I’m just ending a two week stay-cation. I really needed the break. This time has called forth a lot from me, people are stressed and acting that out, and I needed to step back, remember who I am and, more importantly, Whose I am, regroup, re-center, re-focus. I’ve had many thoughts emerge that I will be writing about over the next few weeks, but for today I want to talk about people’s behavior once again.
I was driving down the road a week ago with my family. The kids were in the back seat, David and I in the front. Someone pulled up next to me and started screaming at us ” *&!-ing homosexuals!” I don’t know why. The kids just laughed: they aren’t sure why that would be considered an insult, which I take as a good sign. But whenever extreme anger comes my direction, it tends to upset me and I sit with it and in it for some time. I can’t just shake it off, or laugh it off, as the kids did. I want to know why people are so angry. I want to know what about my family of five just driving in our little car offends them. I want to know why they chose those particular words.
Inevitably I also come to a place where I wonder about what the angry people were hoping to accomplish by screaming at strangers and just calling them names which can give us no possible understanding of why they are angry or what they are wanting to be different. And I come back again to the thought that we have a choice about what we contribute in this life-time. On the balance sheet of life, do we give more positives to the world or more negatives? Do we empower, support and lift one another up with kindness and love, or do we squash, harm ,and destroy? What do we want our legacies to be? What do we want to choose to leave here as our mark on this world? We don’t get to live forever. We have little time with which to grace the lives of those with whom we travel. So what do we want our contributions to be?
But as I sat with it this time, I thought about my own actions in this world. I often think big-picture about my own actions: what kind of carbon foot-print am I leaving? How am I contributing to the over-all health of the planet by driving my car or planting trees? How do my shopping purchases help or harm the poorest of the poor? How can I be part of the solutions when dealing with climate change rather than adding to the increasing destruction of a fragile planet? How can I confront racism in my almost-entirely-white congregation?
But this time I found myself thinking instead about littler things. I heard echoed in a comment of one of my children negative words that I said first: words that were judgmental and attacking, that encouraged looking at the faults of another rather than the gifts, words that were dismissive and pridefully self-righteous. I heard a stance of annoyance and frustration with the inevitable challenges in life, rather than wonder and delight at the beauties of our world and the gifts of the people in our communities. And I realized that we do indeed develop habits, fall into patterns, that determine our influence in this life time; an influence of good or an influence that is more negative. Do we focus on what is wrong about others, what is irritating to us, what is a problem for us? Do we condemn and put down those who are different from us? Or do we seek to find the good, the wondrous, and emphasize it and support it? Do we teach our children to be negative and catty about others? Or to look for what is beautiful and true and good in our differences? This isn’t to say that we ignore problems. But can we reframe them in terms of judging actions rather than people, and on what we can do to help, rather than on what is bad and feels unsolvable?
When we have been challenged and attacked, it is easy to respond in kind. But is our goal to return what has been given to us, or to rise above, to be better, to grow and contribute what is right and good to our world? To make changes based not on judgements, but on wisdom, learning, and a desire to contribute what is good?
I recognize in my own life that this is a growing edge. I need to be better at focusing on the good, at rising above the hate and anger that is around us, at choosing in my interactions with the world to give what is grace-filled and loving rather than what is defensive, destructive, angry, or harmful. This has to start with the little things. And it has to begin with “me.”