Looking both ways Part II: The pedestrian yields

Here’s another installment from Geo of On Bright Street. Thanks Geo!

Late one evening my husband and I went for a ramble downtown. At each corner light we waited for a signal to tell us to cross. To sync our steps, one or both of us frequently did silly double-quicks till our feet matched and our clasped hands swung comfortably. When we stroll through the canyon along the river trail, or down the gravelly lake road which circles the airport our strides easily agree; there’s so little stop-start. In the city it’s a busier story. Pause for traffic—follow with a shuffle-step. Look in a shop window—then trip together to the next. Bump into a friend, give directions to a stranger, slow down to pick up a coin, get distracted by newspaper headlines—and perform the order dance again.

While we negotiated the streets and sidewalks I realized: I always lead with my right foot when I walk. I decided to begin with my left instead to see what effect it might have. It did away with our need for double-quicks; we were in step—problem solved! But it bothered me to feel uncomfortable starting on my left foot; I use both sides of my body equally as I go along—or thought I did—so why the lopsidedness? Even more surprising was the sense that I had unlocked some little room in my brain merely by changing my accustomed way of walking. Was that my imagination? Did I just . . . build a synapse? I wondered about the power of breaking habits that rule instinctive tasks. I stepped off again with my left. Could working for a deliberate balance help me walk more harmoniously with myself, as well as with Rob? I decided to experiment.

We live with a small dog who often requires a barrier to prevent trouble in certain parts of our home, so I have a plastic knee-high gate which travels from doorway to doorway. I step over it many times daily. I set a goal: to cross that dog trap with my left leg leading. I was shocked when the first time over was almost a failure; my muscles did not know how to perform a mirror-image of the movements I usually went through to clear the gate. I managed, but the second time I attempted the hurdle that day I got hung up, banged my shin, and nearly hit the floor. That’s embarrassing. I determined I was onto something big. I kept practicing until my body relaxed and my coordination grew, along with the conviction that I was building strength both physically and mentally.

I sought other opportunities for small and simple shake-ups, mini-masteries. I tried my hand at lefty penmanship, as I used to do in my childhood when I mimicked my ambidextrous father. I slung my bag across the opposite shoulder while I shopped. I held the telephone to my other ear. Stopping short of using a sharp knife without the necessary control, I shifted many parts of my routine from strength to strangeness and made side-swapping discoveries—that I have many hidden weaknesses, startlingly uneven muscles, and corresponding pains that emerge as I work to restructure myself. But my initial feeling about what happens when I put my worst foot forward was right on—my mind really does expand, as do my abilities. Being out of step with my husband motivated me to examine my walk and challenge myself to a simple change. That change made me uncomfortable and revealed my lack of balance. As I worked on balance, I recognized the value of strengthening other weak places as well, and so it goes on.

There are endless possibilities—within and without—to yield to the awkward and reach for grace. Being willing to try out new muscles and push through discomfort can help build strength and balance, expand thinking, and more easily keep in rambling step with dear ones. Have you had an experience, big or small, that bears this out?

27 thoughts on “Looking both ways Part II: The pedestrian yields

  1. My husband and I do the same little shuffle step dance. It almost makes me sad to think of not doing it, but I like your reasoning for trying it out. I love that you experimented with this!

    Hm. I’m going to be thinking of your final question all day.

  2. Wendy, I know exactly what you mean! But here’s the funny part. When I told Rob about my adjustment, he thought he should learn to change his walk too, and immediately that threw us back into shuffle-step. So I suggested we take turns being accommodating on alternate walks . . . or something. Ha.

    If you come up with anything, give me a shout. I’m interested.

  3. How about marriage itself? We all have our little habits that suddenly make things a little awkward once we marry, and we make little adjustments to get in rhythm with the new person we share our bed with. I never ate cold cereal with milk until after I married my husband. I don’t really know why. It’s not like he criticized me for the dry cereal. But I tried it and found I liked it. I tried a lot of new things after I was married.

  4. There are endless possibilities—within and without—to yield to the awkward and reach for grace.“–Love this thought!

    After I tell you how lovely and thought provoking your entire post is I’m going back to pondering. This is a most excellent question.

  5. Your writing is so beautiful.

    My teenagers constantly challenge me to do new things, try new ways, whether it be wakeboarding or a different view of European history.

    And when I listen to them and make myself vulnerable they are more willing to listen to me.

  6. I love this essay. It has really made me think of both things I’ve changed in my life, and things I have yet to change. I think we need to get out of our routine to make some things just work better.

    It also reminded me of the struggles that one of my children had with learning in general. She just could not concentrate. We tried to help her, to give her new tools to try. The one that actually worked was so simple. She took a squishy, stress ball to school and squeezed it while listening to the teacher (I did tell the teacher about it, so she wouldn’t get in trouble). It gave her body something to do so that her mind could focus on the teacher. Amazing difference. She kept that ball through 5th and 6th grades and eventually didn’t need it.

  7. I’m with mormonhermitmom on marriage–well put!

    This sounds like a silly example, but it fits your phrase, “yield to the awkward.” My in-laws have a talent show every Christmas. I am really NOT into participating in talent shows. I have internally (and sometimes externally) grumbled about this tradition. Finally, two years ago (that’s after five grumpy events for me), I decided to embrace it. I went whole hog and decided to surprise dh with a puppet theater and some hand-made puppets (he’s always wanted to do puppet shows, so I decided he’d have more fun if he got to design the theater–it was awesome!). We found a cute Christmas puppet show on-line to use. It went over great, and I couldn’t believe how much happier the whole evening was for me.

    I think yielding to the awkward has potential to create terrific change.

    I really do love your post, Geo. You have a gift. Thanks for sharing it here.

  8. This is a beautiful post. Sometimes we can choose to learn and develop new muscles, and sometimes the change gets foisted upon us. Being in the midst right now of one being foisted upon me…this article offers a reframe. I’m allll about the reframe, and having another one in the arsenal is helpful.

  9. Oh, wow, that is the story of my weekend. I am taking tae kwon do classes right now, and while they can be fun, sometimes it’s just incredibly awkward and even humiliating.

    But as you say, yielding to the awkward has been good for me. Especially when I’m processing it afterwards; in the middle of the awkwardness, it’s not always so fun.

    Great post; I love the way you look at things.

  10. wendy’s post reminded me of one that happened to me.

    My in-laws were leaving on a mission, they asked the family to sing a hymn at their farewell. I said “No thank you, I don’t sing”. So there I sat by myself on the pew while everyone else sang. Just a few months later I was called as primary chorister. So I ate crow asked my mother in-law for help. After that call came a calling as ward chorister. It taught me beautiful lessons about callings, service and being flexible for those you love.
    Now serving in a tiny branch I’m grateful to be able to fill in for the ward chorister or take my turn leading the music in primary because we don’t have enough help to call someone.

  11. OK, I thought of one. It involved going back to work part time after my youngest entered school. I was going to wait a year, but I saw an ad and something told me to apply even though I am deathly afraid of commitment. (I’m so afraid of commitment I don’t even use a planner.) During training we had a test and when they called to tell us who made the cut I actually quit, but then something told me not to so I ate my words and agreed to stay on.

    Everything I was doing was new to me (after 17 years as an SAHM). I worked with a bunch of kids half my age who had grown up on computers and I pretty much started from scratch. I was awkward and inexperienced and that was humbling for me because I tend to stick to things I do well. But I kept trying and I learned and I grew and while I wouldn’t say I’ve attained grace, I have at least enjoyed some rewarding successes that have taught me I can do new things. And while I’d rather not have to work, my job has been a blessing to my family.

    Saying yes to Segullah was another stretch that I’ve found rewarding.

    Thanks Geo for saying yes to being our guest poster–beautiful work!

  12. mormonhermitmom—You are so right. I never ate soup and salad for breakfast or had to wear earplugs at night before I got married! And I had to learn to be willing, or mostly willing, to share my party packs of Pepperidge Farms cookies after tying the knot. (Especially after being caught with an empty box, right, Rob?)

    dalene—I’d love to hear some of your excellent answers. i know you have some.

    michelle—Thank you! I work with teen girls (in YW), and believe every word you just said.

    tonya—What an excellent story! It reminded me of something I read on Flylady.net (I’m a Flylady dropout) years ago. A mom wrote and described some behavioral/concentration problems her small daughter was having. The little girl was very stressed out and seemed unable to focus and keep things in order; her bedroom was a total disaster with toys everywhere, bed a tumble, clothes strewn about, no floor in sight—maybe you’re familiar with the scene? Nothing really ever worked to motivate or help her and so one day while she was at school, her mother, who was at her wits’ end, spent the time shoveling out the mess and selecting only just a handful of toys for her daughter to keep. She got rid of nearly everything besides clothes and when she was through, the room was clean and organized, and the few items left all had a place to go. She drove the rest to Goodwill or some such place, and when she got home she began to worry what reaction she’d get from her daughter, who seemed very attached to her truckloads of stuff. I imagine that mama was in a cold sweat by the time school let out. But the story had a happy ending: when the little girl got home she went to her room and then came running out smiling and said to her mother, excitedly, “Now I have room to dance!” Apparently, the little girl made an enormous turnaround with her attitude and behavior after that, and never seemed to miss a thing her mom pitched. Her room stayed a nice open dancing place where there was real space for playing and feeling good. I think of that all the time and try to work on giving myself “room to dance.”

    wendy—You’re a puppeteer! Oh, that is the best story, and what a fun example of what I was trying to get at. I have a yield to the awkward puppet-related story too—a friend of mine invited me a few years ago to be her partner in putting on a shadow puppet theater production of “Where the Wild Things Are.” We performed it for some elementary school classes. It was out of my comfort zone at the time, but I ended up having a blast, and realized I would like to do more of the same. I have got the perfect window in my house for shadow puppets, and I keep threatening to organize a show, maybe around Halloween or some other holiday. Maybe you’d like to join me . . . ?

    elizabeth-w—I’m so glad if it’s helping you with one of those. I am trying to learn more about reframing myself. I do it all the time when recipes don’t work out; I simply give them other names and pretend I meant to do that. But it can be more challenging to reframe life events that are tougher than . . . well, steak. I hope it goes well for you.

    Emily M.—I agree it’s so much easier to appreciate the, um, benefits of awkwardness when you’ve gotten through to the looking back part. Tae Kwon Do is an impressive choice; good for you! Thanks for your kind words.

  13. jendoop—That is a fantastic story. What great processing! Just reframe that crow-eating and call it a delicious chicken dinner! Have you considered sharing your story with the Ensign? I feel sure that there are many Latter-day Saints who would benefit from reading about your experience.

    dalene—You are one of the most graceful and grace-filled people I know. Maybe you could broaden your definition, because I think you just nailed it. And I guess you know guest-posting has been one of those yielding to the awkward things for me too. Thanks for the opportunity.

  14. Motherhood. It completely took me out of my comfort zone. I remember when it was time to take her home from the hospital and fear struck me so I couldn’t move. But Heavenly Father stepped in, (along with my husband, mother, and the rest of the village) and I made it.

    P.S. My mom does this all the time. She will get ready with her eyes closed just to see what it feels like to be blind. She will do all sorts of things with her other hand. I never got it, until now.

    One more reason I love you so Geo.

  15. wendy—Okay! Let’s brainstorm.

    dalene—You’d better!

    suedonym—What you said about motherhood just reminded me of a dream I recently had . . . hmm. Glad to have that one back in my thoughts this morning. Hmmm. Hmmmmmm.

    What’s happened to your comfort zone since that first giant step out of it with the Princess?

    I think I heart your mom. I used to do the blind trick as a child, and had forgotten about that. Maybe that was something we all did back then, like chewing tin foil(?). But for an adult to make such experiments—? That is really remarkable. Says so much about who your mom is. She never lost that beautiful childlike curiosity that makes great discoveries.

    I love you too, Sue!

  16. Interesting thoughts… making weak things become strong”
    It’s always an adventure to try something new…
    Thanks for writing this, Geo.

  17. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights. I love the idea that shaking things up physically expands things mentally; I may have to experiment with this.

    Also, how to pick the challenges or which muscles to retrain? When to stick with what I do best and when to push the envelope? These are hard decisions for me.

  18. wendy—I have an amazing silhouette film from the 1920s that you might find inspiring before we try this puppet thing. It’s got me revved up.

    MJ—Adventure is apparently what we all signed up for! Glad to share it with you.

    Becca—I completely believe that the physical and mental are inseparable. I think the thing is to just begin, and pay attention. Lessons are in everything. I think the trick is to start small and then be open to whatever suggestions come. Let me know if you hit on anything.

  19. After the fiddle contest last weekend, my sister was telling me about this girl who plays fiddle backwards: instead of holding the violin with her left hand and bowing with her right, she bows with her left and holds with her right. When she was little, her teacher told her she couldn’t play that way. He kept insisting and insisting until her parents gave in and made her switch. She began immediately to have problems: wetting the bed, nightmares, behavioral problems at home and school, panic attacks, etc. It got so bad that her parents finally insisted that her teacher allow her to play the way that she found most natural for her. Problems went away, and she started winning contests all over the country.

    I’ve thought a lot about that, and then, when I found this beautiful post today, I revisited those thoughts. Doing this differently can not only strengthen new muscles, allowing us to reach for new grace, but can remind us that doing this “backwards” isn’t a bad thing. I think of the stories my mother tells me of teachers not allowing her to write or do other things with her left hand (because it was “wrong”) and loving her stubborn nature that didn’t allow her to cave. As a result, she can do many things with either hand, but she still writes with her left.

    I know I’m rambling now, but your post has made my mind shoot off in all different directions. Perhaps a simple “Thank you” will suffice.

  20. wendy—Better yet, we should watch it together!

    Julie—I am so glad you didn’t stop at “Thank you.” What an insightful comment! Now you’ve given me more to think about too. Thank YOU so much.

  21. You make me laugh!! I’m so glad that someone else thinks about the inane things I think about. I thought I was the only one. I have thought endlessly about the right-foot-leading syndrome (I’m a right-foot-leader also). It’s just one of those places my mind goes to.

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