It's strange to be writing while sitting at the bar. The customer nearby looks disinclined to write. Or even speak. Maybe he's here to drink! Ah, to drink, perchance, to think. I'm remembering another bar long ago, called Eddie's Mexican Cafe where i used to stop after intense and demanding days working with the severely disabled. There was always so much to think through. So much to finish feeling--the emotions of that job never did fit into an 8 hour shift. There was always so much to let go of. I had never seen, or even heard of, such challenges... such courage... such limitations. And the limits were not just for those with no working limbs.
One day, Connie s-l-o-w-l-y said to the whole group, "We humans all have disabilities... mine just show.... But i have no complaints," she continued, "for the first nineteen years of my life... every muscle in my body... was so totally clenched that i was not so much a human being as a human board!" she giggled contagiously and continued, "they had to wheel me around on a cart..." and with her already gleeful face glowing even brighter, she said triumphantly, "Now all i need to get around are these two crutches!"
There was no sarcasm here. She was grateful and more... nearly ecstatic. "She is overlooking 19 years as a human board, and she is expressing her gratitude for having to live the rest of her life on crutches," i said silently to myself, struggling to comprehend, knowing i'd be at Eddie's tonight. "What are my crutches?" i wondered, "And why aren't i grateful?"
I am abruptly reminded, by a nearby voice, that i am writing this in a present-day bar: "We're damned lucky to have her here. She's far beyond her time," says the man next to me. At first i'm sure that he is talking about Connie. "She's absolutely first class," the bartender replies, "One of a kind." I am enchanted by this convergence of realities, as something is growing clearer. Something Connie taught me. I have no idea who my barmates think they are talking about, but to me... they are also talking about Connie... and i seem to have fallen into this place again... this place where everything fits. Everything works. The coincidental comments of total strangers are perfectly timed and perfectly true from my point of view. "God is a circle whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere." Somehow i'm slipping again... back toward the center.
Roxy, the sexy, cynical psych nurse joined me, the staff Psychologist, at Eddie's Mexican Cafe later one evening. I can still hear her complaint: "I really don't think that Connie will ever attain her independence." I ask her, "When do you think we ever will?"
"No, i'm serious," Roxy persists. "Connie doesn't belong in an Independent Living Program. She can't... retain... cognition... Last week i taught her how to make Hamburger Helper three evenings in a row and each time she was giddy as a child, laughing and loving every minute of it. But each time it was like it was the first time she had ever done it. It's like she didn't remember a damned thing. She's hopeless. Do you really think we should keep her around, Doc?"
"Christ!" i exclaimed, with Margarita in hand, glad now that i hadn't slept with her... "Have you ever heard of the Japanese Tea Ceremony? There are devotees who dream of making tea in the ritual way for the thousandth time as if it were the very first. With zero trace of the deadness of habit. Zen monks have spent their entire lives seeking one taste of the Presence of Mind that Connie lives in... all... day... long. Somehow, she's home already. Don't you get it? She's a Modern American Saint! We should be on our knees, begging her to teach us how to live. How goddam joyous are you and i when we're making hamburger helper? How loving and alive are we when we're helping hamburgers?"
I wish i could have borrowed the bar talk that synchronicity has added today. I would said: "We're damned lucky to have her here. She's far beyond her time," And then i would have added: "Yes, she's absolutely first class. One of a kind."
Her innocence still helps my world fit together. Thank you sweet Connie... I recently learned that you are not only a success at living independently these days, but that you have helped to create and operate an independent living program of your own to teach others what you learned from us. How can i ever repay the lessons i learned from you? For you are my western Zen master: Originator of the American Hamburger Helper Ceremony. I know, because you helped me... when i was hamburger. And now, grateful at last... I thank you through the bars of this poem.
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