Tuesday, 29 September 2009

It's not you, it's me.

Why is it so easy to get bent out of shape by the actions of others?  Why do we get indignant and angry and personally affronted by the rudeness of strangers?  It's them, obviously, and their behavior that we take issue with!  Or is it?  I have a theory.

I believe that human beings are like diamonds that have been dipped in tar.  Let’s say each facet represents a personality trait - the bits of ourselves that we like or that our family or culture approve of are clean and sparkly, while the bits that don't get the thumbs up are either streaked with grime or obscured completely. But just because these traits are hidden doesn’t mean they don’t exist - they just get sneaky, operating in the shadows or even out of our conscious awareness.

I also believe that we are meant to shine, and what good is a diamond if only parts of it sparkle?  So, how do we go about polishing the facets and thus become more of our brilliant selves?  First we need to find out which bits have been covered up, and luckily life offers us endless opportunities to discover what they are.

Yesterday at the grocery store I watched a man drive his car the wrong way through the parking lot and take the last free space, which happened to be reserved for shoppers with young kids.  My car was already parked, and since I didn’t qualify for the space it didn’t affect me personally, and yet I was annoyed.  I huffed and puffed and muttered under my breath what a jerk he was.  He wasn’t breaking any laws, but how dare he break the rules and inconvenience some poor, hassled mother with screaming offspring, stroller and groceries to juggle!  I stewed about it for some time until out of nowhere the thought popped into my head…

When you point a finger at others, take a look at your hand and notice that three fingers are pointing back at you.

That shut me up.  I drove home scanning my memory for ways in which I have not followed the rules and inconvenienced others.  It wasn’t easy, as the ego doesn’t often own up without a struggle.  Hm….um…let’s see….got one!  I almost never follow recipes.  (I know, I know that sounds stupid, and it’s hardly on par with taking a reserved parking space, but bear with me.)  When I was a kid I loved to bake but I could never bring myself to do things by the book.  I’d add wheat germ and nuts, or substitute chocolate with carob while my poor sibling would whine, “why can’t you just follow the recipe?!”  I clearly wasn’t following “the rules” and they were clearly inconvenienced.

Typically if I can find even one example the ego steps aside and others soon follow, as was now the case.  Example two:  I have refused to fully vaccinate my kids.  (It’s not illegal but it clearly is breaking society's rules and could inconvenience others if my kids get ill.)  Example three: I am often late for appointments.  Number four: I take an illegal turn as a shortcut to my son’s school.  You get the idea?

Once I could “own” my own tendency to break the rules and inconvenience others, I was free to consider that the man might have had a reason to park where he parked.  Maybe he had an emergency and just needed to dash in quickly?  Maybe he didn’t see the silhouette of a stroller painted in front of the parking space?  Whatever!  It didn’t matter anymore because his action no longer caused a reaction in me.  I was out of his business and into my own.  I was able to flick a bit of tar off one tiny facet of my diamond.

I’m not usually one for quoting the bible (being a Jedi and all) but this fits so beautifully I can’t resist:  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Mathew 7:2)  Simple, huh?

Today I actually made it through a whole day without getting annoyed by anyone.  But tomorrow I’ll be ready to remind myself, “it’s not you, it’s me.”  I challenge you to do the same.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Toddler Wisdom

Children are our natural teachers.  If you catch them before their innate wholeness is "civilized" out of them, they behave with astonishing honesty.  My favorite, real-life example of this came on the heels of a typical brother/sister infraction, the type that happens everyday, in every culture. I never knew the exact details of what happened, but suffice to say there was anger, hitting and tears.  And so, as I was putting my four-year-old son to bed that night, I asked him, "Why did you do that to your sister?"
 "Because," he answered, "sometimes I'm mean. That's how God made me." What could I do but agree with him?  (And suggest he find alternatives to hitting next time he got angry.)

His innocent statement stopped me in my tracks and reminded me that we have been created as whole beings with "bad" and"good" traits in perfect balance.  Besides, who's to say that a little well timed meanness might not be absolutely appropriate from time to time?  If we are conditioned to be nice little people pleasers we are left vulnerable to being taken advantage of in all sorts of ways.  It's easy to get confused about this as parents, as we desperately want our kids to be the "right" kind of people.  But there's grand canyon between being "good" and being our natural, God-given selves.

And so, in honor of this beautiful little boy who has taught me so much, (and he's still only six!) I give you Charlie's Poem:

Charlie Marshall, perfect son,
has smiles and scowls for everyone.
Comfortably whole, as I have seen,
when “Mamma,” he said, “sometimes I’m mean.”
“That’s how God made me,” as a matter of fact. 
“Of course it is,” I answered back.

I stifled a laugh and was secretly proud
that my boy had spoken such a truth aloud.
And if one small child can understand
the dual nature of a man,
can I befriend my cast off lots
and coax them from their hiding spots?

Right then and there I made a vow
not to screw him up somehow.
But love him wholly, come howls or hoots,
and pray the world will follow suit.
Who knew my greatest teacher, wise and more,
would be a little boy of four.