The last work day of the week before Christmas, and I bolt out of bed at 6:22 AM, not really awake, but up and moving, anyway. My autopilot lights before my thinking brain engages. A dream slithers away, down the mental drainpipe, irretrievable, but for some reason, a refrain of Robert Burns’s grace-poem frolics through my head:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it…
I stumble into the bathroom, avoiding the sight of the oversized pallid troll doll in the mirror and begin the transformation to respectable professional lady of a certain age. The process takes longer with each passing year; the results grow noticeably less perky. But I can smell the coffee brewing downstairs–Mark, God bless him, has the machine gurgling along for me already. The dog sighs audibly in the next room, snuggled in the warm spot I left behind. When I finally emerge, girded for the day, she will heave herself out of the bed, which I am then allowed to make. She’ll hoof it down the carpeted stairs to meet the Dad, who will let her outside and then stand watch on the stoop as she greets the morn by piddling.
It seems like an aftermath day: we had our division holiday gathering yesterday. We gathered in the classroom in the new building that has the comfortable chairs–padded, comfy chairs, on wheels. Jim, our boss, had rolled them into little pods, sprinkled the swinging desktops with foil packets of Ghiradelli peppermint bark. Linda and Jaime and Terry quietly loaded up a rolling cart at 11:30; they toted the tablecloths and the bread, the tableware and the crockpots, up on the elevator. They laid out a feast.
Appointments over, phone calls made, work-errands done, I joined the little throng walking into a modern day Fezziwig’s–drifting in on floating scents: oxtail and vegetarian potato and Italian wedding soups, a bubbling pot of spicy chili. Plates and bowls of crusty bread and mounds of butter; crisp and savory salads; cheesecakes and ice cream desserts; cookies and cake and candy.
Music played; people milled–a mellow, respectful crowd, the gentle people from IT, we female middle managers. We waited for Nancy; when she rushed in, Jim dropped the flag: the feast was on. Voices rose and fell and bodies sorted themselves into clusters to eat and talk and then get up to fill another bowl.
I was lucky enough to sit with Ron and Cindi. Ron talked about an oceanography class he’s taking, and his eyes lit up and his fascination shimmered. He is three courses away from his bachelors degree; you can see him on fire with the learning. It reminded Cindi, I could see, of the rigorous high school program her daughter has just entered. She told us about a project the kids are doing, one that requires them to think rather than memorize, to hypothesize and analyze rather than merely extol. There was the over-banquet and the under-banquet–the food Ron and Cindi enjoyed almost absent-mindedly while they talked about that feast of thought and ideas and discovery, a feast where all is new and exciting.
We hae meat and we can eat…
Jaime, peaked under her skillful make-up, wandered thoughtfully, making sure everyone had a drink, a filled dish, a piece of chocolate to cleanse a palate. Jaime had been out sick the day before with a virulent stomach flu; her four year old twins brought it home from preschool. The twins are new to the preschool world, and every vagrant virus finds a welcome home in them.
“My healthy babies!” Jaime laments, and by the time she’s done caring for them, staying up late, getting up early, mopping up and laundering, she is run ragged and an easy target herself.
“I feel better,” she assured us, but she wasn’t really chowing down.
Some hae meat that canna eat…
We had cast about for an after-lunch activity, something not silly or sweet enough to make our teeth hurt, and we thought about the facility next door, a mysterious place that shelters adults with all manners of disabilities. Close neighbors, we have just begun to talk: how can this little community college and this haven for grown people with autism, with Down’s syndrome, with traumatic brain injury and other challenges–how can we work together?
We came up with a surprising number of ways. Now we would begin the process of learning about each other, probing the mysteries. We walked over, a varied (if not motley) group, and we were warmly met by Sheila, our first contact. She introduced us to Erik, who’d help give us the tour. Erik is a handsome guy with dark curly hair and a baseball hat pushed back on his head. He was happy to see us, happy to be in the role of host. He told us about the job he holds in a retail store; he barely needs any coaching anymore, and soon will just be working, all on his own. Just like anyone, he said.
We traveled through a maze of offices, where people waved as they talked on phones, and looked up from paperwork or gift-wrapping; the halls were bright with artwork and noisy with chat and laughter. We saw a group of people working to finish one final order from a corporate sponsor.
“No more piecework,” said Sheila firmly. She explained that they are moving toward a person-centered philosophy. Strong in the knowledge that folks with handicaps have gifts and talents, they are daring to ask their clients, “What would you like to do?”
Sheila said it’s hard for the older folks to even think about it; piecework is all they’ve ever known. They’re puzzled by choices, puzzled at being asked to dream. They spent a long time learning the close-walled limits of their conditions, and now to have those walls shifted away feels threatening.
Some hae meat but canna eat…
We saw artists at work; I admired a truly vibrant picture of a rustic pig on a green background. It’s a painting I’d hang proudly in my kitchen. I will watch for it at the First Friday Art Walk, when these folks sell their wares.
We saw people, mostly young men, absorbed in computer work. One, securely locked in a world bounded by headphones, belted out whatever song played into his ears. He was unfazed by grinning staff and strangers. He waved us on with one hand, his singing uninterrupted.
We saw people, mostly middle-aged women, knitting and crocheting.
Toward the end of the tour, we filed through a room called the Beauty Cube. A beautician sat with a tableful of women; they had curled and plaited and ribboned their hair; now they were working on nails. A tiny sprite of a woman sat patiently as the beautician painted her nails and then adorned each with a glittery star. Sheila told us that was Natalie, who is vice-president of People First. A younger woman wandered over, hearing that; she was Naomi, and she is the president.
“Tell us about People First,” I prompted. “What do you do?”
Naomi and Natalie looked at each and shrugged.
“Run meetings,” said Naomi.
“Help people,” said Natalie.
We were just about to leave when a young woman swiveled around, extended plump arms and said, “Hug?”
I reached down and hugged her and she hugged back, patting my back, sharing true comfort. I straightened and she grinned at me, and as we filed out, she began chanting. “I got a HUG now; I got a HUG now…”
We hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.
It was an anticlimax, after that trip, to head back to offices, to email and details and tiny, trivial crises. And now this day feels like an unnecessary add-on; what can we do that makes sense after that?
But the day rolls on to be surprisingly rich. Our work group gathers and we tackle assessment challenges. Pathways that were murky clear; we all catch fire and work swiftly, efficiently. Later, a new adjunct comes in and a textured and interesting conversation unfolds as we enter his application vita into our new online system.
At lunch, I make sure my son James has his clothes all organized, has hair combed and shoes presentable. He has a job interview at 4:00; his job coach will collect him at 3:30. Oh, he wants to work, and oh, he is excited about this opportunity.
I am not positive it’s the right opportunity; I am not sure they’ll see his potential. My mom-gut twists with apprehension, but I am proud of his spirit, and I tell him so. He hugs me and grins.
Back at work, the afternoon melts away; a student from years ago surfaces, pulling a new husband behind her. He is gentle, she is vibrant. She talks about journalism; they dream of moving to Boston.
I send emails thanking adjuncts who completed a training, got their grades in on time; almost immediately pinging responses flood in. Mike calls to say he’ll take the last course that needs to be staffed and I happy-dance around my office. He’s a great teacher. It’s a meaty course. We can start the weekend unhindered.
I finish up a database, get a text from James saying the interview went well; he’ll hear on Monday whether they’d like to see him for a second round. I say goodbye to Jim-the-boss, and Jaime, and, in the car, before I head out to the office supply store to pick up a gift I’d bought online, I check my phone.
There is a message from Sandee, a forever friend on her way to see a new grandson. And, warmed by her joy, I remember the gathering tomorrow, and I text Kathie to see if she knows whether Keith and Cynthia can join us.
She responds quickly. She thinks they’ll be there, Kathie says, but she and Dan won’t make it. Their nephew died and the memorial is tomorrow in Cincinnati. Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 33. He was a boy, really. Kathie texts a picture of him with his cat, thoughtful; then another of him with his wife, ignited by love.
I think of Sandee on her way to see that baby. I think of Dan and Kathie, on their way to grieve and comfort.
And then, of course, it begins to snow, the first real snow of the season, blowing and swirling, beautiful and treacherous, festive in the extreme, and I am overwhelmed by it all–by the loss and by the treasure, by the joy and by the closed doors, by reunions and partings, by potential unleashed and potential locked up. What is it about this season that reveals it all, every single possibility, sends them, hurls them, into our midst?
I run my errands and I hide my presents, and the boyos and I cook up a wonderful Friday night stirfry, and then I begin, finally to bake my Christmas cookies–late this year; late, as always. I putter and I pray for Dan and Kathie and that bright extinguished light; I pray for that beautiful young wife and her empty arms. I pray for Sandee, arrived by now, and surely with her arms full of a giggling baby. I pray for James and jobs and colleagues and neighbors and people on roads coated and slick with snow. I pray for disabled adults, that it’s not to late to teach them hoping skills.
This year, we are safe; this year we are whole; we are yearning and we are uncompleted and we are awaiting wondrous next steps. But we are blessed to be together, and charged with giving care. This year, we can share in the banquet wholeheartedly. I flip cookies onto platters, and I feel the randomness of my good fortune.
Some hae meat and canna eat,
Some wad eat but want it
We hae meat sae we can eat
And sae the Lord be thankit.