It was 8 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when I got on my bike to ride to work.
Since I’ve got some good gear, it wasn’t even really that chilly. A couple of weeks ago, I rode to work when it was twenty below (-20F). By the time I got to work, yeah… my fingers and toes were feeling pretty chilled, but the rest of me was fine.
I get to work, take off the protective gear, and get my heart broken.
That’s my job. Again and again. To create a safe and comfortable environment characterized by stability and trust. A place where a young (or young at heart) adult can walk in, sit down, and open his heart. Spill her guts. Share stories of child abuse. Sexual assault. Neglect. Homelessness. Fear. Hunger. Grief. Death of a child. Victimization by individuals in positions of power. Feelings of worthlessness.
To do some jobs right, you’ve got to take OFF the protective layers. Strip away the protective mechanisms.
My job is to remain calm. My job is to listen. Really listen. My job is to open my heart and really receive what’s being shared. As a mandatory reporter, sometimes my job includes calling Child Protective Services to file reports of child abuse or neglect. Pages of reports. Sometimes it includes facilitating conflict resolution with young adults.
My job does NOT include bursting into tears when someone is sharing something painful. (If your rowboat is sinking, I can help by throwing you a rope. Not by drilling a hole in my own boat to prove I understand your pain.) I can offer you strength by opening my heart. By demonstrating vulnerability. And by remaining emotionally present. Which, in my experience, requires a certain amount of detachment. (I can’t pull you to shore if I jump into your sinking boat with you.)
I help people finish their secondary education by getting a GED. And I help them continue on to college or trade school. My job is to inspire. My job is to strip away my own layers of b.s., because people who have struggled and suffered can smell my arrogance a mile away. My job is to cut through the lies that I tell myself in order to avoid looking into the face of pain. My job is to shut my mouth, open my ears, open my mind, open my heart, and really try to understand where the other person is coming from.
My job is to get on the phone and get the person sitting before me connected with whatever help might be available. And when I run into breakdowns in communication, my job is to relax and keep trying until I get some help for them. When I run into dead ends, my job is to dig, dig, dig, and keep digging. (Special thanks to Lt. Elizabeth A. Jones, USN, for teaching me how important this is.)
My job is to turn away from the temptation to become frustrated. To strip away the layers of impatience. My job is to keep coming back, again and again, to my breath. To my heart. To gratitude.
And when the amp is warmed up, the guitar is in my hands, the “tape” is rolling, and it’s time to dig deep, my job is just the same. Strip away the layers of protection. Throw off the worries that what I’m about to play might suck. Turn away from the fears that my music may never be heard. And maybe the biggest challenge of all for me, to strip away the need to sound ‘cool’, and whatever baggage that might include.
I finally got all the tools I need to do the job. Now I don’t have any more excuses not to do it.
How about you, Fellow Artist? What do you try to strip away as you delve into your craft?