take a bench
Back in January of 2006 when I began a job at Walden House in San Francisco I discovered that the old-time drug rehab-type program there – where I was going to work with kids – continued to make use of slogans as part of the daily routine. Part of the lingo, heard over and over in repetition, find a way into that thick addict persona. Something like that. “Own your own” became one of my favorites, similar like a first-cousin to those don’t-drink-one-day people saying “Just work your side of the street.” I’ve been saying “Own your own” to myself since. It’s good advice. Wicked good.
Another directive, this actually physical in the moment, was “Take the bench.” Literally, there were benches placed here and there in the corridors of the large building on Haight Street and when a staff person told one of the young residents to “take the bench” it meant just that – leave here and go there, and while you’re there think about what it was that got you there. Why were you sent to the bench? I loved that one too, a super-charged “time out” with big added benefits for potential self-awareness. During my time at 214 Haight I directed lots of the kids to take the bench, and every time I did I knew I was doing them a favor when I said it. In fact I liked that opportunity enough to lead a one-time group on the value of “taking the bench”, that group ending with me taking the actual bench I’d brought to the center of the circle of chairs beforehand, picking it up and putting it on my shoulder, and walking away and out the door – my message, in metaphor, there’s going to be “a bench” wherever you go. An ever-present opportunity being you decide when you need to take the bench before someone else decides for you. Oh – my pal and mentor Gavin was sitting beside me in that group.
I’m planning to take the bench tonight. This bench is up on the bluff overlook above Moonlight Beach and the Pacific Ocean here in Encinitas. There’s a line covering some 50 yards of a lot of benches, each one donated by a family or individual and dedicated to a loved one. My favorite sits forward of the others by a little and is dedicated to a woman named Rebecca. It’s not always available, but one of the benches always is, and – I realized this in a flash on my walk early this morning – when I park in the lot or on a nearby street and walk over the tar and the golden-brown wood chips and sit on Rebecca’s bench, or Virginia’s next to it, or any of the others – I am “taking the bench.” Flat-out, crazy time-warped, exactly the same taking the bench. A place of peace. A place of gratitude. A place to send texts to friends, loved ones, a place to make and receive phone calls from those people. To look with wonder and thanks at pelicans floating by, and out to the endless, absolutely endless waves. Always with the opportunity to think about how I’m doing. How am I? Am I in touch with the joy of another day – right here, right now?
So I send myself to the bench every day – I think I’ve missed one day since I arrived early in July – and it dawned on me this morning it’s a bench I picked up in Portland and in Truro and in Lowell and Salem and Wareham and Oakland and everywhere I’ve landed these 72 plus years and put on my shoulder and brought wherever “here” is today. So I could think awhile about, “How did I get here?”
I’m working with the kids in San Marcos today and when I get back to where “here” is for me now I’m going to make a quick stop and change into my walking shoes and roll the Camry downhill toward the endless ocean and go and find my bench again. Today. Cause that’s what we do.