Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Study in Stagnation


Sometimes a phrase that has absolutely nothing to do with you can hit you like a freight train.

I had that happen today as I was doing story about a restaurant chain that was in the middle of a proxy fight.

One of these takeover artists wanted to shake the company's board and he issued a press release declaring the outfit was "a study in stagnation."

Wasn't that a Sherlock Holmes mystery? Or is it the story of my life? I feel like it's the latter some days because it just seems I'm getting nowhere--career, love life, writing, pretty much across the board. I'm in the same house I grew up in and a few weeks short of the half-century mark.

Stagnating? Elementary, my dear Watson.

Many years ago, I had a "friend" (please note the quotation marks) who felt it necessary to tell me that I was stagnating. Well, I certainly was when it came to choosing my friends.

And I'm happy to report that this particular putz is out of my life. But that word--stagnating--still lingers. Even when no one is talking about me.

Man of Irony

I've been trying to change. Since I have all this trouble with anger, I took a day-long seminar on that very topic at a yoga center in the Village. My sister was supposed to come with me, but she pulled out at the last minute and asked me to take her name off the waiting list.

"Are you mad at me?" she asked.

"It's an anger class," I said. "I really can't get mad at you."

Of course once I made that resolution, it seemed like everybody and his brother set out to piss me off. Like the guy at the fruit stand, who was feeling up every single apple so thoroughly that I was about to suggest they should all get a room.

I don't mind people being picky about their fruit, but while this clown was molesting the apples he had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I see, so you want the perfect apple, but lung cancer doesn't bother you? Makes perfect sense.

Is that irony? I'm not sure. I was thinking about the guy at work the other week whose wife was just about to give birth to their second child. He came in for one day to clean up some business and while he puttered around his desk, he was singing Paul Simon's old hit, "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover."

"Are you trying to tell us something, Sam?" I asked. He smiled, he laughed, but he didn't answer. And now he's got a new baby boy.

So I get up early for the anger seminar and, of course, my train grinds to a halt somewhere around Pacific Street. Any other time I wouldn't have cared if the damn thing went off the tracks, but I didn't want to be late for anger seminar and I was getting very pissed off.

After a lot of fuming, the train finally pulls out and I get to the yoga place in time. But on the way in, this young woman, who looked rather manly, started to walk through the front door like I wasn't there.

She had a Yankees cap perfectly titled to one side of her head, and this red kerchief tied around her neck, like a freaking Halloween costume and it made me so mad, I wanted to smack her upside the head. Did I mention I was going to an anger seminar?

The seminar was good, honestly. We had several lengthy meditation periods, some yoga stretches, and some mindful walking, where the group walks in circles without speaking. You just focus on your feet moving along the floor--heel, ball, toe, heel, ball, toe. It looks a little cultish, but I actually got used to it.

We had a three-hour lunch break and the teacher wanted us to walk mindfully for the first half-hour.

I put in about 25 or 28 minutes, which wasn't easy, since I was walking around downtown Manhattan on a Saturday, and I was just dying to reach for my cellphone like a gunsligher and check my messages.

For the afternoon, we tried lying (laying?) on our backs while the teacher spoke to us. I feel asleep for a few minutes and felt quite ashamed until a woman sitting next to me told me later that the same thing had happened to her.

The seminar ended with a kind of bull session about the nature of anger. It was all right, but I confess I was hoping to get a how-to, as in how-to deal with my anger step by step. I was a little disappointed, but I wasn't angry about it, which I take as a good sign.

When I left that place, I felt so loose, so at peace, I wished could have bottled that sensation so I could just gulp it down any time. But if peace and contentment came in a bottle, everybody would want it.

Hands Up

I did something today that would have been unthinkable for me at one time. I work on Wall Street, just half-a-block from Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The other day I noticed that the have a service for the laying on of hands every Thursday at lunch time.

I was fascinated. It sounded so primitive, like a tent-revival meeting that you'd see in Elmer Gantry . Were people going to shout "Praise God I'm healed!" and throw down their crutches?

We didn't have anything like that in Catholic school when I was growing up, outside of Communion, Ash Wednesday and that smack across the face at Confirmation.

I remember the blessing of the throat, where a priest would go around the class, cross two candles and put them on either side of your throat to ward off illness. Maybe I should do that more often, come to think of it.

But someone actually laying their hands on you? No, not unless the nuns or the brothers were going to hit you.

I decided to investigate this laying on the hands business. I walked back to the small chapel where the service was being held and I was of several minds--part cynic, part anthropologist, part true believer. I was thinking this so weird, but I wanted to know more.

I saw a short line of people before two female ministers--something else we don't have in the Catholic Church. There were no people in wheelchairs or walking with seeing eye dogs. They were just...people, on their lunch break like me, or just passing through.

I was going to leave, thinking that as a Catholic, I shouldn't be taking part in any Protestant service. But I wanted to know more and since this is the Year Without Fear, I got on line.

When I got to the minister, this very kindly looking lady asked me what I wanted to pray for. I start babbling, I'm depressed, I'm angry, I don't what do. She asked me my name and then she put two soft, lovely hands around my bald head.

She started to pray, hoping that I would fine peace and contentment in Jesus, and I was almost in tears by the time she was done.

It just felt so good--I was truly at peace and I realized that despite all my rationalization, I went in there not as some psychic investigator, but as someone who wanted help, who wanted someone to touch me and try to make things better.

The rest of the day was horrible and I really wished that instead of going back to the office, I had turned right, gone to the subway station and gone home.

But this isn't some kind of magic, a way of warding off bad times and evil spirits. It's just someone touching you and trying to make it better. It's better than stagnating in anger.

I wonder if I can go back next Thursday.

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