Why I Staff

Sunday afternoon I staggered towards my car, the last man out of camp.

(Technically, I was one of the two last men out of camp, but it’s more dramatic to say, “I was the last one.”) Peter and I had been assigned as liaisons to the YMCA camp folks, charged with making sure everything about our rented site had been properly restored and scrubbed clean after our New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) last weekend. We remained behind after everyone else had departed, confirming furniture in its rightful place, mopping the last bathroom, picking up trash.

My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my arms hurt, my hands smelled like toilet bowl cleaner. (Normally my hands smell like The Chipotle Grill, but earlier on Sunday, I scrubbed 9 toilets.) For three days, I hadn’t slept great.   I craved Cheetos and cherry Coke. The weekend experience drained me physically, emotionally, and pressed almost every unflattering psychic button I possess regarding control issues, leadership, and my ability to handle administrative details. At one point on Friday, I wept with a grief so overwhelming I just lay in the grass sobbing, feeling powerless, until everything inside me was spent.

Sometimes I end my New Warrior staffings this way, feeling like I have used up my every ounce of willpower, my heart busted so wide that I cannot stand to feel this loss, giving my every last reserve of energy.

I paid $100 for the privilege to be on this staff. I gave up weeknights for staff meetings, prepared extensively for my weekend assignments, made phone calls, organized materials I needed, and did this volunteer work during a time frame which included work-related trips to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

Last week, my friend Dave asked me last week, “Do you ever get tired of doing this warrior stuff?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sometimes.”

So why bother?

Staffing various NWTA weekends, I have witnessed men cry over lost parents with a grief they could never express, not even at the parent’s actual funeral. I’ve watched men get finally get angry over being abused, allow power to course through their trembling hands as they finally choose to live. I have seen men surrender their griefs, their soul-crushing hurts, back-packed and dragged around their entire lives, and I’ve watched them spill all their messy and fucked up thinking…and then choose to stand differently. I watched men pick up new confidence like an Olympic gold medals, beaming proudly as they triumphed in ways they never dreamed possible.

This past weekend, one staff man invited his adult son (also on staff) to stand with him before our entire assembly of men, blessing him, ending his heartfelt speech with, “I love you, pal.” Two nights ago, I talked to a man who attended our NWTA and over the phone he asked me with wonder, “Why is my head so clear? How is this possible?”

And I don’t just go to watch other men’s stories.

While I did not enjoy weeping with grief last Friday, the bliss that followed remains with me today. My life changed that afternoon, got bigger, by letting myself feel so damn shitty, held in the grass by two of my favorite friends. The question I ask myself is this:   would I choose joy without grief? God, yes. While I would prefer joy came with Junior Mints instead, I accept that grief and joy sometimes go hand in hand, so I guess I will take grief and being spent if it leads to joy.

Last weekend I made such instantly deep friendships that 48 hours after we met, parting was painful. I practiced setting boundaries, I got angry in a clean way, I blessed other men, and I practiced being powerful. Where in the world does a man get to “practice being powerful?”

Of course, it’s not all Oprah moments with testosterone. One of the reasons I didn’t get much sleep on Saturday is because I stayed up late laughing my ass off, watching men pull pranks on each other. On my exhausted Sunday, I zombied my way over to my car to discover someone had jammed a rubber chicken in my tail pipe.

It’s fun to be a man.

I think one of the most thrilling aspects of staffing for me is that for the most part….we’re nobodies. We are accountants and unemployed electricians, students, guys with corporate jobs, men who work in grocery stores and in fast food. We’re gay, straight, old geezers, young bucks, overweight, Christian, divorced, agnostic, long-haired, clean-shaven, thick-bearded, bald, growly, Mother Earth worshippers, and ultimately…average.

Average men who have decided to shine.

While I may get some crap over using the word average in this context, the problem is I keep meeting men from all over the world who have this same insane potential to love the world, so instead of being an elite cadre of super-powered individuals, it turns out every singe one of us is super-powered, which makes having this super power…average.

Besides the locals from Minnesota, staff men showed up from Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Washington state, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Arizona. These out-of-state staffers not only paid their $100 staff fee, but paid for their own transportation to get here. They came to love strangers, men they might never see again. I am fascinated to meet these men and to recognize that if our lives were different, if we lived as neighbors, these men might be my best friends. Instead, we share a single weekend together, hugging each other goodbye and saying happily, “I loved getting to know you.”

By Monday morning, I had slept in my own bed and had my fill of Cherry Coke. I buzzed around my neighborhood lazily, photographing my rubber chicken with spring flowers (it seemed like a good idea at the time), when I came across a child’s sign taped to a fence in an alley near my house. The sign pleaded, “SLOW DOWN KIDS ARE CROSSING THE ALEY.”

The homemade sign filled me with sadness, sad that children have to plead with adults, “Please watch out for us. Please don’t kill us.”

Our world is a scary place for kids and adults alike these days: swine flu, road rage, economic despair, abusive parents, drug abuse, preventable deaths. Life is hard and then you die, right? Sometimes my response to our often-shitty world is to clench my stomach, squeeze out a limited amount of empathy like toothpaste, and then hide in the numbing comforts found within my house.

Who will watch out for the alley kids?

Maybe a new warrior. Maybe a man whose weekend I just staffed.

Every now and then, I find it thrilling to give everything I have to give, every drop of energy, all my physical stamina, to push myself hard while trying to keep my heart open so big, that the only sane response seems to be to drop to the ground in the company of men friends, weak and exhausted, overwhelmed by the world and so happy to be part of it.I’m already looking forward to my next staffing.


2 Responses to “Why I Staff”

  1. Bob Berger Says:

    Sorry I missed staffing with you. I went to be as Medic in Kansas City. It was the same wonderful weekend, and without a Medic it wouldn’t of happened.

    We will staff together one day, soon!

    Berger. Peaceful Spotted Wolf with Soaring Eagle

  2. Edmond Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Bob. Yeah, some day we will have to staff together! That’s the great thing about staffing – all the amazing combinations. I’ve had tons of great experiences, but never the same way twice.

    Thank you for helping out Kansas City!


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