You Wanna Talk Fireworks?

If you want to experience REAL fireworks, watch what happens when you try to change someone’s routine.

Ooooohhh, LORDY! Stand back! And, unlike those displays you’ll watch at the park, on your porch, or on the television later this week, the “fireworks” I’m talking about can happen suddenly, without warning, at any old time. And, it can happen to people who supposedly have this whole change thing DOWN. It’s all cool, right, whatever? (Begin Twilight Zone theme. . .) People like you and me can go, well, a little bonkers. Ladies and Gentlemen, please allow me to recount a tale of my recent experience, which will shock and amaze you. What sets off your fireworks?

For the past two years, I’ve taught a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class each week at the MD Anderson Cancer Center‘s Place. . .of wellness. The POW (as “insiders” call it, strangely appropriate this week, it seems!) is a wonderful place where anyone whose life has been touched by cancer can take advantage of free programs designed to reduce stress and feed the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga, Quigong, Acupuncture, and Feldenkrais Method classes have been regular fixtures for many years in this ground-breaking “complementary and alternative” wellness-based approach to cancer care. The POW hosts patients currently undergoing treatment, families and caregivers, and members of the community at large. I am privileged to be there, and I enjoy a cordial relationship with the regular staff. I really look forward to teaching my class there each week. I look forward to the experience, even though I must deal with (dun dun DUNNNNN!) The Medical Center.

Say, “Medical Center” to anyone who lives in Houston, and you’ll get an understanding eye roll, or perhaps a shudder. It’s the renowned Texas Medical Center, the largest in the world. The traffic is atrocious. The parking is expensive. For many people, just dealing with the place once is enough to send them, terrified, on circuitious routes to avoid the area. Yet, each day, countless people drive there and park, to spend an hour or the entire day dealing somehow with the realities of cancer. I used to become very impatient each week as I pulled into Garage 10, the one closest to POW. One day, I realized that the drivers were doing the best they could. They, or a loved one, are probably a patient, completely preoccupied with a serious life-crisis. Driving, Schmiving. It’s the last thing on their mind. I’ve learned to chill out, breathe, and plan to spend extra time in the garage to make it to my class on time. However, I’d be fibbing if I told you I wasn’t a little stressed out by my trips to the Medical Center.

So, last week, progress came to the Medical Center. The entire method of paying for parking has changed. You used to drive into the garage, push a button on the gate, and the machine would spit out a paper ticket with a magnetic strip. You had to take the ticket with you — o god don’t leave it in the car — and later validate it and pay via a large machine in the lobby of the garage. Although I only mangled my ticket a couple of times, I learned the system, and even learned to joke about it with other sufferers. The kiosk’s robotic voice sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking (“Your parking fee is Six Dollars. Please pay. With cash. Or Credit. Card.”), which amused me, and I rather looked forward to talking to Stephen on my visits to the garage. Was he living in Houston now, inside that box? Or were we talking on the speakerphone? Whatever. Stephen and I had our thing. However, last Thursday, EVERYTHING changed. Or so it seemed.

I drove in the entrance, and the gate was different. I pushed the button, a new button, and a yellow plastic disc was dispensed instead of a ticket. What the hell? I put the token in my pocket, a bit shaken, but noticing the advantage of the non-mangling. When I was ready to leave, I inserted the token into a new machine. Although I was relieved that the experience of paying was about the same (the same slots were available for cash or credit cards), I quickly became rattled. Stephen Hawking was GONE! Did Stephen get fired? All that we had was now finished, just like that. Some new young guy is now in the machine. Oh, well.

Attendants were stationed in the garage lobby, and at the exit gate (“Just insert the token, Ma’am.”) to help anyone who was on the verge of flipping out. I had to breathe. And I realized how I, even I, a helper of people who are in the midst of navigating change, was using my sense of humor to deal with a disruption of a routine I didn’t even realize I had. Others were not able to access their sense of humor. They were perturbed. Some, explosively so. Apparently, we all attach to our routines. We notice when we must change.

The lesson is, a little perturbation is necessary in life to move us forward, and to help us to adapt to a changing environment. I’m glad I have my training in the Feldenkrais Method to help me play with change, discover possibilities, and enjoy my expanding capacities to do new things. Who knows? That new guy in the machine might be really nice.

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