Tag Archives: systems theory

Day 30: Belle Conversation. Conversación hermosa. Beautiful Conversation.

Today I needed comfort food.  I was tired, a bit worried about my upcoming exams, and strongly considering whether or not to take a hotel room here in Oxford for two or three nights so I could get some rest before finals.

Since my arrival, I have both appreciated the lovely view of High Street, and cursed the never-ending foot-traffic noises of said thoroughfare…sometimes on the same day.  Sometimes simultaneously.  After three weeks, the continued lack of a complete night’s sleep was wearing me down.

Hence the comfort food run.  For me, this meant my favorite restaurant, only a hundred yards from the entrance to Brasenose College.  It is a small establishment in the back of St. Mary’s Church called “The Vaults and Garden.”

The place really does deserve it’s very own post.  Everything organic, vegetarian and vegan friendly, free trade engaged – something for everyone.  The food is magnificent, the staff are collectively warm and friendly, the setting is divine…and if you sit there for very long, you’ll be entertained by all sorts of “storylines” taking place at each table.  For example, yesterday I went there for afternoon coffee and saw two young sisters dressed in darling outfits hopping around on the ancient gravestones and vaults, shouting out little British girly notices to each other:

“Let’s go to the shop and buy some sweets!”  “Yes! Let’s buy some sweets!”  “Let’s pretend we’re bees and buzz around.”  “O-KAY!   Buzzzzzzzzzz!”

Hip, hop, look for a spot, jump! – – they cautiously jumped from vault to vault in their brightly colored clothes.  I chuckled thinking of the saintly skeleton only a few feet beneath them and thought the old body probably never had it so good as to entertain these toddlers during their play.

There is certainly a nurturing feeling about the entire venue.  I’ve already adopted it, and I will miss the feeling I get while there after I go home.

Today my comfort food consisted of a roasted vegetable medley with lentils (onions, sweet potatoes, chunks of goat cheese, red peppers, tomatoes…yum); steamed English peas with baby onions, fresh crusty bread with butter, and lemon pound cake with just enough lemon filling to make you want more and more.  By the time I had added a bottle of my favorite sparkling water to the tray, I was already feeling better – – and I hadn’t even begun to eat!

I headed outside and looked around for a table.  “Yes!” I thought as I spied one vacant, usually a rare occurrence.  I sped up my steps to try and get there before someone else snagged it.  The weather was too beautiful and the sun too bright to waste the day eating inside.

Approximately half-way into my meal I began to realize another “storyline” at the table next to me was revealing itself.

Sometimes certain words or phrases familiar to a listener can sort of punch through even the most dense gray fog of introspective thoughts.  That’s what happened to me when I heard…

“…you cannot do that.  No good will come of it.  If you push and push, the only thing he is left to do with all that inertia is either run away or push back, don’t you see?”

The voice was just about as close to Kevin Klein’s “French Kiss” character as can be found.  My ears began to radar in on the subject matter.

“I know this, but I cannot just Turn Off all that I am between the hours of eight and five, then go right back into a conversation with all that emotion.  I cannot just leave all of my life at the door! I must do something…something with all (she gestures by balling up her tiny fist and placing it on her heart) of me!”

The best way I can describe her voice was Penelope Cruz, only with slightly less heavy of an accent.  As she continued, I made the connection that she was probably Spanish.  She sounded like most of the Spanish folks I’d met during my trip.

He listened to her with intense focus, as did she to him when he responded.  He thought out loud, she considered his remarks.  She thought out loud, and he disclosed some of his struggles.  Volley, think…volley, respond.  Their conversation went on for 20 minutes.

He suggested to her that “you can’t understand why something is until you understand how something is….you need to break it down.”  She responded, “I think about these things.  When I first left home, I used to wish people would rescue me…I would call my mother.  I wanted her to solve my problems.  But over time I am working on myself.”  He reflected, “I know what you mean.  I have done that too.  I discover sometimes that when I think myself out loud with someone like you, I see myself anew.”

What was I doing while this beautiful conversation was taking place?  Honestly?…I was cursing the fact that I didn’t have my camera.  I wanted to capture their relational dialogue in some way.  I made a snap decision, left my table, ran back to my dorm room and grabbed my camera.  Halfway across the public square on my trip back to the restaurant I spied them.  They were still talking.

I waited a moment upon arriving, then approached them.  I asked them if perhaps I could take their picture, and that their conversation had moved me.  They looked at each other, smiled and then began talking to me.  “Who are you? What was it we were saying that touched you?  Have you had some of these thoughts?  How do you solve these problems?”

I introduced myself and rather briefly I told them that I thought they were doing just fine.  I told them that as long as they had friends like each other to share intimate struggles with, then they would overcome whatever they set out to find.  The young man seemed intrigued that “somehow something they say has touched something in me,” and she told me, “I have thought about becoming a marriage and family therapist myself.”

He was doing his doctorate in nuclear fission.  She was a philosophy student.  The Frenchman and the Spaniard were extremely warm, generous and open.  They asked if I wished to join them, but I declined – asking rather, for a photograph.

They agreed to let me take a picture and told me they would have not even asked for permission.  However, he said, “Could you let us resume our discussion for a few minutes THEN you take the picture?  It would be difficult for me not to pose if I knew of your intentions.”  I agreed, and went to get coffee.  Later, I peeked around the stone corner of the castle and took their picture.  In less than a minute they got up and walked away….

Side by side, she would talk then he would respond.  Then he would state an issue, and she would respond.  Volley, think…volley, respond.

The rhythm of human kind, solving their problems without therapists, eventually walked out of site…around a corner and down an alley.  I was comforted by the interaction, by the storyline at the table.  Perhaps by these thoughts even more than by the food.

Nah…the food was amazing.

A Lifetime Lesson Within a 45 Second Prayer

I’m not sure how many weddings I’ve attended in my lifetime.  When I was very young, I paid attention to how comfortable the seating was and how long the service “droned on.” As an adolescent I paid attention to the dresses, hair and makeup of the bride and her party.  In college I paid attention to the ideas of the service, cake, programs and invitations as I began to plan my own wedding.  And now, having been married 25 years and been a family therapist for almost ten, I pay attention to the system.
I am fascinated by the rhythm of certain weddings, the families involved and the styles or personalities of the combined group of “his and hers” parties and guests.  Simply sitting back and taking it all in is pure joy, especially when I notice the one thing that I want to take away as food for thought.  Two weeks ago, I enjoyed an especially flavorful bite…maybe dessert.  I didn’t attend the reception, but felt as though I already got my wedding cake.  Here’s the story:
The chapel was filling with people.  The daughter of my childhood church camp friend was getting married and we arrived only a few minutes before the service began.  We were seated near the back and I was later very grateful for that particular vantage point.  Normally I want to sit close so I can really soak in the action.  However a seat in the back gives wedding guests a different perspective; a bit removed, but also broadened.My husband watched his former college roommate, the father of the bride, walk his daughter down the aisle.  Next, I watched my dear friend light one of the family tapers for the unity candle ritual.  It was because of the bride’s mother and father that my husband and I had met.  They introduced us my sophomore year in college.  As I sat there, I began to think about being in their wedding, and then they participating in ours.  I broke out the Kleenex at least 15 minutes earlier than my normal crying point. I really love my friend and was excited for her daughter to experience this big day.

As the service began to get started with introductions and welcomes my mind turned to those getting married rather than those giving the bride away.  The pastors and the betrothed were smiling occasionally, and some of the narrative was interjected with talk of “wedding day jitters.”  At one point, one of the pastors made a comment about the groom feeling anxious and excited about their big day.  I noticed that both the bride and the groom’s body language matched the conversation.  My mind flashed back to my niece’s wedding last year where she bounced slightly and swayed from side to side during the wedding because of her sheer happiness and excitement.  Her body movements kept us entertained the entire service.

These particular wedding day jitters weren’t that overt, but they were definitely a part of the discussion.  I smiled again as the groom agreed about being excited for the wedding as the speaker noted his visibly heightened mood.

The message to the audience and the exchange of vows passed quickly and the unity candle ritual followed.  As the music for this portion began, the bride and groom lit the larger candle, took communion and then repositioned themselves in the middle of the stage.  While the music continued, they began to talk a bit and I saw the groom bouncing slightly.  As the seconds ticked by and they continued chatting with each other, you could see their energy or anxiety build a bit as they laughed and tried to wait through the song.  Just then, I saw the groom ask a question.  I could tell this by the slight tilting of his head.  I saw the bride respond by looking at him, smiling, and nodding in agreement.  They took each other’s hands, bowed their heads and he began to pray.  She was clearly in sync with him because you could see her head occasionally moving as he uttered a phrase, or she would smile and nod intermittently.

This shot shows the bride and and groom just as they began to pray together.  Her grip is tight, his face is flushed and they aren’t quite centered yet…still approaching God through their prayer.

I was grateful for the length of the song because I was witnessing something amazing.  As the prayer continued, his head bowed slightly more, the flushing on his face disappeared and his body got quiet.  Her shoulders relaxed, her elbows dropped a bit and a peaceful smile replaced the smile of excitement there only a minute before.  Their heads leaned in a bit closer and my sense was that the chapel full of people were disappearing in their minds.  It was just the bride, the groom and God.  There must have been an “amen” because they both took a deep breath and lifted their heads – more sure of themselves, relaxed and ready for whatever would meet them next.

This shot was taken close to the end of the song and their prayer.  Kiley’s face and arms are relaxed, Josh’s shoulders and neck are relaxed and even the maid of honor is quiet and focused.

Long after the introductions of the newly married couple and the recessional of the wedding party, the prayer scene played over in my mind.

As a therapist, I had witnessed a “symmetrical to complementary shift” take place…the individual and couple anxiety that had been rapidly cycling was released over to a higher power they trusted to manage their next steps.  As a Biblical scholar, I thought of the numerous examples I’ve read about in the scriptures of godly men or women wrestling with an issue, praying it through and then celebrating their relief as they are redirected with a renewed purpose or vision.  As a family scientist, I was glad they had spirituality as a core element and resource in their relationship – a strength that would get them through many times of anxiety or stress they would face down the road.  And as a friend, I was grateful (and emotional) about the thought that the children of our younger selves were growing up and prepared to begin their own lives.

What can we learn from Kiley and Josh, the praying newlyweds?  Well, I suppose that when we’re considering our own food for thought, prayer is certainly an excellent ingredient for a well balanced relationship.  After all, wouldn’t most of us appreciate a way to externalize our anxiety and place it on shoulders much bigger than our own?  Knowing God carries what they can’t is a sure-fire way new couples can walk with confidence through their newly-wedded life.

And for me, I suppose another thing I’ve learned is that when attending the weddings of my friend’s children, carry the super jumbo pack of tissues.  If this generation continues to teach me lessons such as I witnessed this time, I’ll be keeping Kimberly Clark in business for a good, long while.