Excerpt from Chapter 3, "The Walls Emerge"

I drove to central Wisconsin on a Friday afternoon that September.
      The workshop was taking place at a camp used by boys’ and girls’ clubs during the summer. I had brought with me lots of paper and lots of pens. I pictured myself sitting in a corner, silently taking notes. I decided I would say as little as possible and act the role of observer, sort of like a journalist.
      Having parked my bags in the bunkhouse, I walked across the parking area to a large, rustic A-frame surrounded by trees. Cliff greeted me at the seminar room door with a hug that lasted a little longer than I knew how to handle. Cliff ’s partner, Mary Ellen, gave me a hug, too, and her hug also went on a little too long.
      As other participants arrived, I felt a bit lonely and went looking for a cup of tea. As I watched Cliff and Mary Ellen greet people from across the room, I noticed that some people coming in got hugs even longer than mine. When Cliff hugged one man in particular—a tall, slender man he obviously considered a good friend—they rocked back and forth for a while, chuckling. It was a new sight for me.
      I looked for a place to sit down. Fifteen floor cushions had been arranged around the edges of a large Oriental rug. I placed my tea, paper and pen in front of one of the cushions and went to the restroom. When I got back, a young man with a military haircut had taken my seat and was happily talking with another man several cushions away. I realized he had not noticed my things sitting there, a foot or so in front of his seat.
      I felt so angry I hardly knew what to do with myself. I chose a free cushion on the other side of the room, as far from him as I could get. I knew that I could say something to him about it, and probably should, but decided that I would most likely appear petty and immature. My face was flushed and my mouth set in a grim line as I watched the others take their seats.


When it was time to start, Cliff told us to think about what we wanted to get out of the workshop while he played a piece of music that lasted about five minutes. He said we would have a chance to share what we wanted in the circle afterward if we wished.
      I didn’t like feeling angry at all, so I tried to put it away and think about something else. I noticed that many of the others had their eyes closed, so I closed mine as well. As I listened, I realized that the music had been recorded on synthesizers. As a classical music buff, I did not consider synthesized music “real” music, and I silently shook my head with disdain. I opened my eyes and saw that several people were wiping tears from their cheeks. I felt instantly ashamed for judging the music that others had found touching. It was a reminder of how critical I was, as if I needed the reminder.
      Cliff began the introductions. Each of us in turn spoke our name. I was third in line to speak, after Cliff and Mary Ellen, and I felt very aware of everyone’s eyes on me, as if there were lights and cameras trained on my face. I spoke my name with a forced smile and said I was there mostly to observe. I was too ashamed to say that I had been judging the music.
      A woman in the circle, whom I will call Bonnie, said she was there to deal with her “demon.” She said she was in a life-and-death struggle with this dark side of her personality, which controlled and tormented her every waking hour. Her voice choked up, and I found my own eyes welling with tears. I realized that there was no other sound in the room. I had never seen a group listen so closely to what someone was saying. It was almost as if the group had sent out invisible arms to hold her, though none of us had moved.

. . .

Arms of the Angels

The next person to step into the middle of the circle was a man with reddish hair. I’ll call him Lyle. Lyle said he wanted to feel better about himself. His mother had been an actress who was the center of attention everywhere she went. Lyle’s inner play had three characters. A mother figure dressed in flashy colors paraded around the room saying, “I’m the special one.” A father figure stood by the door, dressed in camouflage. He was saying, “I can’t compete. I might as well go.” A sad young Lyle stood looking down at the floor, saying, “I just want to be loved.”
      When asked what he wanted to happen in the scene, Lyle said he wanted the young child to hear that he was okay. He said he couldn’t imagine either of his parents ever saying it; that would have been too good to be true. It needed to come from someone else. He said he might be able to believe it if it came from an angel. Cliff suggested that he look around the room and choose someone to play an angel.
      Lyle looked at me. I tried to make my face as impassive as I could, but inside I was begging to be chosen. When Lyle asked if I would be willing to play that part, I nodded and stood up, trying to appear as if this happened every day. But my insides were in an uproar. He chose me! Does this mean I’m okay? Can I really help here? Can I, can I? I wanted desperately to believe that I was good enough to play an angel. And I wanted to be seen as good enough in the eyes of the group.
      My Editor was there, too, saying, “Who do you think you are, masquerading as an angel? You, who never does anything right?”
      I tried not to listen.
      Lyle said an angel would be up high and dressed in gold, so he stood me on a chair and draped gold lamé fabric around my shoulders.
      When they asked Lyle what the angel would say, he paused. Mary Ellen suggested that he play the angel and show us what it would say. He took my place on the chair, with the gold fabric around his shoulders, and I stood where he had been, assuming the role of Lyle for him. He placed his hands on my head, and was silent for a moment, as if he were listening for words from inside.
      Cliff, looking up at him, said softly, “Lyle is here, and he wants to know from you, an angelic being, that he’s okay. Would you be willing to tell him that?”
      Lyle, as the angel, began to speak, haltingly at first. He said he wanted me to know that I was okay and that even though I had been left alone as a child, I was very special, and I had been born for a very special, unique purpose. Though I knew these words were for Lyle and not for me, my eyes filled with tears.
      We switched places again. Cliff whispered in my ear to ask if I remembered what Lyle had said well enough to repeat it. I nodded. Mary Ellen turned on some tender music as I stood on the chair and wrapped the gold fabric around my shoulders. I placed my hands on Lyle’s head and repeated what the angel had said, word for word.
      Lyle bowed his head. I couldn’t see his face, but I felt him begin to shake. I realized he was crying silently, and tears again filled my own eyes. I would not have moved my hands for anything in the world, so the tears spilled over and ran down my cheeks. I felt the warmth of his head through my hands, and something more than heat. Something was reaching him through me, as if I were a conduit. I would never have dared believe that an angelic blessing could reach another person through me. I felt more worth as a person than I had ever felt before.


Copyright © 2007-2012 Alyce Barry. All rights reserved.