Sunday, June 14, 2009

Connecting Dots

I’ll admit this: it started as a coping mechanism. In the same fashion of woosah, gopher, and nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the phrase tucked itself beneath my tongue as a quickly dissolving serum for any moment of ramping panic.

Everything happens as it should.

As much of a truism this phrase has come to be in my life, the words have not always been lovely in the trenches. Instead of a melodic serenade or pulsing theme music to signal hope and rescue, the words come through gnarled, wadded and torn. At those critical moments, I had to chew through them and grind them down with my back molars, waiting for a slow release of calm.

Honestly, the mantra didn’t have the industrial power to soothe every flaring anxiety. Eviction notices, emergency rooms, conference room combat, phone numbers hidden in back pockets, black dresses and somber limousines. The chant did not temper every edge.

But I kept saying it.

I said it aloud to someone else, recently, smiling to myself as I offered over my homemade remedy. I was visiting Charlotte for a performance and hanging out with one of my hosts, JC, one of the big engines in Charlotte’s internationally-acclaimed spoken word scene. We were grabbing a late lunch at the city’s historic Coffee Cup, and I asked him to tell me about the poetry house that Charlotte built. As I had him guide me from dot to dot, I made mental notes about the life happening around him and his core team along their way. For instance, he became a poet-turned-promoter because he was frustrated with the chronic gone-tomorrow uncertainty of the poetry sets at that time. He just wanted a place and handful of people to share words. By the time he printed up their first flyers back in 2001 and gotten some momentum under them a few years later, the city of Charlotte had just officially wrested the Gotta-Get-There crown from Hot-Lanta. African Americans were MapQuesting their moving vans toward Charlotte and hauling a movement of community- and culture-consciousness with them.

JC described how this influx of new residents came to the city seeking out black-owned operations, businesses, institutions, traditions and events. Every resident with entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t able to meet and sustain the demand, so the population was quickly trained to only attach itself to entities with proven staying power. By the time the pilgrims arrived, JC and his crew were well on their way to proving just that.

Ten years later, he’s supporting his family with his work and playing a major role in helping this same family of performers begin to export their Bull City energy and talents around the world. More, of course, is yet to come from them all and I gobbled up his dream-catching excitement with every bite of my lunch.

We shared hilarious stories about our common experiences. Without a doubt, both journeys have been a grind. Still, we agreed that every sharp rock in the pavement was supposed to be there. Swerve to the left, or puncture a heel and be forced to move a bit more slowly for a while. However the mishaps happened, they happened with some universal purpose.

Everything. As it should.

He was, in fact, navigating around piercing stones in his work around the time of our visit. So, I told him about my mantra. I felt I owed him that little talisman, because he had no idea how much I’d needed to hear his story, too. The universe was constructed with precision engineering (I mean, what else would you expect from God?) The collection of dots that placed me at that lunch table, for instance, would certainly amount to a tedious tale. Thousands, if not millions, and there’s no way I could account for them all. Nonetheless, there I was with JC and his fish and me with my chicken and waffles.

Wanting to inventory each and every dot is what tends to make us mortals a little nutty. Simultaneously torturous and beautiful is the fact that we won’t always decipher the dot patterns until some divine force connects them into a portrait of Martin Luther King, the Mona Lisa or the print from your grandma’s infamous Christmas sweater.

Still, we wanna know.

We want to know so badly because the unknown is inherently a terrifying place, especially if “unknown” is where we’re tossing a lot of energy: relationships, enterprise, faith. We would all be a little less neurotic if we just knew. Listening to JC’s journey, however, and all of seemingly unrelated forces that influenced his dots into their current constellation, reminded me that focusing on dots is all that we we’re required to do. Yes, plan for the future, but not at the expense of our present. JC would not be experiencing his current success if he had not been ready once serendipity flooded his city. For another Charlotte native, their dots assembled into place because they weren’t swept up by the same migration.


I left lunch with a full stomach and a light heart. Still laughing and enjoying the Carolina sunshine, I was less worried about publishers and bills and itineraries and prescriptions. I was able to return my focus to the elements and efforts inside my control, focus on keeping the dots in my palm and sweep away the rest.

Everything happens as it should.

The chant can withstand practically any force of shrapnel for me now. Even when the words seem dwarfed inside dire situations, I know they’re there. The universe has proven time and again that, eventually, the dots will reveal their impressionist image. In fact, there’s a breathtaking design being assembled around us all. Whisper this reminder to yourself and you’ll be able to see it when the dots fall into their divine lines.