"Listen for those voices that will not shout. The people who know most about life say least about it."
- Krista Tippett
Have you ever had one of those moments when your expectations of someone were met and surpassed in such a way that somehow you were not, paradoxically, all that surprised? Of course we've all experienced the flip side: the letdown and disappointment that comes when someone topples off the pedestal they have climbed upon or even more likely, the pedestal that we've placed them on ourselves.
I'm talking about that intuitive sense that there is something deep and profound about an individual: flawed and imperfect to be sure, but human in the best and most beautiful sense, fully alive and wide awake. These kind of people don't go around flaunting their enlightenment in this see me, notice me kind of way. There is something much more quiet about them instead.
Now, when I say quiet, I don't mean to imply introverted in terms of personality type nor monastic when it comes to practice. But rather something quiet about the spirit they possess and the manner in which they embody their beliefs. Quiet, yet you find yourself trying to tune your ear to even their silence. The essence of their life itself seems to be speaking a better word.
I break the silence with a question: Who are you? Perhaps there was no better question, as it would turn out, to have asked Laurent & Laura Massenat to initiate what would become an unforgettable night in many respects. A beautiful evening that began (and ended) on their spacious front porch under the fast sinking sun with a glass of bourbon in hand, down and neat of course.
Laurent, ever-stoic yet without a hint of pretense gave me a glimpse into the shared ongoing spiritual journey of their lives when he referenced Eckhart Tolle and said, "Who am I? I am. I am awakening and essence; the flowering of consciousness."
To borrow from Tolle: "Give up defining yourself - to yourself or to others... And don't be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it's their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don't be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are."
Laura echoes the sentiment succinctly saying, "It's about being, not doing."
I recognize early in our conversation, just as I suspected, that this is a couple marked by spirituality: "the story of our passionate affair with what is deepest inside us."
The true mystics throughout history lived a balanced and harmonious life of solitude and servitude. Their peaceful lives of meditation in one instance transitioned to a life of revolutionary action in the next. They, in a manner of speaking, became the answer to their own prayers.
One of the first things that tipped me off that there was something extra special about Laurent & Laura was that somewhere along the way I had heard that they had taken a child who was not their own into their home to care for and raise. I would later observe for myself the unique manner in which they were doing so: not in some possessive, clinch-fisted, save the world, heroic fashion, but with the posture, instead, of a willing and surrendered steward of this precious young life. They agreed to add another member to their family for a season - however long it needed to be - keeping the hope and possibility of reconciliation between the child and parents open, seeking a redemptive outcome for all. It turns out that what looked like foster care, and technically suppose it was, was really them, simply and powerfully, being family to someone who was in desperate need of one.
Her name is Kaedence.
Even now, as I put pen to paper, and say her name aloud - "Kaedence" - I'm moved by the power of a single life. She matters. And matters greatly. Her story counts. Just like mine and yours. Our collective story would be incomplete without her chapter. I can't wait to see what she writes.
Cadence came to the Massenet's at the age of 4 having experienced more than her fair share of “trauma”, to use Laurent's word, resulting in a timid, timid soul. She is now 7, enrolled in school at Wilson Elementary and has just recently returned safely to her family of origin. Both of them beam with pride by the progress that Kaedence has made and the healing that's occurred.
There is an "awe shucks" sense of accomplishment about the way they speak about their ongoing role in the life of this young lady and her family. They deflect any praise you would attempt to lavish. For in their minds they did not perform the exceptional. They merely did what needed to be done and they'd do it all over again and they presume you'd do the same. The significance of their actions is completely lost on them. They aren't their own biggest fans. There's not an ounce of self-promotion or importance. You see, "The people who are changing the world typically don't have publicists." They are in fact, "secretly incredible."
As I knocked on the door of their Mesta Park home that Monday night I was greeted by that wide flashing smile of Laura's and a big hug of course. I immediately took notice that here too again was the beautiful home of a family who was choosing simplicity as a way of life. It could have been filled with the "stuff" of mindless entertainment, convenience, creature comforts, and ease. But it wasn't. Their chosen way of simplicity in all things was evident to me from the outset. There were wide open spaces. Room to gather and huddle, mastermind the next community event or initiative, throw an impromptu party, or have family dinner on the floor. And of course, there in the front room stood a stationary bike.
As I entered their home at the end of what appeared to be a busy start to the week, I was introduced to their kiddos: Zac,Thomas, Chloe, and Theo. It was Chloe, who just finished up her freshman year, that was in the throws of planning a walkout at Classen SAS in peaceful protest of the educational budget cuts. It's no real surprise that they are grooming, and raising right under their own roof, the next generation of folks who are going to stand up, make some noise, cause a ruckus, stir up trouble and give a damn about the kinds of thing worth giving a damn about.
In their own words: "Empowering our kids is a big deal." Well, it's working my friends. It's really working. They are taking life by the horns. Insisting upon something different. Hell-bent on better. Demanding more.
The two of them make such a great parenting team. When you combine their individual experiences through childhood you get the ying and yang of something great in the making. For Laurent, his parents were reported to be emotionally unavailable and overly authoritative thus making family a less than pleasurable, arduous chore of sorts that drove him out to travel the world in search of adventure. And for Laura, she was told early and often that there was nothing she could not do, nothing she wasn't capable of. True and truer still.
I first met Laura during a season in which she was raisin’ hell about the health quality (or lack thereof) of food and beverages that were being served to our kiddos in the form of school breakfasts and lunches. Eat Wise, as the initiative was known, was being spearheaded by a fierce group of momma bears. They advocated with winsomeness, diplomacy, and a heavy dose of pounding the table until their good, right, and heartfelt demands were met. And met they were. She then went on to enter the local political scene in a more formal capacity as she was elected to the OKCPS Board in 2012.
Whether it's formal or informal, serving in an official capacity or as engaged and responsible citizens, there is a strong and unmistakable component to what The Massenet's take on and tackle together: It's justice.
They riff on on the current educational budget cuts: "Are we all gonna leave again if the funding challenges persist?" Harkening back to the era of "White Flight", a time when racial bias hastened the departure of many from the urban core. We feared those whose skin color and culture did not reflect our own, on quest for the illusion of safety that homogeneity cannot ever provide. We chased our false sense of privilege out into the suburbs leaving a hole in the heart of the city.
"Yes, by all means raise money to fund the art teacher position that was lost at your kid's school, but will we walk the proverbial extra mile across town to do the same for someone else? You just can't stop at your own kid." The Massenet's know, in that deepest place of knowing, far beyond cheap lip service and tired old rhetoric, that their well-being is directly tied to that of others. They’ve accepted the age-old charge to "love you neighbor as yourself."
The heart of this love beats at the corner of Hudson & 8th street (H&8th). It is perhaps the closest physical expression of their identity: who they are not what they do, the manifestation of their desires for their family and our town, "the wellspring", in the words of David Foster Wallace, "from whence their actions flow."
It bears the name Elemental Coffee, and it serves as an extension of their own home and the way of life that it represents. There too you'll find space to gather friends and enjoy family, huddle around the table with colleagues to exchange the next great set of ideas, explore the divine and discover the sacred through long conversation, participate in civil discourse and debate the issues of the day, overhear the latest plans for a new restaurant or retail space, sit quietly in reflection, put your nose in a book with buds in your ears, stage the next peaceful protest, plan a party, or simply enjoy a hearty and wholesome meal.
It's a microcosm of our city really. A cross-section of its diversity. The epicenter for progress. A catalyst for change. The front row to the present day shaping of our city's future. A true "third space" if ever I've experienced one. Midtown's front porch if you will. The spot to come together. A seat that's always open. The place to sit and listen for the voices of those who refuse to shout; those quiet souls who have something to say. ⊙
Midtown OKC is exploding with growth and life and urban energy. You’ll find many of the hottest, local restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels within these handful of blocks. Most of the residential real estate options are hip, urban leases from large apartment communities to boutique, historic building restorations. Midtown residents have the added benefit of generally being eligible to attend the amazing John Rex Charter Elementary School. There is a small, but growing contingency of for-purchase condo properties for those looking for ownership in the hottest area in the urban core.