There is always one in every audience. I am referring to the complainer, grumbler, constant questioner, and joker whose words, tone and body language become distractions for others. At the very least, these persons are irritants to a presenter. Recently, I had such an experience.
This workshop was for women experiencing homelessness and/or living with a mental illness. I did not know if I would have one or 10 participants. I was ready - the topic was on the whiteboard in bright, bold colors; a pen and booklet were at each seat, and two "ice breakers" were prepared At the top of the hour, as I stood in the middle of a U-shape seating arrangement of desks and chairs, five women came though the door into the workshop. I was pleased.
The topic was "Journey to Wholeness: What's Love Got to do with It? Within 15 minutes, the workshop was evolving into a conversation among new friends in which we were sharing ideas, recalling experiences, and posing thought-provoking questions to one another. Having participants engaged in an invigorating discussion, I was enjoying the flow.
Then, one more woman entered, I should say "straggled" into, the room. I introduced myself and gave her a cheery "Welcome!" Avoiding eye contact, she said nothing. Her look was sour, walk lumbering, posture stooped, and energy low. Bringing her into the fold, I quickly summarized the ground we had already covered.
We resumed the amicable conversation. We were getting down to the "nitty-gritty", as the saying goes. Like "Sistas" sitting at a kitchen table, we shared how we express love for ourselves and to ourselves. Heads nodded as one participant shared her "then - but now" story. Encouraging words spilled from the lips of a few participants seeking to uplift a participant who suggested that self-love was something foreign to her. They insisted she was worthy.
Turning to the late comer, who until this point had said nothing clearly audible, I asked, "How do you care for yourself?" She responded in a hostile voice, "Take my medicine." I tried coaxing her to say more: "How do you set boundaries, discipline yourself so that your general health is not neglected? Again, she simply responded, "Take my medicine." Having struggled with medication compliance myself, I suspected there was a long story behind those few words. "Okay", I thought, and moved on.
Eventually our talk turned to the question, "How do you comfort yourself?" The disappointments, hurts and pain encountered in life were implied in the question. I was the first to share, "I spend time with my grandson. I love his hugs and his innocence." Others shared their "strategies". Someone said, " I read the Bible". When one participant said that she enjoys a nice bubble bath, "ooohs" and "aaahs" floated up. Added to this vision were a scented candle, a cup of tea, and soft music.
I turned to the"late comer". She said in a contemplative voice, "I like songs; those old time songs." Her voice was barely audible. "Oh", I mused, "like Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland?" No response. Turning to the center of the room, suddenly I stopped. I heard singing. I turned back.
"At last and did my Savior bleed and did my sovereign die". I joined her, looking directly into her uplifted eyes, Did he devote that sacred head for such a fool as I? At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burdens of my heart rolled away; It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day."
The experience was surreal. Moaning. Silence. Stillness. It may have been seconds or it may have been minutes. I turned to the center of the room and began to close out the workshop. I don't think that it was my imagination. I swear that as I greeted each person farewell and thanked her for coming, the one who had entered last departed with a new pep in her step.
I cleaned up, gathered my things and spoke with management. I departed feeling lighter on my feet, singing a song.
For those who look for "the points" as a part of every "how to", this is for you:
- Be daringly fearless. Overcome resistance to new places and experiences, especially if encouraged by someone you trust. By steadfastly putting one foot in front of the other, even at a slow pace, you will arrive!
- Be wholly present. Open your ears (body), thoughts (mind) and heart (soul) to the tone, content and vibrations of what is occurring around you and within you. By your presence you are both blessed and a blessing. Step to it!
- Be fully engaged. Optimize opportunities by sharing and receiving knowledge, wisdom and love extended to you and offered by you. The consequent enlightenment will release burdens and baggage, making it easier to straighten your back and move your feet!
- Be tenaciously hopeful. Hope sharpens focus. Hope prepares the way for fulfillment. Hope energizes... adds pep! Sing a song as you step!