“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fountain of all invention and innovation; in its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” – J.K. Rowling
When my 2 1/2 year-old son had to have a root canal a couple of months ago, I crudely drew out the story in 8 sequential panels so that he could see the story as it played out and also take it to school and show his friends why he’d been absent. It was my effort to help him not only understand but also know why he had to go back for the second part of the treatment once the infection had healed. I’ll never know if it changed his perception but he was amazingly cooperative in the dental chair when we went back.
I didn’t know before I became a parent how much story-telling is involved. Not just in the reading of books at night but helping to narrate their story as they come of age. But I recently watched a Ted talk about the science of story-telling that explained that the elements story-tellers use are similar to ones researchers have found that our brains use to understand the world. It is the topic of my Pointless Overthinking blog post this week, Telling a Good Story.
And here’s the story of Mr D’s root canal shown in 8 panels:
“To listen with an open heart and ask questions to better help us understand the other person is a spiritual exercise, in the truest sense of the word.” – Harriet Lerner
Yesterday I re-blogged a post about sliding glass door moments, the moments where you see the life you could have on the other side and choose whether to open the door and cross that threshold. Deb commented on it and mentioned that solid door moments, those times when we have no real sense of what’s ahead yet we know we need something in our life to change, might take even more courage to pass through.
Wow, did that make me think. It is just one example of the very many where a comment has expanded the envelope of my thinking. Which is the wonderful effect of comments. They often drive me to a deeper understanding of myself or the topic, sometimes both.
But when I first started blogging, I found commenting hard. Did I know the author well enough that a typed comment would be relevant? Was I interpreting the material correctly and would I be on point?
Maybe first time comments are like tiny solid doors – we often have no real idea who’s on the other side and whether our typed message which is often a bid for friendship will be accepted or even acknowledged. But you have to open it to find out whether or not the person on the other side wants to sit around your coffee table, to use my analogy of blogging from last week, or just speak from the podium.
What do you think about comments? How about the experience of commenting?
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” – Buddha
The other day at work, I jumped in to help my colleagues with a project to create order from a bunch of data. In the course of an afternoon, we had so many emails, spreadsheets and versions flying around that my inbox was overflowing. Finally at one point I stated to a colleague that I didn’t have the version he was talking about. He forwarded an email sent to me 2 hours earlier that had the version.
I was mortified. I hate that particular kind of mistake that could have been prevented by a more detailed search of what I already had. It triggered the most unkind voice in my head.
I’d really like to do this all perfectly but fortunately I’ve had many years to come to terms with the fact that I’m far from perfect and never will be. Also on the plus side, I’ve learned a technique from my meditation teacher to create some space when I bump up against this.
It’s simply to talk to myself as if it were a friend that had made the mistake. It’s pretty easy to realize that I wouldn’t chastise a friend who had done the same. I’d say things like:
“Oh, I’ve done that before. It’s frustrating.”
“At least you didn’t send it to the customer with the wrong data. You stayed curious and kept asking questions.”
“Missing one spreadsheet in twenty? Not a bad ratio!”
Several times I’ve heard the Biblical instruction “Love your neighbor as yourself” turned around to be “Love yourself as your neighbor.” There is a lot of wisdom in not only cultivating kindness to others but also ourselves.
Yesterday I had lunch with my dearest and oldest friend, Katie. We met when I was my daughter’s age – six and a half years old and she was seven. We went to grade school, junior high, high school and college together. We’ve lived together, dated the same guy (not at the same time), argued and most of all laughed. We’ve aged together, sometimes growing apart and then returning to be close again.
Sitting there talking with her, I realize there is so much comfort in effortless vulnerability. We don’t need to be anyone in particular because our shared context means we’ve seen it all. And more than anything, we’ve earned the right to hear each other’s stories because we’ve shown up for all these years.
When my friend calls these days, which isn’t very often because we mostly text, I always try to pick up. And whatever and whenever she asks something of me, which is also rare, I say “yes” to. Because we’ve gone on so long that I know she’s considered the impact on me as well as any other person can.
I think movies, specifically RomCom’s gave me the mistaken impression that friends like Katie come into our lives all the time. Life has told me that we are lucky if we get one or two in all of our years. She embodies the lovely description of an honest friend I recently read again in The Book of Awakening.
“Having an honest friend – one before whom you can dump all your heart’s pockets and still feel that you are worth something – is a form of wealth that will buy you nothing but will give you everything. And mysteriously and rightly, to find such a friend, we must be such a friend.”
The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
Driving away from lunch I felt so light, even with stomach full of pasta. I realized that time with her is like time without my armor on – the armor of accomplishment or knowledge or experience or humor — whatever it is I use to protect against vulnerability. That, along with understanding, might be one of the best gifts of an honest friend.
“Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” – Charles Dickens
We’ve had a seemingly unending string of clear, sunny days here in Seattle so I trundled my kids off to the park yesterday morning. My toddler was on his strider bike, my 1st grader on her bike and I was pushing the stroller in case of any breakdowns, mechanical or otherwise. Because my son is new at the strider bike it took us so long to make it to the park four blocks away that the first thing we did when we arrived is to have snacks. We found a perfectly shady bench on this perfectly sunny morning and I started to unzip the cooler bag. My daughter, wanting to be the first to crack open the bread sticks with cheese dip, pushed off to run around the bikes, slipped and fell, crying out as she hit the ground.
I wasn’t very sympathetic. The thoughts that crossed my mind were that she was being careless and greedy to have the first go at the snacks and this might have been the fourth fall already on a Monday morning, fortunately none of them serious enough to even warrant a mark. But I knew that adding hurt feelings to a hurt knee wasn’t going to help so I didn’t say anything and bundled her up and gave it a kiss.
That’s when the grace of the moment dropped in. I had a split second of understanding that the cry and the wanting to be first was not really from the fall but from holding it together as her brother celebrated his second birthday and got all the presents. And that my reaction was from being tired from hosting the second birthday party the night before so that my impatience and judgment were the side effects of pretending that I wasn’t.
I have no idea why humans are such complicated creatures so that what seems to be happening rarely is. But I suspect it is so that we are lured to look deeper. It brings to mind the Buddhist tonglen meditation where you breathe in the pain of those around you and breathe out relief. I find that even when I don’t yet know the true cry of the hurt, it still works. I’m starting to think that maybe that’s why mamas have kissed skinned knees for generations upon generations – so they have a moment to breathe out relief and keep their mouths shut. I found that it works because things are as rarely as perfectly sunny as they seem.