In 1971 Alma Routsong, aka Isabel, Miller published a lesbian novel entitled Patience and Sarah. It’s the story of two women who love each other and refuse to be denied that love by family or cultural biases against such relationships. They lead a quiet and fulfilling life together, touched by moments of humor and argument. At the end of the narrative, the author reflects on just how unlikely such a life story still was by saying “You can’t tell a gift how to come.” I’ve remembered that line all these years because it keeps being the best way to describe how I am feeling about yet one more unexpected event or realization. It came to me again yesterday after I had attended my regular 12-step meeting (currently via the magic of Zoomland). At this meeting, we spend the first half listening to someone reading who and what we are about and then someone else’s talking about a step or tradition. The second half of our hour is devoted to small groups where each person speaks to the step of the day and then shares how our week has been in relation to the program we are working.
Someone with more electronic savvy than I breaks the 30+ assembly into a bunch of small groups, each of us appearing in our little Zoom box as we are connected. I wait eagerly to see who will be in my group and am often delighted to see a face I know will have helpful things to say. Yesterday, however, two of the three other women were members I hardly know and with whom I have never been in a small sharing group. The forth person is someone with whom I do have slight context. So I was a little guarded as we began to share. What happened next was a total “gift,” wrapped in paper I hadn’t recognized as beautiful.
The first speaker took advantage of an option I’ve never witnessed being used in the meeting, i.e., she used her time to ask for feedback about how she was to grieve over a recent death. The other women said things that moved me to tears and showed me a willingness to be vulnerable just because a fellow member asked for help. So I finally spoke a little about my way of reacting to my own grief by saying that I decided some years ago to stop speaking about or hoping for “closure.” I shared that at one point I had written the word on a small piece of paper to which I struck a match and watched as it burnt out in a saucer in my kitchen. Once this exchange had occurred, the rest of us spoke about whatever we wanted to say about the step or our lives. It seemed to me the level of sharing reached a depth seldom reached even when I’ve been in groups with folks with whom I am so much closer than I am with my three Zoom-boxed women.
I kept hearing one or another of them saying wise and clear-eyed things about how hard she is working to stay minimally calm and hopeful even as the world around us is increasingly divided and chaotic. We all agreed that the program helps us in ways we never could have imagined, so maybe if I’d remember Isabel Miller’s last sentence in time, I could have introduced it into our little Zoom space. I’m pretty sure my tiny cohort would have nodded or done a “thumbs up” to show me they felt as I was feeling–our time in that break-out space was truly a “gift” and we none of us would have expected it when we saw the others being attached to our screen. But the gift came anyway…. Just as it did to Patience and Sarah.