Last week when I was writing about the hallway of transition an unexpected visitor arrived at my imagination’s door, unbidden. Without calling ahead, Blanche Dubois aimlessly wandered across my visual landscape in her rhinestone tiara and yellowing ball gown, looking forlorn and rather lost.
And then, back in the real world, I serendipitously discovered that Cate Blanchett recently played Blanche, and in fact toured the show to New York in December.
So I figured I better trust this bit of coincidence, and let Blanche intrude a little here.
If ever there was a fictional character who had more than her share of transition, she’s it.
I mean, consider her story.
A high school English teacher, unlucky in love (her young husband killed himself). She’s the last one standing at Belle Reve, the family home, left to bury her few remaining relatives after generations of drunkenness, debauchery, disease, and death.
Of course, she can’t hold on, and the old plantation slips through her fingers.
So she’s forced to live in a series of seedy, low-rent hotels. And finally, when her nerves and grasp of reality are at the breaking point, she boards the bus for New Orleans and moves in with her sister, Stella, and Stella’s brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski.
It’s enough to put any fading Southern belle on edge, don’t you think? But wait, we’re not finished yet.
Stanley? He doesn’t cotton so much to Miss DuBois. His animal magnetism mixes with her genteel flirtiness like oil and water. Yet for all that, there is a promise of something better. Stanley’s friend, Mitch, likes Blanche a bunch. And she sees a future there. A way out of the in-between space of her life.
Leave it to Stanley, though, to mess things up.
He goes hunting for dirt about Blanche and hits the mother lode. No prim and proper lady is she, it turns out. As a matter of fact, she seems to have a proclivity for too much Southern Comfort and too many dalliances with very, very, very young men. So much so that she was, quite literally, run out of town.
All hell breaks loose when Mitch finds out. Screaming ensues, and a rejected and dejected Blanche descends into a pit of delusional despair punctuated by the entrance of Stanley.
As these two opponents circle for their final encounter, it’s sadly clear who will win the battle.
And when Stanley overpowers her and carries her off to the bed, we all know that Blanche is doomed to be a shell of her former self.
At the final curtain, we see Blanche leaving for the state-run psychiatric hospital (probably called an insane asylum back in those days) that will likely be her final home. Yet in that most bleak moment, she reaches for light, when she confides to the doctor leading her away:
Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
And with those words, she reminds us that kindness, or at least our confidence in it, may be found in the most unlikely places. That it shows up when we least expect it. And sometimes we have to ask for it.
Kindness. Yes. Now I know why Blanche wanted to linger awhile in my imagination.
Let’s hope none of us will ever be knocked around by life as much as Blanche. Or retreat to such depths of desperation. Actually, I suspect most of us look at Blanche and see a rather foreign character, someone not much like us at all.
As strange as it may seem, though, one of the reasons this character is so enduring is because she is familiar to us.
Consciously or unconsciously, we recognize deep archetypal patterns or stories in her.
We will all have our bottom of the barrel experiences. Sometimes when we’re in transition. It comes with the territory. And during those darks nights we’ll be fragile, just like Blanche. But will we know enough to reach out for kindness?
I wonder. Because we can be so very hard on ourselves.
Believe me, I know about this. I’m really good at picking up on thinly veiled self-rejection. And not just in my clients or myself, but in friends, relatives, acquaintances. I don’t know why, maybe I’ve got good radar or something. Or people feel comfortable talking to me.
Whatever it is though, we certainly do chastise when we don’t think we have it together. We compare ourselves to others. We should ourselves into a stupor. We ask the most hurtful questions: What’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I got it all figured out?
We are often strangers to being kind to ourselves.
But Blanche, I think she had that one figured out.
Well, okay, maybe her way through the dark was also a lemon coke with chipped ice and a shot of bourbon. My beverage of choice is a little different though…
Mix equal parts of deeply nurturing yourself and noticing the sweetness surrounding you that needs to be enjoyed right now, shake well, then top off with a splash of reflection, asking: what am I tolerating and where am I settling in life?
I call it the be extra kind and good to yourself cocktail.
Sip slowly. Listen. Sincerely listen to yourself. Listen to what you truly need.
Listen as if your life depended on it.
WHY NOT START NOW?
P.S. After I finished this I made a visit to Glenn Berger’s Blog, Finding the Lost Heart. There I discovered a beautiful, inspiring piece about having all you want in life (with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek title). In it, Glenn talks about the importance of listening. Another lovely serendipity. He encourages us to practice what he calls the four listenings. Here’s a snapshot:
- Listen to Yourself: Introspection, Heart, Body, Emotions, Imagination
- Listen to Nature: Patterns, Growth, Harmony, Sustainability
- Listen to Culture: Art, Philosophy, Film, Poetry, Architecture, Science, Technology
- Listen to Others: Connection, Intimacy, Encounter, Relationship
Go read more if you get a chance. I can’t think of a better way to be kind to yourself today.