This is not about stretching as physical exercise, but personally stretching beyond our comfort level. My earliest memory of stretching in that way was when I was about sixteen years old. I was at Mass, Catholic Mass, in the early 1960’s. One of the church announcements invited teenagers to try out for the color guard of St. Mary’s Cardinals Drum and Bugle Corps. I didn’t even know what a color guard was, but something in me stretched at hearing about it. I must have talked about it with my parents, though I have no memory of it. Regardless, I showed up at the designated time at the local Catholic grammar school for tryouts. I learned that, to ‘try out’ involved receiving instructions for marching and carrying flags (i.e., the ‘colors’), practicing together, developing synchronization over several days, and finally, being observed while the selection took place. I have no memory of how many of us were rejected or accepted; I simply know that I was accepted, chosen, and that I was proud.
I have recently been mesmerized by the Webb telescope images of faraway galaxies, huge beyond my imagination and far away, light years away. What I am examining here is the opposite, something infinitesimally small, that tiny quality that made me step off my comfort cliff to try something new, with unfamiliar people, to stretch my boundaries, for no apparent or obvious gain.
I want to contrast that with two times that I said ‘no’ to that tiny voice beckoning me. Once was during that same period, as a teenager. I was walking downtown and was approached by a stranger, who told me that I was beautiful, that he was an artist, and that he would like me to model for him. What a mix of reactions engulfed me! First, of course, flattery. Here is an artist, someone with a discerning eye, and he thought I was beautiful. Now, I’m sure I was beautiful, as every teenage girl is, but I’m quite certain that my looks were nothing special. Of course, I fleetingly considered that he might have a different, more deceitful intention in mind, but I believed him, trusted him. There was no discussion about whether it was merely my face that intrigued him, or what clothing or lack of it would be required, although my mind considered each possibility. I felt this tug to consent, but pulled back and declined his offer.
The second time I said ‘No’ to an offer that felt similar to me was when I was in my thirties, as a mother wearing eyeglasses, working part time as a cocktail waitress. My uniform was a fitted tuxedo jacket, over a ruffled shirt, with black panties, black stockings, and high heels. I wasn’t used to feeling sexy, but I felt sexy in this outfit. One of my regular customers was very complimentary about my appearance and one night, offered to buy contact lenses for me, an item that was out of our price range for my husband and me.
I wanted to accept his offer, despite the clear inference that my appearance was being compromised by wearing eyeglasses and the obvious line I would cross by accepting money from a man who was not my husband. I declined his offer.
These three occasions each provide examples where I was invited to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Only once did I accept the offer. That stretching was significant, leading to exciting years marching in that corps and ultimately marrying a drummer, who became the father of our son. Beyond that, it became the first of many unknown groups that I joined, each time saying yes to that voice inviting me to stretch out of my little space. These groups include the American Association of University Women (AAUW), North Shore Friends (Quakers), the Gloucester Gig Rowers, Senior Tap-dancers, Landmark School (where I became a special ed teacher at age 59), and many others. Occasionally, the invitation is to stretch alone, as it was for me when I chose to walk the Camino on my own. (See previous blog about this.)
Last night, I was in the audience at the Cabot for a presentation, “Students as Change-makers.” High school students from area schools presented, then answered questions about their various passions, the causes that had invited them to stretch beyond their comfort: human rights, gender stretching, and racial discrimination. I compared them to fireworks, released from earth rather quietly, rising without much attention, before bursting into colorful images beyond us. I celebrate them and each one of us, who answers that call to stretch beyond our comfort.
So these are completely different examples of circumstances that call us to stretch. Nothing like the spaciousness depicted by the Webb telescope images, but more their opposite, a seemingly tiny, momentary pull within us. It certainly is not obvious what they have in common. None of us responds positively to each invitation, nor should we. The clue to a stretching invitation is that momentary twist of discomfort that we experience when we’re in decision mode, actually in indecision mode. Should I say ‘yes’? Or should I say ‘no’? The choice to stretch or not is always up to us.
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