When the tide is working its way towards the shore, it doesn’t just rush in, plop onto the sectional couch, and dig in to a plate of nachos. Rather, it flows in stirringly, breaches the sandy banks, and then recedes. As the water retreats centrifugally, giving in to gravity and the moon, regrouping for the next surge, there is a momentary pause in sound and energy–a quick second of breath caught–before the slack water reasserts its force. There is a blip of silence before the next roil and crest.
A few years ago, at a Weight Watchers meeting, I pushed back against a wave and created just such a moment of tidal paralysis. I could actually hear the intake of breath before the place fell silent.
It all started, as most fantastical tales do, with a children’s librarian, a woman with a silver-bell voice and penchant for motivational thematizations.
Toward the end of the meeting that night, The Children’s Librarian stopped taking notes (oh, yes, she did) for a moment to suggest, “Now that it’s 2012, we need to set our yearly group goal: let’s lose at least 2012 in 2012!”
Her suggestion propelled my brain to the year 13,022, when the 35 members of our group will not only ingest nothing for twelve months, but they also will go out and take hostage 10 of their closest friends and starve them into the grave, as well, just to reach the goal. As the calendar ticks towards 13,023, each member will push a skeletal hand up through four feet of dirt to report her losses on a whiteboard reading, “I weighed 232 pounds at the start of the year. I lost 232 pounds during the year. Please tally my contribution to the group goal and let me know if I should push my other skeletal hand up through the dirt now so that I can clap my bones together delightedly to celebrate our achievement.”
Far from skeletal in 2012, the group agreed that this was a good challenge to take on, at which point The Children’s Librarian put down her paper and pen and tooted, “This is so awesome we have to do The Wave! Come on: it’s time for a Wave! Let’s do it!”
A stir ran through the room as members tugged down their sweatshirts to ready themselves for the synchronicity that comes from standing and putting hands into the air as part of a group swell.
Taking charge, the weight loss Group Leader gestured towards the member sitting in the outermost chair at the end of the half-moon seating arrangement. “Okay, you start! Let’s have a great Wave!!”
She had gestured toward me.
With no delay whatsoever, I replied in a strong teacher voice, “Nope. It’s not going to be me. I’m not a Waver. Someone else, please.”
It was like the tide had been coming in, rushing forward merrily, and then the wave was rudely sucked back from shore, creating a vacuum of sound and energy. All breath in the room was suspended, hanging, waiting for the wave to break the tension, push back, and be realized.
I looked at the woman to my right and said, “You should go ahead and start. I can’t be part of A Wave, so it’s on you.”
She looked at me curiously, as though she wanted to ask, “Are you a Jehovah’s Witness or something?”
However, she simply yanked at her sweatshirt self-consciously and whispered, “Naw, you just go ahead.” At the same time, Group Leader gestured to me again and, thinking I needed the idea of a Wave illuminated, said, “You’re on the end, so that means you start us out, and then we all follow. Let’s start Our Wave!!” I shook my head un-self-consciously, glanced down to appreciate my lack of sweatshirt, and maintained, “I’m not a Waver. Someone else should start. I don’t do Waves.”
Seventy eyes looked upon me with confusion. Whaddya mean, not do A Wave? Attempting to lubricate the situation, Children’s Librarian called out, as she swooped up out of her seat and extended her arms to the ceiling, “It’s like this. You just stand up and do that, and then everyone follows.”
“Yea, I get it. I know what A Wave is. The thing is, no.”
At this point, a group of three women, working together, angled for my attention to show me how the thing would go, if only I would play my role and get it started.
Leaning back, crossing my legs, I debated my soap boxing options. I could use this opportunity to explain, “Here’s the deal: I participate in this group because my psychology responds to external accountability. Also, the food plan is not nonsense. That’s why I’m here. And I know women are acculturated to be apologetic about their impulses, but I seem to have overcome that tendency pretty admirably because I feel no need to say ‘Sorry’ here about the fact that I don’t want to pretend to be a scrapbooking sports fan type who thinks The Wave is cool or cute or, more confoundingly, meaningful.” Alternately, I could keep my mouth shut and let them riddle through my unpredictable behavior. I went with the latter.
Group Leader tried one more time, coming closer and urging, “Start now! Stand up! Then we all go!” In return, I raised my voice and noted, “There is another side of the room. Why not start over on that side and have Your Wave end with me sitting here?”
Flummoxed, the group energy of the room tried to right itself but became agitated and fluttery. As something like desperation gripped the room–Whaddya mean, not do a Wave?–women from all corners started popping out of their seats, floating their hands upwards, reaching down and tugging on their neighbors’ sleeves in an effort to get The Wave flowing and crashing. Ultimately, The Wave came off more like a round of Whack-a-Mole, with heads bobbing up and down haphazardly, the disparate factions of energy never synchronizing into amplitude.
Like an offshore reef, I had broken The Wave.
On this note–with me feeling perversely tickled and the rest of them wondering what had just happened–the meeting adjourned.
As I was heading for the door, however, any sense of personal triumph over ridiculousness was deflated when the group leader chirped brightly,
“See you ‘lighter’!”
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