them.  There are covered areas now, but covered just enough for people to stand under.  Most have no benches. Those that do, have handles across the middle to make sure no one can sleep on one of those benches overnight.  There are all sorts of logical reasons for discouraging this practice.    But how unkind.

I turned south on 35th Avenue, by the local Publix.  A man was walking ahead of me,  wearing threadbare shorts and a t-shirt and what I have always called shower slippers, carrying a bag of groceries.  When I take my regular path, I run into lots of walkers and runners, all intent, all pretty energetic, all moving quickly.  Not this person.  The way he walked bespoke weariness.  In Spanish, I asked for permission to go past him and picked up my pace.  Two blocks later  I was back in the jasmine scented silence and dark velvet of my more normal route.

As familiar as that felt, I found myself wanting to go back and get on the bus I walked by.  I would have wanted to sit with some of those exhausted-looking people long enough to tell them I could see them and their exhaustion.  I wished I’d had the courage to go up to the man filling the gas tank of his truck to ask about his week, about the family he’s probably left behind in a Central American country.  I wanted all of them to know they are not alone, they are not invisible, their story matters. I just wanted to be with them. I spent a very big part of my week on administrative stuff—I met the deadline to submit the  big grant application I’ve been preparing. I have launched a staff member and me on a major developmental project that has a lot riding on it.  I’m engaged in all those institutionally necessary responsibilities that define the church.  I can be energetic and competent .  I’ll even  finish my sermon today and whirl through my Sunday routine tomorrow.  But last night it felt like the sidewalk along Davie Blvd should be my church.