Lessons from Beta: Living Congruently.
November 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’m thankful my friend Dana uses it often.
“Are you keeping your congruity?
As long as you are keeping your congruity…
I lost congruity.
I must keep congruity!
Congruity – The state or quality of being congruous; harmony; appropriateness: a congruity of ideas.
Congruous – 1. Agreeing; accordant; congruous.
2. Mathematics. of or pertaining to two numbers related by a congruence.
3. Geometry. coinciding at all points when superimposed: congruent triangles.
Beta hands me back my congruity in bucket loads. I saw it clearly on Halloween, dressed up as a gypsy and fairy princess, and chatting with a 98 year old neighbor who wanted B to twirl in her dress. Her care taker noticed my sister’s dark skin and quietly asked me an aside: “Are you the family that was in the paper?”
Then he knows her full name without asking, and I’m smiling. Half because he read the article that thoroughly, and half because she doesn’t question why he’s calling her “Bethany” when she had introduced herself as “Beta.” I see growth in her. She doesn’t hide behind me when he calls her pretty, she laughs out loud, and gives him her hand – “why thank you!” She says it with a very Haitian kind of hip-cock, and grabs my dress as we’re leaving, “Oh! That man make me LAUGH! That man make me laugh so hard my heart hurt inside me.”
That night, she handed me my congruity in the same way she usually does, except I saw it clearer. She’s always giving me options to choose to laugh with her, to take a moment to not be too busy to care for her, to play just one more UNO game before bed time instead of checking my email. But on Halloween, I realized that, at eight, she’s good at reminding me of what I like. And knowing what I like is, quite often, the impetus of congruent living.
I stood in the street, watching her ring door bells, and I thought of the years I spent out for Halloween. Was I having fun? I don’t think as much fun as watching her ring door bells, or squeal over Reese’s pieces. Fun was effortless, this year, in it’s quiet, simple way on a backstreet, picking up candy, listening to her laugh so hard that her heart hurts. And, it felt right to be spending my night that way – which I think is also what living congruently is made of: knowing what’s right for you, even if it would be wrong for the guy in the seat to your left, and the one in the seat to your right.
I see congruity in her too, standing on the sidewalk yelling, “are you going to scare me? Because I don’t like it that way.” When the man in the dark house answers her honestly, “no, I won’t!” she can’t figure out why we’re both laughing. “What? I just tell him what I don’t like!” At eight, she knows more than I did at twenty – to speak out what she does and does not want (congruity), to dance with a drum outside my house in a pink bath robe and my mother’s clogs, and to lack embarrassment that the neighbors might hear, because she is singing to them. None of them know that she beats them to the punch. Of course they’ll hear. Of course they’ll comment. In fact, why don’t I just sing a little louder just so they do?
“They love my song,” she says to me when I ask.
My life has been odd for a year now. I graduated and picked a job that people asked about with quizzical looks. For months, my grandfather questioned my ability to drop by during the day.
“When are you going to get a job?” he’d ask.
I felt small when he said it, like he was right. As if being tied to a desk from nine to five, and having someone else sign my paycheck, meant that I had legitimate work. As if signing my own paychecks, and working from a table at Peets Coffee and Tea didn’t.
I still get asked that question sometimes, by all kinds of well meaning people – “are you working while you’re home?”
And when I feel that echoing voice of insecurity inside me, I tell myself that it’s not congruent to excuse yourself for starting your own business, and I say, “yes. I am running my business.”
Love is similar, and choosing to love when it’s odd is that way as well. We find all kinds of normalcy, patterns, expectations to live by so that we can feel comforted when we are doing things we feel are uncomfortable. I used to ask my therapist “is this normal?” and feel most comforted when she said, “yes.”
Is this the measure of my congruence?
Someone else does it too?
Is it normal to live in a family of “crems” when I am brown? Is it normal to suck my fingers to fall asleep at this age, and to rock myself to calm down after school? Is it normal to have learned to rock myself because a mother didn’t? Is it normal to not know who my father is, or to have seen my mother intermittently and never missed her in between? Is it normal to live in an orphanage with 35 other children, or to eat the same thing for almost every meal? Is it normal to have only see the ocean once before I came to live with you? Is it normal? Am I normal?
No. It’s not. It’s not normal. Just like it’s not normal to love when it costs you, or to graduate from college and start your own social enterprise, or to be singing in your bathrobe with a bongo drum on a Saturday morning.
Watching her, I remember it wasn’t normal to want to leave for Haiti by myself at the age of 18. And, it wasn’t normal to believe that three years after meeting a little girl in Port-au-Prince, there was still hope for her to become part of our family, and we shouldn’t give up just yet.
It wasn’t normal at all.
But it was, most certainly, an act of congruence.