.SUUSI ended today, with the same emotional roller coaster each day brought.
So many smiles, and hugs, and encouraging words. So many new friends, now familiar faces and common stories about our backgrounds, and goals, and what makes you mad and what makes you proud. Like 1,100 clones running around the hills of western north carolina. Emotional, sobering, thrilling, confusing, and fulfilling. Tears and tears and tears; happiness, pride, empathy. Like a faucet connected directly to my heart.
And filled with weird coincidences.
To be a smartass, I had decided last week (while driving around the Smokies), to dare my local dance club to more offbeat pieces. I sent off an email literally Sunday night pushing the idea of dancing a foxtrot to “Hallalujah”, the current Leonard Cohen craze with dozens of covers. And during the Teens “Off-Broadway” play/parody on Friday, one of their elaborate scenes was for a soloist to be singing that very song, while 12 other teens formed a circle … dancing (unknown to them) the foxtrot. It was like pulling a tarot card.
When we arrived Sunday, the first person I met was Cynthia, a dynamic octegenarian (I think) hard of hearing in one ear. We did the welcome circle as neighbors, and I had her bad ear so she had to do 180 degree turns to hear our conversation, which she carried on and on to make me feel welcome. I kept smiling at how easy it would have been for her to decide that stretching her head around made it not worth the work to welcome the befuddeled “nubbi” from Florida. It didn’t seem to even cross Cynthia’s mind, one iota, not to chat animatedly then twist around and make me reply twice. On Wed at lunch, I couldn’t find a table, so snuck up on a woman by herself and asked if I might share … only to see it was Cynthia. I then stood up and moved to the other side, “for her good ear” I said, and she was astounded. “How could you remember that?” and “Why would you bother?”. I just smiled and looked into her eyes and saw a princess, as she proceeded to ask me questions and make me feel comfortable. On Saturday morning, after scarfing down eggs and coffee, I was rushing to the fountain for the closing ceremony, only to walk directly into Cynthia. “Oh excuse me” I said to the tall woman, as she turned around. And it was SUUSI bookends for me. She asked me 5 or 6 questions: “What did you enjoy”, “What did you learn”, “Will you come back?” and craned herself around with each answer to give me her good ear. I gave her a long hug and said “see you next year”.
At the opening ceremony, I learned about “hug a nuubi” when Samantha, the most precocious 8 or-so year-old sprang upon me. She spotted my yellow sticker from about 10 years, shouted the saying as one might rally cavalry to charge their horses, then ran full throttle and threw herself around me. I was still figuring out what SUUSI stood for when this little girl shouted “Welcome” and took delight in my sense of befuddlement and confusion and murmured thanks. On Wednesday night, I wandered over to the game room, when the dance got too loud. I wanted to see what everybody was playing (Scrabble? Monopoly? Clue?) I didn’t recognize the boards, the boxes, even the names of the eight different games going on eight different tables. I felt a tug on my shirt “MISTER! Want to play a game”. Yep, big round bug eye glasses and pony tail. I played a two handed card game (now, we each get 10 cards) that I still do not understand. She meticulously explained the rules, meticulously counted out the cards as dealt, and meticulously kept score. Yep, I had beginners luck, I beat her twice. Her smile never faded and when her dad collected her for bed she shouted “Hug A NUUBI” and pounced on me like a cat. On Saturday morning while we were forming up the circles little Samantha appeared in front of me. I shouted her name. “Hug a Nubbi, quick” I said, “next time you see me I’ll just be an ordinary. My nuubi expires today”.
The welcoming and closing circles (which I nicknamed the hug-a-round), resembles the team handshake when a two hockey teams end a playoff. All the players on your team line up and shake and congratulate all the players on the other team, by passing through face to face in two straight lines.
With the hug-a-round, you form two circles, on the giant football field arriving Sunday (everybody was there), and around the fountain going home (lots of folks had to cut out early to get home). As people stream in the circles just keep getting larger with the inncer circle facing out and the outer circle facing in, everybody holding hands, like you were going to play a circular game of “red rover red rover”. Then when its time to start, as a single point in the circle, a leader breaks the two circles and those few people instead reach across between the inner to the outer. Now, instead of two independent circles, we form something like the outline around a capital letter “U”, a single line wrapping around back on itself, covering a great distance, the lines about 3 feet apart.
After you chat a bit with your neighbors on either side, and the people directly across from you, on some signal, your line starts to walk to the right, and you start to see a few more people. Of course, their line starts to move to the left (their right) and like those two hockey teams, everybody in the circle starts to pass you as you pass everybody as well. When you hit the crossover, instead of being the head of the inside chain, you become the tail of the outside chain and more and more new faces appear as you pull your neighbor who pulls theirs all the way around to the person in front of you pulling you forward.
Slow, but surely, every face you saw at SUUSI passes by, randomly, young and old, short and tall, parents and singles and teens and tykes. Every shape, color, size passes by you, looking at you while you look at them. And while your hands are tied up all you hear is, “See you next year”, “Its was great to meet you”, “We had so much fun”, “you’ve got my email”, “I’m glad we met”, and on and on and on …. multiplied by one hundred.
At the opening ceremony it was “welcome!” “welcome nuubi” and “hey Dave” (from the handful of folks from my home church). But up and down the line I overheard people shrieking and laughing and breaking the chain to hug each other as progress heaved and halted. I knew something big was due to happen from that mysterious opening ceremony.
But this morning, it wasn’t a long stream of faces, it was dozens and dozens of brand new friends; friends I had sung with, danced with, ate with, held doors for, told jokes to and listened raptly to stories. New friends that are ready to team up on a project, or asked me to drop by their church while I’m out on my summer trip, or folks that had to break the chain and hug … me.
That’s the SUUSI that I lived.
People keep asking “are you coming back next year?” I would just sigh and hug them, and I’d whisper “yeah” in their ear.