Blackout

Last week, I spent a few days in Las Vegas for a conference.  Twice a year I have the pleasure of spending time with a group of amazing people who make me learn new things, think about my work in a different way AND who make me laugh hysterically.  It’s a professional pleasure that I hold dear.  This year was no exception and I left with some fantastic ideas for our company to implement in the upcoming months until we meet again.

IMG_3759

Vegas is a funny place.  I’m not a gambler…in fact the last three times I’ve been there I don’t think I’ve put a single coin in a slot machine or played a single dollar at a table. I love people who love it, I just choose to waste my money on super useful and wildly more important things like…you know… $5 coffees.  Cuz I’m frugal like that.  I also do very high brow things like visit the Vanderpump Cocktail Garden because The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is a pinnacle of cultural sophistication.

IMG_3739

After our group meets all day on work things we try to give our brains a rest with a fun dinner. Jason’s goal for all of us is to do a dinner that slightly (remember this word) pushes us out of our comfort zone and gives us more of an experience than the typical steak/chicken dinner you eat at most professional get togethers.  We’ve eaten with dancers and singers popping up at your table and dined in a gorgeous restaurant that you have to pass through a pawn shop to reach.  You get the picture.  Out of the ordinary.

Y0SbyJXtTIGJww89zcc9pg

This trip one of our group members picked a restaurant called “Blackout”.  The premise is that you eat in the dark.  No, not slightly darker…THE DARK. Complete blackness.  You arrive and the first thing you do is sign a waiver…to eat dinner.  This should have given us a sign that perhaps we were in for more than just a spilled water glass.

After the waiver, you request your first bar drink–also, a sign.  If it is necessary to remind me that I can have an alcohol drink before I even enter the room, there might just be some stress ahead.

After the drink orders are taken you line up, single file, with your group and put your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you.  Your waiter puts on his infrared goggles and away you go.  When you pass the back curtain it is lights out.  Again…not dim…complete black out.  Oh–and no phones or apple watches allowed because of the light they give off.  You’re stripped of your comfort electronics and led into a cave. Jason was behind me with his hands on my shoulders and I noticed an eerie silence from him about 5 seconds into the room.  Anyone who knows Jason knows that silence is not his forté so I turned my head slightly as we were shuffling forward to ask if he was ok.  All I heard was…

“no.” 

Me:  “what do you mean, ‘no’??  Like… are you going to pass out???” 

Him: “not sure.” 

I”m not going to lie…although I was worried about his safety my mind was trying to imagine the domino effect I was about to be a part of when the man went down and our parade of shoulder-holding people tipped one by one in his wake.  And then I realized why he was silent.  My control freak husband was counting steps and visualizing the room to plan for his (and I guess I’m going to give him credit and hope that he intended to grab my hand to go with him) escape.  When we reached our chairs, which they guide our hands to, he whispered to me…

“They walked us in a circle, the door is behind us and to our right.  I can get us out of here in no time. I’m claustrophobic as $*!* right now.”  

Yeah…ok, whatever, I’m busy begging my eyes to find something…a light somewhere, anywhere.  Literally scanning the room.

There is nothing. Not a single light.  And then our waiter appears…I say “appears” because we only hear his voice but then we can spot a teeny tiny red speck of light on his infrared glasses.  The only indication that our sight is still in working order.  Relief washes over us as many people comment on the tiny red light that emits ZERO ability to see but somehow lets you know that our sense of vision is still intact.

The menu is Vegan.  Let me tell you that when you inform a group of Type A professionals that you are not only going to let them dine is utter darkness but that they also have to give up any meat at their meal there is a palpable disdain for the whole “out of the ordinary experience” that I mentioned earlier.  Rubber chicken dinner with a vegetable medley starts sounding so lovely.

We find out that we will cycle through 5 courses at this meal.  We have silverware and are told where our drinks are placed on the table and everyone is mostly quiet while we feel around on the table to carefully locate things we are used to simply seeing and grabbing without a thought. We also all noticed that we naturally closed our eyes even though it didn’t matter if they were open or closed.  The sight was gone.

At first you spend a lot of time laughing with nervousness and newness but I noticed, since I was sitting with some of my closest friends. that we all became more quiet as the evening wore on.  I also noticed myself sitting with my head in my hand, fatigue creeping in with the discomfort.  It made me wonder how many times in real life situations we force ourselves to sit up, engage with energy and basically “fake it” because it’s socially, and to be honest, visually rude to do otherwise.  This in spite of our bodies natural desire to do so.

Eating and drinking became so labor intensive as we carefully raised spoonfuls of soup to our mouths. I found myself leaning so close to the bowl of soup that I would have looked manner-less in normal situations.  Glasses of wine were grasped with both hands and water glasses were interchanged amongst guests…because who knows whose is whose? I noticed we all described the plates we were served in ways we probably wouldn’t have even noticed normally but our hands didn’t just eat the food–they outlined the edges of the bowls and discussed the compartments of the trays in hopes of ensuring we were all “finding” the different meals served to us.  The food was exquisite. Even though we had silverware we all found ourselves eating with our hands much of the time…laughing about the gravy on our chins, comparing which sauce was the most delicious, deciding if the herb was cilantro or parsley.

“This bowl feels like a viking ship!” 

“There’s 5 compartments to this plate…no 6!”

“Is this a red wine or a white?” “Red…no wait…white…” 

“I think the chairs are red!” “why???” ” I don’t know, they just seem red in my mind.” 

“I think my plate has a gold edge.” 

As the dinner wore on,  my table discussed the many emotions we were feeling.  Scared, excited, anxious, angry, trapped, and even sad. Sad that this is reality for some people all the time. A vital reminder for a room full of eye doctors and other industry people that we are so very privileged to GET to do this work.

What I didn’t know until we discussed it the next day was that a few of us were also on a very similar track of thinking about this event and how it relates to our faith.  We all had a few different takes on it but for me it was this.

With all of my discomfort, all of my fatigue, all of my fear and my worry… I never once worried that our waiter wouldn’t reappear and would be bringing us food and or drink.  If we needed a bathroom break, he would guide us to relief.  If we couldn’t handle the stress, he would have taken us to light.

Again, I never doubted.

And yet…in life, and with my God, sometimes I DO doubt.  Sometimes I DO question during times of darkness.  I do wonder if He will provide.  I DO question if He will appear and bring me to relief and out of the darkness.

And this is strange isn’t it?  Because this waiter…he promised me nothing.  We had no shared experience to fall back on to build my faith and trust in him to allow me to KNOW that he would return.  I simply knew nourishment would come and that he would bring it.

But I have a God that has shown me over and over that he will lead me and he never fails to either turn on the lights or hold my hand and guide me towards it.  He has not only promised, he has delivered and has asked me to simply always have faith that he will continue to do so based on his past willingness to serve me. His delivery is always flawless.  His performance always repeats on a timeless loop.

How foolish I felt to realize that at times, I exhibit less faith in a Father that has never failed me than a random waiter returning for a good tip.

One of my friends told me all she could think about was the prayer…

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to SHINE upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

I loved that.

In the end, the waiter directs you to stand up and they lead you out in the same shoulder-gripping line up you entered with.  The relief you feel when you hit the light-filled lobby is immense.  The gratitude felt for a sense we all take for granted is beyond description.

I doubt I would ever do this experience again.  Not because I didn’t love it–I think everyone should go if they have the chance. My hesitance is that I think I “got it”…I had the experience and I’m not sure it would ever be able to be re-created.

But if you’re ever in Vegas, or anywhere that has one of these restaurants, go!  And then tell me what you think!

IMG_2311775C97E0-1.jpeg

Share Your Gum

My friend Amanda came to visit last month.  Amanda is a new friend—introduced to me by my husband who knew I would love her.  He was right.  Amanda has a story to tell about her daughter Khaleda who passed away in 2016 at the age of 14 after a battle with a lifelong illness.  I would love to tell her incredible life story but instead I’m going to pester Amanda to write a book about the entirely too short yet beautiful time they spent together as a family.  The synchronicity of events in this family’s story coupled with Amanda’s mama-bear tenacity and writing skills will shoot it to the top of the best-seller list.  I’m sure of it.

Now that I’ve peaked your interest, and with her permission,  I would like to share one piece of the story that has so greatly impacted me and how I look at tiny life happenings in such a different way:

One day Amanda and Khaleda were driving and Khaleda asked for a piece of gum.  Amanda apologized and let her know that the piece she was chewing was the last piece she had.

“Oh, that’s okay, I’ll just take that one,” Khaleda calmly requested.

As most of us would do, Amanda quickly squealed with horror… “Khaleda, NO, that’s disgusting.  You can’t chew my gum after I’ve chewed it.”

Khaleda was instantly quiet which immediately led my friend to analyze what was happening in her child’s mind.  Khaleda was not born to Amanda but came to her through adoption from Afghanistan.  Because of this, many times they found themselves grappling with before and after moments from her early life with her Afghan family to her later time with Amanda’s family.

Amanda quickly asked Khaleda to share more with her and her daughter proceeded to tell her that “sharing gum” was commonplace in her former life.  The gum would start with her oldest brother, pass to her other siblings and finally end with Khaleda.  Her mother would then collect the final chewed product and keep it in a ball that would be used for hair removal.

Stop for a second.  Read that again.

They shared the gum and then repurposed it.

It was normal and commonplace.  It was a treat.

When was the last time you considered a stick of gum a “treat?” When was the last time you chewed a piece for few minutes until the flavor was gone and then tossed it haphazardly in the trash without thinking about it and reached for a fresh replacement. How many different types of gum do we have access to at every grocery store we check out of?  Do I even need to approach the fact that we can also pick up a 20 pack of disposable razors and wouldn’t even dream of having to use “community gum” for hair removal?

The lessons in excess, gratitude and taking things for granted are epic in this story.

The thought of “sharing the gum” got me thinking about things we share with each other.  I imagine the gum was most flavorful with the first sibling who tasted it but was still enjoyed by the final child who chewed it.  It was passed down with a shared community that, even after I’ve processed this story for weeks, STILL gets me teary eyed.

Every time a person pops into my head time and time again I assume God is nudging me to reach out to them and check in.  If a story keeps popping into my head time and time again, many times I write about it.  Sometimes I share it here and sometimes I keep it for myself.

I could not shake this story…but I also couldn’t find the connection point for what I wanted to share about it.

Then a patient came to visit me.  I’ve seen this patient for many years. She’s middle aged and has worked as a custodian at a local business as long as I’ve known her. She walks to and from work every single day.  She doesn’t only walk to work…she walks everywhere she goes.  As far as I know, she’s never driven.  Every time she comes in she entertains me with pictures of her cat and stories of what is happening in her life.  She is a dream contact lens patient…compliant with proper care, never over-wears them and saves her extremely hard earned money to ensure that her health is handled properly before she spends on anything else. She fascinates me with her discipline and I smile each time I see her name on my schedule.

This year we started talking about a Peanuts cartoon.  We share a love of Charlie Brown and his gang and she walked me through an auditory storytelling of a few of her favorite Peanuts cartoons through the years.  One in particular got me cracking up and she said she thought she had the original cartoon at home.  I asked her to come by the office with it sometime so I could make a copy.

A few weeks later I came to the office and found this book in my mailbox.

IMG_2476

 

The note that came with it reads…

Dear Dr. Susan,

When I was going through my Peanuts book to find the one we were talking about, I realized there were a lot of them that you would like…so I got you a copy of your own! (it’s actually two books in one).  I also put comments on notepapers marking each strip I thought you’d like.  Enjoy! 🙂 

Signed, your friend and patient. 

She wrote over 30 personal notes on these cartoons with her thoughts and laughs and insights.  I treasure this gift so much because it has such a personal touch.  I keep it in my car and whenever I have a second where I’m waiting to pick up kids I grab it and read the next note she wrote and why she thought I’d enjoy it.

The book is used, the cover is wrinkled and torn and some of the pages are marked up but I feel pure joy every time I see it.  I assume one day I’ll share it with someone else and pass the pages of notes along with it combined with some of my own so the next person can smile as much as I have with this simple treat.

I’ve been challenged with both of these stories to find simple, inexpensive ways to “Pass the gum” and repurpose something that seems like such a small thing but that can used over and over again.  I’m assuming I won’t literally share my gum since one of my children can’t even drink out of the same straw as someone else let alone chew someone else’s gum.  But you get the metaphor.

One of my favorite parts of writing these little stories is how many of you choose to reach out to me privately, and sometimes publicly with things that you were reminded of.  I have been inspired numerous times by these messages and I’m hopeful that if you have a way that you are “sharing you gum” with others you’ll share the idea with me.  I’m a firm believer that there are no original ideas and would love to steal some of yours so please message me and let me know what you do to share community and treats in small ways.

Oh, and if you’re curious to support the family that inspired this entire post, here a link to the facebook page for The Khaleda Run  

Amanda and her husband Mike have somehow channeled their tragedy into an amazing organization to give back.  The inaugural run was this past weekend and will become an annual event.

I hope to hear from all of you with your “gum sharing” ideas.

Suzy

%d bloggers like this: