Saturday, April 05, 2008

Odd ducks and other eccentrics.

Someone once said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." Whoever made that statement understood what it means to be a follower of Christ. Followers of Christ are odd. Oddness is important because it is the quality that adds colour, texture, variety, beauty to the human condition. Christ didn't make us the same. What he does is affirm our differentness. Oddness is important because the most dangerous word in Western society is sameness. Sameness is a virus that infect member of industrialized nations and causes an allergic reaction to anyone who is different. This virus affects the decision making part of our brains, resulting in an obsession with making the identical choices everyone is making.
Michael Yaconelli, from his book Messy Spirituality.
I read this passage in the middle of this week when oddity ruled. It seemed like a bizarre pick up a book I had read a year ago and open it up to a chapter entitled "Odd Discipleship." And when oddish events and odd ducks visit, one can get pulled up into the middle of the swirling dervish which almost always follows, and either dismiss it as CRAZY and unbalanced, or welcome it as a life unfolding as it should. Life lived is odd on it's best days.


Carla arrived in my office a couple of weeks ago in a flurry of nervous tics and talk. She was over the top enthusiastic.....her manner told me alot about her level of anxiety despite the fact that her voice sounded upbeat. Stories and confessions flew out of her in record speed while she jumped from one thought to another while emphasizing it all with her arm gestures and hand wringing. It was like someone pressed the shuffle button on her internal I-pod ........except each song in her wasn't played straight through from beginning to end. I sat back to try to catch the important songthreads in order to begin to form the soundtrack of her life. It was definately a challenge albeit an entertaining one.
In between the snippets of confession, self effacing jokes, the stories of her family, the loves and loves lost........... there were few spaces left for me to jump in to try to help her stay on track. I wondered if perhaps she had been suffering a bit from cabin fever and just needed a bloodletting of some sort and just needed to let it all out before we would get to the crux of why she had requested to see me. When it went on longer than the normal randomness which is, dare i write, "normal" in my line of work, I quickly figured that perhaps this is just Carla. I was observing her regular everyday way of interacting with the world.

There was no eye contact. Carla looked everywhere for short bursts of time including at me. But, she couldn't settle her visual focus on one thing. Every now and then, she would look my way, but almost like she was looking beyond me. And yet, she was smiling and joking.........her comments flew from describing how dry her mouth was because she used too much Polygrip on her dentures to how she has re-united with her biological mother, to her love of the foster family who took her in when she was two years old and made her a member of their family to this day. But, no eye contact. She even talked about her problem with this. She was aware of it.............and yet it made her feel too self conscious. If she didn't look someone in the eye, then she didn't feel so vulnerable.

I wondered if a conversation with her over the phone would produce a different perspective of her. I wondered what had happened to her when she was young to arrive at middle age with such societally inappropriate mannerisms. I wondered about her cognitive level, whether she had friends, how she copes with people who must fluster and feel uncomfortable around Carla's exuberance. In fact, I wondered a whole bunch of things as I tried to follow her trains of thought. For over an hour, I tried to make sense of the issues she was only touching on all the while wondering if she could ever fit into the world of work, which is something she had mentioned in amongst it all. She was flinging out facts and in between the facts, she was expressing her deeper level emotions, which for the most part were covered up by her upbeat tone. It was tiring!

What I concluded at this point in time? She was suffering from a recent broken heart. The love of her life left last month. After 4 years of being together day in and out, he told her that he didn't know how to love someone. He was too wounded to love her. He left the city and is presently wandering around the Maritimes trying to escape his own demons.

Carla wanted to take a jumpstart kind of course........a 6 week program run through the local YMCA which would touch on a variety of topics related to self development and goal setting. Since I was under the impression that the program was geared for people who were motivated and "job ready," I didn't think it was the program for her......yet. The last thing I wanted to do was to sign her up for a course which would be above her abilities, which would be a downer instead of a booster. I wasn't comfortable to consider this option....yet. So, we booked another appointment time so that I could find out about other options, about this course, and so she could bring in some of her previous certificates she had earned in the past.

This second appt. occured this past week. Carla arrived in the same flux. She began spilling her internal I-pod shuffle right in the middle of the lobby, down the hall past a bunch of other offices and right into mine. In her arms, she carried a large photo album, which she initially put on the floor beside her chair. Determined to convince me that the course at the YMCA was perfect for her, she launched into all the reasons why she should take it. By this time I had looked into it and learned that the focus was for individuals who may not be completely job ready...... I agreed to register her. Who am I to hold back someone with such drive and enthusisam even if I was reluctant because i wanted to protect her a bit?

The conversation then took off in a million different directions again.....dry mouth from the Polygrip, foster family stories, her real mother whom she loves to bits, her lost love all came pouring out again as her arms flew wildly, her hands spun in a wringing pattern they were all too familiar with.........until she remembered her photo album where she kept her certificates.

Before I knew it, she had pulled her chair right beside mine........side by side we sat, close enough to have the album opened and touching both of our laps, our shoulders touching. She calmed right down as began her show and tell. Old baby pictures, school photos, a cherished photo of she and her sister standing on either side of their father whom she never really knew well. But there she was holding onto his arm when she was 13 years old giving him her love. In between the hard plastic covers of this album were the snapshots of Carla's life. Not only was she able to tell me the stories behind every picture in a calm non-gesticulating manner, she was able to capture her feelings, and the FULL length songs that thread her personal soundtrack tapestry......from her high school prom in yellow taffeta to her cherished nieces and nephews who live too far away for her to see them very often, to the photo of her as an adult the day she received her new fitted "teeth." It was then that she told me the most moving story I have heard in a long time.

Carla had been invited to attend a women's retreat weekend organized by her church. It turned out, however to begin on the same day she had her rotten old teeth removed. She expressed how humiliated she ugly she felt without any upper teeth. She was in pain and had stitches in her mouth. She didn't feel like going, didn't want to be stared at or avoided by the women because of her appearance. After what she described as a "personal pity party," she decided to throw caution to the wind and GO. And off she went.......... it turned out to be a weekend she will never forget because the women who belonged to her congregation went out of their way to make her feel loved. Their loving of someone who felt unlovely offered Carla a deeper sense of belonging, where she was accepted unconditionally.

A few weeks later, after her gums had healed, she was fitted with her dentures. Her first outing was to the Sunday church service. She took some extra time to dress up and primp herself that day. When the service came to a point where members are offered a chance to share, Carla stood up to proudly announce how happy and wonderful she felt at that point in her life.......she had perfect teeth, a loving boyfriend, a part-time job babysitting a little boy, and many friends whom she can be herself with. She told them how she felt about being accepted at the retreat even though she looked "ugly," and what it meant to her. And, after she finished her testimonial, the whole congregation got on their feet and applauded their lovely odd duck with the flinging arms and the over the top enthusiasm...........with her inability to stay on track or to look you in the eye. The stood and applauded.......and she will never forget it.

We went through the rest of the photo album and then turned to fill out the proper paperwork for the course she wanted to take. Her plan is to find that moment again when everything felt just right in her world. I understood exactly what she wanted........ it only took sitting side by side where you don't need eye contact to get in the way of a good song being sung. It may be oddish. It may unacceptable in most places, as is over exuberance and wildly flinging is many other odd behaviours. But a whole congregation completely understood the importance of embracing the unique oddities of others...........just like that guy named Jesus who once met a scorned woman at a well where he surprised her by asking for a glass of water.

Odd ducks and other eccentrics? Let them sing their own tune in their own key of life. Let them find acceptance in our world...........and let us applaud their efforts daily.


Open Grove Claudia said...

This is a lovely piece. The funny thing is that some of the oddest people are the ones who change the world. I have a friend who befriended Einstein, not knowing who he was. My friend thought he was a bum sitting on a bench in the Harvard commons. There are so many odd creatures, who struggle to belong, yet are here to inspire us.

Thanks for sharing this story.

Rainbow dreams said...

Thanks for sharing this story - it's strange how being with someone we perceve as odd or at least different can affect us and how we feel. People who don;t fit in...for what ever reason..
I think Mr Yconelli is right, oddness is important, but I do think it challenges us as people...

Sherry said...

This IS a beautiful story. Thanks for passing it on to your readers.

What stood out to me the most, was the sitting side by side. This is when Carla's true story began to unfold. It takes time to get to know the seemingly normal, much less the "odd ones" in this life.
I've found it's usually worth it...

Thank God (for real) her church congregation & womens' retreat actually reflected His love. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

I'll remember Carla's story for a long time.

kenju said...

A wonderful post, Awareness, and Claudia is right about the odd ducks changing the world!

Awareness said...

Claudia....I wholeheartedly agree with you. Odd is where our creativity spills out in all it's glory. Same spits out beige.
Wow, how long did it take for your friend to figure out it was Einstein? That's reminds me of that movie Melvin and Howard...did you ever see that one?

Katie....I do believe that life lived is odd on our best days. We can't help but be impacted by them. However, I think for the most part we avoid odd like the plague......even cross the street to avoid odd ducks. Sadly when we do that, we miss the life lesson which will only ever be learned when we are challenged.

Sherry...I'm glad you enjoy the story.
It was like night and day when she pulled her chair up beside me....her focus was complete. Her self consciousness depleted.

Judy......yes, I agree too. When you think of someone with a new many doors close on many people dismiss them too quickly before they can be heard.....they are considered odd and "out in left field".....and yet they carry on.

ps. sorry about UNC tonight....they were pummelled! What a shocker.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

FABULOUS Post, Dana! The "Shuffling iPod" image is perfection as well as being funny and touching, all at the same time.
Your description of Carla is so endearing---with all it's eccentricities...This is an amazing story about an amazing woman....! The Oddities are to be embraced with much love!

This makes me think of this Artist, whose work I own....In walking around the gallery with him when he had a show about 12 years ago or so----I was fascinated by how his mind worked and how very different he was from anyone I had ever known. I thought, Thank God he had parents who didn't just think he was totally weird, and put him in some sort of institution...Today, he would probably be on ADDHD WHATEVER those medications are...!!! (OY) He is a unique individual with great creative gifts, and they not only recognized it, but embraced it and him and he grew into this amazing Artist!

Not quite the same thing but close: I went to my 40th High School reunion and a woman I had known only fairly well said to me..."Naomi, you were the most interestinmg person in our class...!" I was stunned, having felt I made no impression what-so-ever....And I said..."Why?" And she said, "Because you were not like everybody else..." What I felt made me kind of not in the mainstrwam of things, she thought made me very inteesting! LOL!

I think it is so wonderful that Carla's Church supported her in such a positive big way...It certainly could have gone another way!

Awareness said...

Naomi....thank you for your feedback. As I mentioned in my email to you, I was feeling like this story was getting away from me. So, I'm pleased that it read well.
I have to admit when I was trying to find an analogy to describe Carla's manner of conversing, I was thinking of my CD player and the shuffle button.....and thought I better be more "in tune" and use the I-pod in the description. :)

I think you and I are a lot alike. I've always considered myself a little "oddish" and definately skipped to a different clothes, my interests etc were always different (still are I think......someone called me funky the other day, which rang my chimes!!) than my friends when I was younger. Thank God, they appreciated my eccentricities, though I find myself as an adult wondering more often why I'm considered such a misfit.
It only bothers me when the powers that be try to turn me into something I'm not. That ain't gonna happen!
Odd can be scary to many.....because for some reason people are very uncomfortable with what they consider the unexpected. What is she going to do? How is she going to react? Those are the kind of questions that get asked.
99% of the time, I completely and utterly embrace my uniqueness as I know you do of your own.

Your example of the artist? I too have a few friends whom I welcome always because of their artistic take on the world. Like the man you mention, they too had families which allowed them carte blanche to be who they are. They have thrived.

paul.chambers said...

dreams give us wings to fly to a place where we are loved....

mike embodied that, he somehow saw the pain behind the mask, through all the bull-shit, through the oddness and loneliness

baring the burden of our secrets storms....

god i miss him, thanks for the memories

Under there... said...

I so get this post and the grace of the odd ones in our lives. Thank you for putting this into words!

Awareness said...

paul....let us all aspire to look behind the masks of Mike did.
You were most definately sitting here with me when I wrote it. It was a lovely a place where we are loved.
thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Under...we are the lucky ones aren't we?