The local licensed café is narrow and dim, deliciously warm, splashed (in the evenings) with a red light that calls you in off the street like a crackling fire. It's not pretentious or intimidating, and though I know it best as a place to sit during daylight hours, tapping away at my laptop, making friendly small talk with the owners who always seem happy to see me, it's just as kind a place after nightfall.
A friend and member of my regular Monday night Writer's Jam invited me out to the café to see her workshop a performance art piece she'd been piecing together with a small crew of other creatives. I didn't know what to expect and I'm certainly not prone to venturing far outside my comfort zone (though I'm getting better at it) but I wanted to support her.
And I was curious. With her in the mix it was guaranteed to be wonderfully weird. (I say that with true affection!)
And it was a night out.
I arrived a few minutes early (with another Writer's Jam friend in tow!) to be wrapped up in a crushing hug by the aforementioned performing friend who's face, when she saw us walk in, told the kind of humble story that began with: I can't believe you actually came!
"Is there going to be audience participation?" I asked as she hugged me.
"No," she promised. "Someone might just come up and whisper in your ear."
Her revelation meant I could sit wherever I wanted instead of the inaccessible back corner. I'm a wallflower by nature. Don't ever think of pulling me up on the stage as a "volunteer".
People filtered in, filling the space to capacity, chatting in the heightened tones of those hoping to be enlightened. Wine was poured and ginger tea steeped. I love that about this place. It's not like the times when I approach a bar and ask for an orange pekoe—when they look at me like I'm a totally lame, boring prude—here, no one lifts an eyebrow. Coffee, vodka, tea, wine...we're all the same.
The lights dimmed and the crowd hushed and so began the wonderful weirdness...
During one of my high school English classes I had to do a presentation on a theme from whatever piece of literature we were studying at the time. I don't remember if it was Shakespeare or Richard Adams, but I do remember I chose to present FEAR. And (because I obviously didn't yet know myself) I did a performance art presentation in the mini amphitheater of the basement drama room. It included the first eight notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony played upon a single octave toy piano at intentionally sporadic intervals throughout the presentation; a flashlight held beneath my chin; a long strip of newsprint upon which we would all leave our fears behind in varying strokes of fat crayola markers; angsty original poetry; and a moody recitation of whatever passage was most drenched in FEAR.
It was brilliant.
And it was a disaster.
It was a brilliant disaster.
But only because I was preaching to a room of non-believers. Those kids...they didn't speak my language. They rolled their eyes and drew orange stick-men on my canvas of catharsis.
So, instead of feeling affirmed and powerful, I felt embarrassed and sad and even less sure of who I was and where I fit into the world.
Last Thursday night, I sat at a café table and watched all that bravery spill out from the stage, washing over a crowd that nodded along and mmmhmmmm'ed when they really liked a statement, that clapped like they meant it; a crowd who recognized that despite technical glitches and long awkward pauses there was a magic happening there. A magic that's made of freedom and the willingness to be vulnerable—the strength to refuse invisibility and I thought, 'Oh, this is strange.'
But I also thought, 'THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!'
Those brave souls up there, they were preaching to the choir. We all got it. Even if we didn't 'get it'. Somehow they spoke the language out loud that I've always been speaking inside.
I once stood along the wall at a Niagara Falls dance club while Vanilla Ice served drinks behind the bar. I hated every ugly second of it. The sticky floor, the violent strobe lights, the music that vibrated in my chest. I feel anxiety even in the remembering of it. The best moment of that night was the moment we were back out on the street. I didn't care that my husband's friend knew a guy who took us through the V.I.P. entrance so we didn't have to pay the $50 cover charge. I didn't care that Ice Ice Baby was close enough to see the pores on his nose, or that this club was tagged as that night's 'place to be'. I only cared that I was dreadfully unhappy and that the whole experience made me feel wildly inadequate and dull.
But this...this was warm and intimate and spiritual.
A friend recently returned to church after staying away for a while. He later told me how happy he was to have been welcomed back so warmly. My response was: Of course! That's what church is! It's relationship. It's connection. It's working together towards a shared purpose.
And that's what I found in that little café. Church.
Genuine relationship. Honest connection. A passionately shared purpose.
"Midnight stroll through knee-deep prayers."
They mentioned that more than once...knee-deep prayers. And as I listened to the words of the poetry they spoke I recognized the psalms within them and immediately knew that every poem/prose/song/art is a prayer and prayer is the only language that everyone speaks, no matter their religious affiliation.
Midway through the presentation, the performers left the stage carrying tubes, the ends fitted with some kind of headphone. They moved through the audience, pausing by various people, placing the headphone against an ear while they spoke through the other end. I, having sat in the aisle, provided one such ear. "This is the most intimate our relationship will ever be," he said. "You don't have to tell anyone what I say to you here tonight. I love you, sister." And then he moved on to the next person.
First of all...very intimate! And second of all...awwwwww! Because that's all anyone wants isn't it? And it's ultimately why we try our hand at creating anything. To spread our heart—for good or for bad.
My last swallow of coffee was cold but my spirit was warmed having discovered this community. They left a little of their weird glitter on me so that when I went home later that night I did not feel dull, nor did I feel embarrassed or inadequate. I felt affirmed and empowered. I felt accepted.
I felt exactly like one should feel having found their church. I felt like I'd come home.