We Are All One Bad Day from Derailing a City Zoning Meeting

Meet Lisa. She just moved here. Nobody is helping her, and she has had enough […]

Carrie Willard / 7.12.18

Meet Lisa. She just moved here. Nobody is helping her, and she has had enough of that.

Her “testimony,” for lack of a better term, is misguided at best. She is getting a divorce, but it won’t be final until September 18. Her ex-husband won’t help her. Her parents (dad’s a minister!) won’t help her. Her attorney won’t help her. She’s a very very very loving parent. Her college-age daughter, bless her, isn’t expected to help, but her full name and college is announced to the patient audience nonetheless. She’s admits to not being sure why she’s there or what she’s doing. Out loud. Into the microphone.

The city zoning people listened patiently for some time, but eventually informed her gently that this is not the place for that, ma’am. Having grown up in the upper Midwest, I’m familiar with this approach, and can feel their inward cringing: do we stop her to save her from herself, or do we let this run its course to its natural conclusion because we don’t want to be rude and interrupt her? Maybe she’ll eventually come around to some relevant point? Who’s in charge here?

Lisa doesn’t like Facebook. Or the internet. And the library blocked her password. So how is she supposed to keep up with current zoning news in Davenport?

At first blush, this feels like it was lifted directly out of an episode of Parks and Recreation. We ask ourselves: WWLKD? (What would Leslie Knope do?) Leslie would probably take the poor woman out for waffles and find her a job and then include her in Galentine’s Day celebrations every year.

I love Leslie Knope, but try as I might, I am not Leslie Knope.

My second impulse is to look toward the recently deceased Anthony Bourdain, who famously defended an infamous Olive Garden reviewer, then-85-year-old Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Bourdain, a world-famous chef, defended Hagerty’s earnest review of the fast-casual restaurant chain against internet bullies, flew her to New York to take her out to eat, and then published a book of her columns. This is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if Bourdain saw in Hagerty what he was missing in himself: the ability to be earnestly delighted about something without pretense. For the same reason, I think we all might see a bit of ourselves in our newly internet-famous friend Lisa, or what we fear we might become: the type of person who airs our dirty laundry at a public forum, into a microphone, with baggy jeans, a bad haircut and a defeated attitude. We are mad at this messed-up world, and we want someone — ANYONE — to fix it, dammit. The library has blocked our password, and we are simply lost and scared and mad.

We might laugh at poor Lisa. She’s a mess. But I think for most of us, it would be the self-conscious, nervous laughter that wonders to ourselves if we’re all just a little bit Lisa, airing our grievances to anyone who will listen. Some of us bring this to church, and we want the folks up front to fix it, even though they’re still talking about hot dog restaurants. Some of us keep it bottled up, fearing that our mess is a little bit too much like Lisa, and we’ll embarrass everyone around us if we let just a little bit of it slip out. Whether we’re Lisa or the zoning board, none of us really knows what we’re doing, do we?

This is terrifying. If none of us knows what we’re doing, then who’s in charge? What if the kids find out that the parents are just faking it until they make it? WHAT IF.

Most of us keep our mess reined in a bit more than poor Lisa does. We find a way to get through our days, but we might let a little bit of crazy slip out now and again. I let mine slip a few days ago. I went to a doctor’s appointment that took every cell of my adulthood to attend. Every shred of my maturity was used just getting through the door, and then it slowly eroded in the two hours that I waited…to make another appointment. On my way out, now three hours later, the nurse mentioned something about an additional procedure that I would need to undergo, in addition to the two other (invasive, uncomfortable) procedures I already knew about. As I walked past another version of Lisa in the waiting room, playing Candy Crush at full volume on her phone and yelling SIRI CALL DENNIS at the same time, my mind was a mess. I was Lisa without a microphone and a zoning board. I was reduced to a four-year-old child, who just wanted her mom, a band-aid and a lollipop.

I came home and sat down in an armchair and dissolved into a puddle of tears. One of our dogs pinned me to the chair with a dog hug (which might sound terrifying, but I assure you, it was both well-intentioned and well-received). My husband poured me a fresh glass of mineral water, and I called the doctor, who explained that the Third Awful in the Parade of Awfuls was an Optional Awful, and I’d just have to endure Awfuls #1 and #2. Phew. My dignity came back to me, slowly but surely. I was still loved, in spite of my childish fit in the armchair. I was still loved, even though I’m a difficult patient. I was still loved. I am still loved.

My prayer for Lisa is that she knows that she is still loved. The world is not working in her favor right now, poor thing. She is downtrodden, out loud. She might have a mental illness, or she might just be a healthy but sad person. She doesn’t seem to have anybody on her side. I hope that she knows that she is still loved, because Jesus especially loves the downtrodden. Jesus opens his arms wide for those for whom the world is not working in their favor. Jesus loves the mentally ill and the mentally ok and the mentally well. Jesus loves those who have nobody else on their side. Jesus loves you, Lisa.