November 3, 2022 - I'll Meet You There
On weekdays I get about an hour break at work around 3:45pm each day in San Simeon, and I usually park the bus right near the beach to walk across a big field on the bluff that overlooks the ocean. The path is well-worn, rutted in some places, I'm not exactly sure from what, cars? Trucks? Horses? Feet? Rain? The ruts are so deep I have trouble imagining how they were formed, or when. I have to cross through a gate in the fence to walk across the property, so it seems like motor vehicles haven't been allowed in this field for years, but it's the desert, even if it is right on the ocean, so once a rut is made it probably doesn't go away for eons. Anyway, it rained a tiny bit the past two days, so I didn't walk as far across the field as I usually do. In fact, on the day it rained a little harder, I didn't walk out into that field at all.
In the past few years I've read several books that referred to Rumi's quote "Out beyond right and wrong is a field, I'll meet you there." and that quote came back and hit me like a hammer yesterday as I was driving the bus from Cambria to Cayucos. I have a regular rider on the 5pm run who gets on in Cambria and gets off in Cayucos three days a week, and he's wonderful. He's the one who suggested the skateboard book (in this blog post: http://charliecheney.com/node/71) and told me Stacy Peralta lives in Cayucos. Anyway, I learned his initials are JP, so I'll refer to him as JP for now, though he usually goes by his first name. JP is a great conversationalist, seems to know everyone in Cambria, and will strike up really interesting and intelligent conversations with people on the bus, but he also rides quietly some days as well, reading. He always seems to have a hardcover book in a plastic slipcover, as if it was checked out from the library. Yesterday he did something that kind of blew my mind. It seemed so simple and run-of-the-mill to him, but to me it was like watching an epiphany in real-time.
When he first got on the bus it was empty, so he called out to me asking if I knew the rain man. It felt like he was referring to a specific person, rather than the movie, since he used the word "the" so I responded that I didn't think I did, but maybe? Then as we slowed for the next stop to pick up another rider, he said "maybe this is him, the other drivers all know him and call him the rain man" but I recognized this person from earlier, and knew he was new to the area. He's homeless, in his late twenties maybe, and very talkative. He says "Have a nice day" to everyone as they leave the bus and blurts out "Thank you driver!" at seemingly random times as we're driving. Occasionally he quotes the bible or paraphrases excerpts from it to other passengers, and yesterday he did that with JP. I felt myself rolling my eyes as he started into it. Oh here we go.
But JP did no such eye rolling. He actively engaged immediately, as he seems to do with almost any conversation I've ever heard him join. There was no judgment, sarcasm, or negativity, only genuine curiosity and probes for understanding. At one point he questioned the man's interpretation of one of the scriptures with clear knowledge and insight, but never with judgment, only in an attempt to make sure he knew the intent. This happened several times actually, and I remember JP saying "don't be so hard on yourself" as the the other started to recoil a bit and apologize. Then the other rider murmured "I need to read the scriptures more I think, I'm sorry" to which JP said "Don't apologize, you never need to apologize to me." But what stuck out to me was how he said it with enthusiasm and genuine kindness.
Thinking back on it now, he stopped before fully engaging in the discussion in earnest, to ask me if I was okay with them discussing religion on the bus. I nodded and said "Please, go ahead."
As the conversation progressed JP referred to some things I've heard from others over the years, specific statements from Leviticus for example. He also stated that he himself was not a Christian, nor was Christ. "He was a Jew, a Hebrew. Christ was a teacher." he enthused. I kept nodding my head. Absolutely, I thought. At one of these moments as JP detailed another thing that Christ taught that was perhaps in direct opposition to the Old Testament, the other man again started to retreat and apologize and sort of mumbled as he back-pedaled "You're right."
Here is when JP interjected in a way that literally left me slack-jawed.
"No, no, I'm not right. We're just two guys talking."
I've heard a lot of people speak of meeting in the field out beyond right and wrong but I haven't actually experienced it or witnessed it in real life very often.
In my past two therapy sessions I've been discussing ways to communicate better and move beyond my current use of sarcasm, enthusiastic incredulousness, and irony. I asked my new therapist for help with that and she recommended three books, one of which I've been reading and really like called Fierce Conversations. However, my old therapist from Colorado did it one better and identified the fact that I need to find out *why* I use the language I use first, rather than attempting to change it. And she sent me home with homework on how to figure that out. She told me to write down my values. Write down my values? I started at her blankly. But she told me once I define my values, I'll have a foundation for understanding why I react to people a certain way, like I did in my union meeting, or in a recent conversation with Sarah, or in the songwriting events in Sturgeon Bay.
Why do I feel attacked when people question me? Why do I feel a sense of panic and immediately defer to other people when I hear criticism? Why do I lock up when I don't know the answer or feel unprepared? It suddenly dawned on me as I listened to JP that it has everything to do with how much I value right and wrong, good and bad. I value being right, and I fear being wrong. I value being seen as good at a skill and I fear being seen as bad at it. I really do. I always have. But I had no idea that it was the reason I locked up (when I feared I might be wrong) or lashed out (when I was unequivocally sure I was right) in conversations. This was a revelation. A light going on. Realizing that my values negatively affected my ability to engage in positive conversations suddenly cast all my communication issues in a sharp new relief.
I felt like the teacher was on my bus. I stared at him wide-eyed as he stepped off.
"JP, I'm really grateful you ride on my bus." I said as he stepped onto the pavement.
He turned back to me, pointed, and said "I'm really grateful you drive my bus."
I have tears in my eyes right now just thinking about it.
I'll meet you there.