This week I discovered that a phrase that is a conversational silver bullet. No matter what the suggestion is, how many ways I can say I’ve tried it or no thanks, the thing to say is “I grew up in Austin, Texas.”
Anyone with a disability or lasting illness will tell you that suggestions and advice are now a part of life. Flooding your house slowly, like a steady drip-drip-drip or rushing in unwelcome as Hurricane Harvey, what is meant to be refreshing can feel deadly. How to respond varies based on the person, advice and day, but I have struggled to find a grace-filled way to get people to realize they are hurting, not helping.
Then it happened. After a LONG Monday I went to a workout class with the glorious Lynette (of swim-lesson helper fame from this summer. God bless her and the horse she rode in on!) The wonderful teacher, whose husband is a cancer survivor, made suggestions and reported of studies of the benefits of cannabis oil. This was the third time it was suggested in 24 hours.
I was sweaty, tired, and had slammed a protein shake that my sick child wouldn’t finish rather than eating dinner with my husband. As she regaled me with stories of how it cured tumors that didn’t respond to treatments and gave advice on how to get the synthetic version (all from genuine care and love), I told her that I was well-informed, talked to our doctors, had researched about the benefits, and I had heard about the successes, especially with epilepsy– because I’m from Austin, Texas. She laughed and agreed that I must surely know about cannabis, then.
This had to be a fluke, right? But it KEPT WORKING. Stating what we have tried, researched, etc. doesn’t work… but flippantly stating that I am aware of the new holistic-herbal-cannabis-etc. treatments because I grew up in Austin somehow fills people with confidence like an empty stomach filled with organic tofu or a Torchy’s Taco.
Could this be the key? Could I now buy milk without a comment from someone noticing my kid with cancer or Down Syndrome? I dreamed of walking down an aisle toward checkout as easily as a bearded man wears a leather mini-skirt down 6th Street during ACL weekend.
I’ve now realized how well prepared I am for my life, thanks to my frequent moving throughout childhood and finally resting for 10 years in Austin.
I’ve learned to embrace and live in the place that seems weird to everyone else. It’s normal to me; I grew up in Austin, Texas.
My kids need music to learn, calm down, and find joy during hard circumstances. Thankfully, Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World. Regardless of the beat of your drum, you can find it in Austin. Music therapy is a way of life.
We sit in waiting rooms with people from all walks of life without getting uncomfortable. I used to go downtown for college credit courses on the Dillo trolley, often flanked with homeless transvestites in black leather get-ups that would make Cher impressed. You don’t have to endorse every life choice to see someone’s humanity and be kind. (Nice stillettos, Steve!) The years after September 11 sparked lively debates about war, WMD and oil on those rides on the way to Civics 201. That’s the education one can get in Austin, Texas.
We’ve learned to use our natural gifts to have a good time. Barton Springs isn’t a traditional pool or water park, but it’s a landmark. It’s 68 degrees and endangered salamanders have free reign, but it’s what we’ve got. It may not look like your pools, but it’s great.
I can stand alone and hold fast to my convictions? I went to Texas A&M, but I grew up in the rival city of Austin, Texas. I learned to keep my thumb up in a world of “Hook ’em Horns”… and to win and lose with grace. LIFE SKILLS.
I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. Watching my favorite small businesses, restaurants, and landmarks being overtaken by trendy commercial shops and “progress” prepared me for raising kids that aren’t at all what I pictured.
I learned to find new routes and ask directions. Most major roads have at least two names, after all.
We learned balance in diet. Yes, natural and organic is healthy and helpful, but there is no shame in a steak, a well-done breakfast taco, or a chicken-friend steak from the Hills Cafe. Some follow dietary restrictions religiously, but I find it’s okay to loosen our Bible-belt every now and then.
I’m used to what it feels like when people try to move in and mold you into something a little different because they see different potential. I’m looking at you, Californians.
We know broken isn’t necessarily bad. As a family, we have been “broken” in many ways. Our kids may seem broken. Our spirits can feel broken. Brokenness can be a unique and authentic place to gather for a great time, if you come with the intention to have a good time.
We know that you can be straining to reach a new destination with all your might, but you may have to wait. Those milestones may take much longer to reach and come with great frustration. The roads that were once fun to cruise on in my grandmother’s sweet 1992 Mercury Sable when I was 17 are now jammed with traffic. We can still reach the destination, but it may need a back road or a lot more patience.
Lake Austin, Lake Travis, tubing and boating taught me to have a buddy in case things get hard.
If you’re sinking, you don’t need someone to yell instructions from the boat or offer suggestions. A good lifeguard gets INTO the water, instructs the struggling person to be still, and pulls the person to safety when they are drowning. The person in distress rests while the able-bodied buddy gets help, calls for an ambulance, or figures out the next step. Moving an injured person can do more damage, even if you are trying to save them.
Likewise, any suggestion or instruction offered to a person in distress can be harmful. Instead, ask the person if they need help and ask WHAT they need. Come alongside and listen. That is like offering a life vest for when they are ready to swim again. Any advice given before listening and grieving alongside someone is like throwing a breaststroke instruction manual ( or diet book, or oil, or therapy, or new cure, or research, or video, or faith-healing, or story about someone who had it and died) on a person treading water in a hurricane.
Most of all, I’ve learned that no matter where you are in Austin, there is something that can make it great. Good can come from disability, but it isn’t good. It isn’t fun. A childhood filled with therapy, medicines, oncology, and moving isn’t a good place to be but we can ALWAYS find the good. There is something to thank God for, to be grateful for, and someone else to encourage. Our story is unique. There is no place like it, and it will keep people coming back to visit if you give them a great show and a smile.
As KVET said every day before the star spangled banner played at high-noon, “It’s a great day to be alive and living in Austin, Texas.” Even f it isn’t a great day, we are alive and living. Weird or not, we will be unique and worth returning to. Trust me, I’m from Austin, Texas.