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 same. FAIL.
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 enable. FAIL.
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 practices. FAIL.
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 speak. PASS.
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.