Rolling in the Dirt

 “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”
 – Rumi 
“Love absolutely everything that ever happens in your life.”
– Paul Cantalupo

Approximately every other year one of our children throws us a serious curve ball during the holidays.  As a result, I enter into the Christmas holidays with the requisite excitement, but also with some amount of trepidation.  I am not someone who likes surprises.  And this was our year for the curve ball. 

After I picked myself up off the floor, I started to think about my reaction to it as a kind of test. Almost like a lab practical or a fishbowl exercise, in which you are zipping along just fine, in fact, you think you are ROCKING – and then zap! – you are handed an unexpected negative response, one that leaves you with a big helping of dashed hopes and requires significant retrenchment. The details of the specific situation are not important here, but this curve ball was an opportunity to see how well I could apply all the self – help lessons I’ve been exploring this year.  Let’s see how I did.

Warning: This scorecard is not pretty.  As my children constantly remind me, I’m a tough grader.

1. Dream my own dreams, and let others do the sameFAIL.
I invested heavily in another’s dream –I was so attached to it, I’m not even sure right now whose dream it really was.

2. Let go of the need to direct the plans and paths of those I love. FAIL.
Within 24 hours, I had explored and drafted three alternate plans for discussion.  You’d think I was their paid research assistant instead of their mother.

3.  Provide loving support but do not enableFAIL.
See #2 above.

4.  Resist the need to judge and compare against some ‘perfect’ standard.  FAIL.
A part of me did feel like my favored thoroughbred pony let me down.  This is so wrong on so many levels. People aren’t racehorses and life is not the Kentucky Derby.

5.  Let it be – accept and give thanks for what is.  FAIL.
I have spent days in obsessive private pondering, with much wringing of hands, and more laps around the Jewish Community Center’s track than I can count. I did not crawl into a hole, but I was less joyful during this Season of Joy than I would have liked.

6.  Seek personal solace and wisdom in creative practicesFAIL.
I have been stubbornly mute for almost three weeks –deliberately avoided my journal and blog, even though I knew writing down my thoughts would help.  Shot very few photographs, and hated them all.

7.  Manage my emotions, control the drama and think before I speakPASS.
A very good friend observed that “two years ago, you would have fallen apart over this.”  She’s right.  Outwardly I have been like Solomon, but inside I was a wreck.

So what to do about my failing scorecard?  Throw in the towel and give up on the possibility of change and growth? No, I think not.  Yes, I made some mistakes in how I handled this latest test.  And yes, my “thoroughbred pony” son made some mistakes as well.  But I have several hundred “mis-takes” in my digital photo catalog, and I’m certainly not going to put away my camera. Those mis-takes were my stepping stones to my best shots.  They are an integral part of the process.

Patti Digh, in Life is a Verb, shares a story about a pottery teacher who tells half his class they’ll be graded solely on the quantity of their work, e.g., producing fifty pots would rate an A.  The other half will be graded on quality – only one pot required, but it must be the perfect one – to get an A.  It turns out that the best works were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.  “While they were busy churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little to show for their efforts other than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”  I bet some of those first pots out of the quantity group would have rated a big fat F grade as well.                                

Mistakes are the silt that polishes our lives. Just like a rock in a tumbler, the fail-and-repeat, fail-and-repeat motions are the methods of human transformation.  All our mis-fires, our mis-takes, our re-dos – all are polishing us even while we try desperately to avoid them.  What if we accepted and celebrated our mistakes more, as an essential component of engaging in down and dirty, real life?  As Patti writes, “It is the dirt of our lives – the depressions, the losses, the inequities, the failing grades….that shape us, make us in fact more beautiful, more elemental, more artful and lasting.”

What if we tried to “love absolutely everything that ever happens in our lives?”  Even the  gritty dirt?  I’m going to get dirty anyway, so I might as well try to love it.

7 thoughts on “Rolling in the Dirt

  1. Glad you’re back — was afraid the photography project was going to keep you away.

    I’m reminded of the “red light” example someone gave me about any kind of self-improvement project that takes time and practice and discipline. If you’re driving down the road and accidentally run a red light, you generally are not going to give up driving safely and run every red light that comes your way from then on. You’re not going to quit trying to be a good and safe driver. Rather, you’re going to be grateful you didn’t get hurt (or caught) and go right back (immediately) to trying to drive safely.

    Whether it’s trying to exercise more, lose weight, keep your mouth shut when your kids surprise you, or whatever, it’s a valuable reminder that any mistake/misstep is not an excuse to give up. You take it in stride, forgive yourself, and get right back on track.

  2. Jeri, you deserve an A+ for awareness and recognition of the places you’d like to be different. And I believe that knowing that we want to change is the first step to changing.

    “Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself. I mean, do not be disheartened by your imperfections, but always rise up with fresh courage. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor’s faults if we are impatient in dealing with our own?”
    St. Francis de Sales

    Jeri, thank you for sharing from the heart.

  3. ouch! I think you were preaching at me as well as scoring yourself…
    Thanks for sharing insight from your spinning on the potter’s wheel!

  4. Is this in response to finding your youngest colege frat boy son in bed in YOUR house with a hot mama!
    Where was your expensive Nikon then? We need pics posted beside the birds of prey you love.
    Great symbolism there for a young man’s conquests!

  5. Read your test question answers.
    Wow, way over thinking this one.
    Counsel him, not in my house. It is disrespectful.
    If she needs a ride home. . . wake your father up! 🙂
    This is not a Frat House! On that note, is Nestle Way now the App State south house for Delt Pi?
    Or is it Dealt some pie!

  6. Jeri – I’m here for you if you need anything. Learning from our mis-takes is difficult. The way we respond is key. You are a tough grader, but I love how you are reflecting, as this will unleash the power to refine you in ways you will cherish in the future.

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