Almost 3 years ago, I was sitting in a van on our way to a refugee camp. When we arrived, the door opened and an impressive amount of people tumbled in.
Within seconds I was squeezed between the window and a large man. There may have been twenty of us in that van and I prepared myself for what I imagined could be a long and uncomfortable trip.
The door was barely shut that the man next to me turned in my direction, looked me in the eye and asked me my name. He told me that his name was Daniel and then asked me “what I believed in.”
Not where I was from, how old I was nor if I had kids.
What I believed in.
The rest of the trip, which was less than thirty minutes, flew by as he proceeded to make sure I wasn’t giving him any light answers. While he shared his heart with me, he figuratively held my hand as I got closer and closer to my own truth - and thus shared my heart with him.
When we arrived, someone opened the van door and many bodies spilled out.
Daniel kissed my cheek goodbye (Congo and France apparently share this sweet practice) and I never saw him again.
These minutes of depth and intimate connection stuck with me. They are made especially vibrant by the contrast of the physical situation. Time was not “set aside” for us to have this conversation. Also, it existed all on its own with no past history and no vision of a joint future.
It stood alone, strong and powerful.
This is the kind of stuff that for me, makes life richly, deeply delicious.
Like a dark, sweetly fragrant crumbly compost that nourishes all it touches and invites us to grow deeper roots wherever we are.
The real thing. The most important.
Daniel, wherever you are today, I hope that you continue your sacred work and that Life is seeing you - and loving you back.
I love you.
I love you for where you’ve been.
For what you’ve tried.
For what you’ve built and what you’ve destroyed.
For the ways you’ve grown and the nights you’ve cried.
For your hunger and your hope.
Your laughter and your fears.
I love you for today.
Your ways, your smells, your sighs, your desilusions, your convictions and your chocolate chip cookies.
For your mind that keeps inventing and your hands that choose to keep up.
I love you for being, for surviving and for remembering. For forgetting, too.
I love you for tomorrow.
For making the decisions you don’t yet know have to be made.
For your feet in new sands and your lips on new words.
For your dance, your grace, your modesty and your boldness, your deep friendship with Life.
For what will be, which could only be because of your vow to live it.
In my experience, Life likes to send us invitations to heal.
These often come at random moments, when we expect them the least. I have had some great breakthroughs in a therapist's office, and my Morning Pages continue to be one of my favorite portals towards clarity; and yet, these breath-stopping, gut-punching, thoroughly unexpected "WOA" nuggets tend to always propel me forward - paradoxically while asking me to pause whatever I am doing at the moment.
A few nights ago in my bed. It was the end of a rich day and I was looking forward to snuggling up to a bit of reading about someone else's life. In this case, I was getting ready to be delighted by more of Storm Large's memoir "Crazy Enough." Because you know, there's a distance, there. Whatever might be going on in her life, surely has nothing to do with me. I like that.
And then, on page 162, BAM. This:
“Most fans are simply glad to see you live, but some are hell-bent on meeting you, touching you, having a moment with you, and then there exists that special handful, who wants to peel you and dance around in the moonlight wearing your skin.” - Storm Large.
Right there. With just a whiff of one of my favorite songs in the whole world thrown in for good measure - just in case I missed the overture (King Harvest's Dancing in the Moonlight just does things to me).
"Peel you and dance around the moonlight wearing your skin."
Whew. So much there. So much that I had been wanting to minimize, normalize, brush past.
Just as many parts of my life continue to reflect its impact, I so badly want to move on from that chapter. That two-act play which over the course of several months has profoundly rattled parts of my heart, my identity, and my work to their core.
Running an Airbnb out of my home, it had never occurred to me that this would cross over into my professional life. Until one of my guests, minutes after booking a room for an extended stay wrote to me that she was "immensely looking forward to meeting me, had read my books, loved everything French, and was looking forward to long talks around my kitchen table."
Well. I did think that was a little weird. I briefly wondered how she had made the connection but did not give it much energy, other than knowing that she would probably be disappointed by how few talks around my kitchen table I would have time - or desire for.
She arrived a couple of days later and I upped my boundaries as much as one can when sharing a cottage, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
Until that morning.
That morning when I walked down the stairs from my loft bedroom to hear her greet me from the front porch, where she liked to sit and write.
"Good morning!" she sang. Followed by: "I was cold so I borrowed your bathrobe."
Took me a second.
My bathrobe. I simultaneously froze inside and made my feet walk across the living room to the front porch where I found her sipping on a mug of tea. Wearing my pink bathrobe.
My pink bathrobe. The one I wrap myself in after a bath. Naked. The one I sometimes sleep in. Naked. The one my daughter gave me and which sometimes borrowed when she is visiting - because we do share the same skin. That one.
I felt my hand turn the front doorknob, as I walked past her. I felt my bare feet step onto the freezing cold sidewalk, and I started walking fast as my breath became quicker and shallower. A great example of how The Lizard can both Freeze and Flee at the same time.
Once I returned to the house, a bit later, I silently handed her a sweater. She responded that no, no need, she was fine. I pushed the sweater a little harder towards her and eventually clutched my bathrobe back.
I felt invaded, robbed, exposed, stolen from, and more.
Now, I know that some men may not get this and that's ok.
I also know that some of you may wonder if she somehow thought this was a guest bathrobe. Let me just tell you that it would be pretty impossible to make that mistake. My bathrobe looks like a very personal, very much it-belongs-to-someone bathrobe. Not to mention the fact that I usually walk around the house wearing it. So there's that.
Would YOU help yourself to a stranger's bathrobe, if you were at their home for a few days? Would you not maybe - if you were cold - put on a sweater, YOUR own sweater, or maybe even a coat?
"Peel you and dance around in the moonlight wearing your skin."
It took me months to (mostly) recover from this. I slowly phased out my Airbnb career and something new became lodged inside of me. A seed. A seed that I did not want to take the time to name, a seed that had to do with my work, with the semblance of fame I had developed, and a seed that quietly but relentlessly asked me: "What do you want to do about this? How do you want to do your life, from now on?" Also: "Which way do you want to go, with your work?" Because you know, driving down the freeway with our foot on the brakes is never a great strategy for getting anywhere.
A good friend of mine, someone who knows my heart more than most people suggested that I call Oprah and ask her how she does her life, her privacy, her sanity.
I'm no Oprah and yet, I do wonder.
I carried on, shared the story with a few people (it's always super validating to hear my women friends gasp), and moved on, pretending that the glitch was behind me and that the seed was not whispering at me.
Enters Act Two.
This one is still too raw for me to talk about in detail. I will just say that it poured Miracle-Gro on the little seedling which started to sprout shoots out of my heart.
It swept through my life like a needy, sugary sweet-sounding torch blower and left it intensely affected. It helped itself to more than a robe. Some of what it took, I had already released, other pieces are still some of the most cherished parts of my life and I am learning to claim them back. It's a process.
It's a process of many layers which has left me very much altered. Every day I am aware of the ways that it has changed me. I know that my friends feel it too, and I am sorry for this.
It has asked me to revisit my work, and that part has been hard. How do I keep doing what I love to do and not die in the process? Because you know, there are different ways to die and not feeling safe doing what we love to do is like a small death. I trust that the answer is in the making. In some ways, the isolation of the last few months has helped.
It has asked me to look at some of my own dysfunction also, and for this, I am grateful. Because / thanks to Act One and Act Two I now get to question an agreement I made in the first years of my life, one I had not even known existed until it raised its fangs and sunk them into my exposed neck.
That agreement goes something like this: "Thou must share everything that's good in Thy life." Subtext: otherwise, you're a terrible human being.
So share I have: my home, my homes-away-from-home, my best recipes, favorite contacts, special resources, ideas, my sacred spots on this planet, my time - and more. This agreement also had me share my body more time than I like to think about.
Until some fan, not getting the kitchen table time she wanted ("some are hell-bent on meeting you, touching you, having a moment with you"), decided that she would "sip tea on my front porch wearing my other skin." And another one went about the business of "peeling me and dancing around in the moonlight wearing my life."
Whew. This last sentence.
In the end, we are left with some good gifts, some good lessons. I want to believe that at some point - hopefully soon - I will find my middle ground: a new place where I can navigate the world in a way that is authentic to me (ie: sharing the delicious stuff I seem good at finding) without looking over my shoulder for who might be so dangerously hungry that they will need to devour more than I want to give.
Today, I have this to offer you. Things I am learning and which may resonate with you:
1) When someone we know changes the way they do their life and the way they show up, there is often a reason. They may not share that with us. They may not even know it themselves. But we can assume there is. And therefore, pre-validate it, whatever it is, and be patient.
2) We don't owe it to anyone to share with them our time, our grief, our joy, our address book, our special places, our food, our bodies - or our bathrobes. And it's our responsibility to check in with ourselves and see if we are giving from a healthy place, or not so much. Then adjust our course.
3) Life is always ready to present us with opportunities to grow and heal. Including when we expect it the least. It's good for us to notice these prompts and to maybe dance with them a bit. In the moonlight, or not.
With love - and with gratitude for Storm Large, too.