Friday, August 16, 2013

the power of like

Yesterday I enjoyed a special treat. One of my former students had been telling his Mom how much he missed me and wanted to see me.  I've been on the Mom end of that conversation a few times, so being the sought-after one was lovely and fun for me.  We met at the pool, where he smiled from the water and waved off and on as his Mom and I talked.  He has autism, and while I enjoyed hearing him share the best parts of his summer, I knew he wasn't looking for much conversation - just my presence.  At one point he walked near us and said to his Mom (one of the very best I know), "I like you."  Then he pointed to me and said, "I like her, too. I like both of you." Then he went back to the pool.  If you've ever spent quality time with someone who has autism you know that one of the most refreshing things about them is the complete absence of bullshit.  Having this boy say he liked me is worth infinitely more than the flattery of others.  You can believe the value of his words wasn't lost on me (I happen to like him, too!)

Mary's friend, and my personal savior for an hour
Today's weather was so lovely and unseasonably cool that the kids and I did a walking tour of Uptown Charlotte.  In the midst of that, we spent some time at Imaginon, the children's library.   The older three scattered in different directions, but the youngest - Mary, 9 - continually asked to me play with her, and frankly, I just wasn't in the mood.  I put her off multiple times, encouraging her to read or use one of the computers or find a friend.  As this back-and-forth continued I couldn't help but notice a girl about her age, having a very similar discourse with her father.  She was chat-chat-chatting away right in his face, and he had the look of a man who was a million miles away and desperate for school to start.  He occasionally nodded and mumbled, "Uh huh" until she eventually gave up and began to explore the Arthur exhibit.  Mary headed in her direction.  "Do you want to play?" she asked.  That's all it took - the two of them were off and happy ... (almost as happy as that father and I were!)  Later, Mary said bye to her friend, and as we walked away she said, "Mommy, she liked me!" 

I discovered a new-to-me band called Bombadil at a house concert this past year.  One of their more delightful songs is Question - a simple song about the power of like.

There's power in being liked.

Here's something I share with awkward feelings not unlike those expressed in Stuart's song, because I recognize how corny it sounds.  I look up at the  moon at night, and as I do, I get this feeling inside, this profound sense that the moon shining on me is like God looking right at me, smiling and saying, "I see you. And I like you."  Several times in my life this experience, this spiritual encounter, has been more real - more ... solid - than if an actual person in a physical body had walked up and spoken to me.  I don't have any theological support for such a notion. I can't systematize it for you or point to a chapter and verse in any sacred text.  I just ... know.  I guess you could say ... I believe in it?

This past weekend I got to listen to James Allison talk for a bit about faith, and what he had to say really struck me.  I'll likely do a poor job paraphrasing him, but the gist of it was this:  faith has been made into something that is brought about through emotional manipulation and held over us as a requirement for acceptance - this thing you must have, and have enough of, and in the correct words or ideas (whether they make any sense to you or not) and without it ... well, without it ... you're out.

But, he says, "religious talk" aside, that's not what anyone actually means when they speak of faith.  Having faith in someone means, at its core, to trust that he or she has your absolute best interest at stake.  To trust another person's heart toward you.  To know that you know that you know that he or she ... likes you. Isn't pretending , but is genuinely and truly fond of you. And that knowing puts you at complete ease. You, in turn, remove all pretense, lower any masks.  You relax in their presence ... you rest.

As a person who has both privately and, often, publicly wrestled with "my faith", I found this immensely helpful.  Because the reality is that as I've "lost" more of that first kind of faith, I've gained more of the second.  And it's that second kind of faith that, as Barbara Brown Taylor likes to put it, "Is saving my life today".

One last thing.  That student, the one who said he likes me?  He doesn't like me because I look a certain way or because I have certain impressive skills.  He doesn't know a whole terrible lot about me. He doesn't believe certain things about me to be true (or not true).

He likes me because he knows I like him.

I guess, maybe, you could say ... he has faith in me?


I like that.

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