I challenged myself yesterday and as a consequence, every fiber of my being screams with a weird combination of fatigue and wonder. In the midst of my third or fourth mid-life crisis, I joined the newly-formed Waldo Brookside Rotary Club, volunteered to be its secretary, and in that capacity, came to the District Governor's Conference for District 6040 of Rotary International. Yesterday, I walked among Rotarians sporting years and decades of Service Above Self, perpetual smiles, and staggering volumes of palpable goodwill. Now I sit in my hotel room, at 6:30 a.m., two hours before the day's plenary session, paper cup of bad single-brewed coffee at my side, and ponder. I cannot recall joining anything for decades and the experience confuses me.
This entry properly belongs in my other blog, "My Year Without Complaining", and perhaps I should post it there. I have no lovely memory rising to be told today; no pithy lesson crowding to flow from my fingertips. Just the weather report, more of what graced us yesterday: Sunny with a slight threat of doggedly-determined, localized, salty rain. Like Eeyore, my perpetual inner gloom breaks to the surface so often that I wear it like a coat of fur, in need of a thorough brushing, tangled with old burs and brambles.
When I arrived at the conference at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, a man strode forward with hand outstretched. Welcome, welcome! So glad you came. I suppressed the desire to ask him why on earth my arrival would evoke delight. I grasped his warm hand and let him pull me forward to the registration table. Within minutes, I had been counted, labeled, and sent into the lounge to await the first session. Soon other Rotarians began to gather, mostly in clumps of three or more; many pairs of spouses; all with easy smiles and pleasant airs.
A group of six pulled me into their midst; also from Kansas City, but downtown, an old club. They greeted me with the mantra that I would soon hear from every mouth: Oh, you're in the NEW club; we've heard about you all! You meet at night! In a bar! And you have fifty members! But these folks expressed no envy, nor apprehension that our success might threaten their clubs' images. Their family grows with each addition and that pleases them. It is not a competition. It is a collaboration.
And here among these Rotarians, I have no failures to hide. They do not judge me; and not just because they do not know me, but because judgment does not come naturally to them. All day, people opened their groups to include me, or moved to my table so that I would not be alone, or took my arm to lead me to where their companions had gathered. Here among these people, I might harbor feelings of loneliness but I could never say that I have not been deliberately included. These people take me into their fold not because of anything that I have done or failed to do; nor because of any status that I have assumed. Are they like this because they are Rotarians? I suspect they are Rotarians because their natures compel them to be this open, and the core values of Rotary tolerate nothing less.
By evening's end, I found myself in the hospitality room sponsored by one of the St. Joseph clubs, eating a cherry mash and watching the Royals shut-out Toronto. When the game ended, one of their members took a group photo. I moved to get out of the way, being the only stranger in the room by that time. Oh no you don't, get back there; you're an honorary St. Joseph Rotarian now! exclaimed the photographer, and I stood beside a man in a Royals shirt with a large grin on his face.
Many facets of my existence trouble me. The looming shadow of my failures hovers overhead, a perpetual storm warming. But among these Rotarians, a new sensation begins to ease itself through the thunderous bank of clouds. I do not recognize it. It might be peace. I'll need to muse on that a while.