In last week’s post, I talked about my tendency to be hard on myself.
The thing is…Phil has the same problem. And when you put two slightly self-punishing people together, things can get a little intense. Not a good intense. More like a Eugene O’Neill play kind of intense.
Yesterday morning, Emma informed us that the 3rd grade was leading the school in prayer during their Community Gathering, with each student reading a sentence or two on stage. Phil and I scrambled to rearrange our morning plans so we both could be there. Things typically never go well when we scramble
which is almost all the time.
“What time does this thing start?” I asked Phil while making lunches and packing backpacks.
“8:30. I’ll take them now and you can meet us there,” he suggested,
as I had not showered in 2 days.
Phil was waiting for me outside the gymnasium, finishing up a conference call. As we walked through the doors at 8:25, the Community Gathering was in full swing.
Emma’s voice echoed in my ears: “I’m the 2nd person to read, so don’t be late!”
We missed it.
I looked over at my friend Colleen, who’s sympathetic look confirmed what I already knew.
I looked over at Phil, who was staring straight ahead, his lips pursed, jaw clicking.
I gave him a look that said: I thought you said 8:30??
Which he returned with a wordless: Well obviously I was WRONG!
For the rest of the service, we stood two feet apart like mannequins – not speaking, not touching, self loathing seeping out of our pores as our collective thoughts polluted the space between us:
We suck. We are the worst. I can’t believe we missed it. WTF is wrong with us?
When it was over, we took the walk of shame over to Emma, prepared for her
abandonment issues strong reaction and armed with an alibi about being in the far right corner of the room near the bleachers. Turns out we didn’t need it.
“Hey, Em, you did great!”
“Whatever Mom. I was totally congested and people were definitely laughing at me.”
“No way. I’m your mom and I didn’t notice you were congested
because I was in the parking lot putting on my makeup.”
Phil and I walked to our cars in silence, our shoulders heavy with the weight of what felt like another parenting fail. Phil is typically the one to let us off the hook, but this time, he didn’t.
As I drove home it occurred to me that I am also capable of letting us off the hook. So, I did:
We need to lighten up; we are ok, I told myself as I pulled into the driveway. My morning mantra of “Ok” brought back a distant memory that made me smile.
When I was a kid, there was a large bookcase in my bedroom that stood against the wall next to my bed. The first three shelves were packed with the books of my youth – everything from hardcover Nancy Drews to Sweet Valley High to The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.
But the bottom shelf had become a mishmash of random genres cast off by my parents – the Land For Misfit books they didn’t have the heart to toss, but didn’t necessarily want to display the coffee table: Improve Your Golf Game Through Hypnosis, Bridge for Dummies, Passion’s Promise by Danielle Steel.
There was one small paperback book sandwiched in the middle of the shelf. The tattered spine of the ’70’s yellowy-orange cover read, Imok, You’re Ok.
I have never been one to fall asleep easily, and night after night, as my eyes rested on that book, I thought about Imok:
Who the hell is Imok? Does he suffer from some type of affliction or handicap that would suggest he was something other than Ok? And who is this other character, the one who has realized that Imok, was, in fact, Ok? Did Imok need to hear he was Ok, or was he actually secure in his Ok-ness all along, and was simply waiting patiently for the rest of the world to discover his dark horse charm?
I can’t tell you the exact moment that I looked at the book and said, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..it’s I’M OK, You’re Ok.” It was a sad realization. After all those nights of keeping me company, Imok was dead.
This story still makes me laugh when I think of it.
Last night, after the prayer-service screw up, Phil looked like he could use some cheering up, so I shared the story with him.
It made him laugh the special laugh reserved specifically for my blonder moments – the laugh where he snorts and shakes his head, rubbing his eyes in mock exasperation
even though I know he finds me adorable and endearing .
Pema Chodron says:
Maybe the most important teaching is to lighten up and relax. It’s such a huge help in working with our crazy mixed-up minds and to remember that what we are doing is unlocking a softness that is in us and letting it spread.
When we made the hard decision to move back to Philly from Scituate, my constant refrain to both Phil and the girls was, “All we need is each other – if we love and take care of each other, we will be Ok.”
With kids, this is easy – automatic, really. Your role is clear: Make them feel safe and loved.
But with your spouse, the purity of this simple intention can get muddled and heavy; weighed down by the collective baggage you drag from one decision to the next.
It takes courage and vulnerability to say to each other, “Can we just surrender to our combined humanness….to my imperfections and yours? Can we table any discussions of the past until we can look at it with curiosity instead of judgment? Can you sit with me quietly and calmly through the difficult moments, the way we do with the kids when they get stitches or a shot?”
Breathing in, Breathing out.
This is the quest – this job we must do alone, but together. It’s a tricky balance. We must encourage each other without taking responsibility for the other person’s happiness, or sense of peace, or capacity for compassion and forgiveness.
We can only try to be an example for each other – by choosing softness over rigidity, surrender over resistance. We can choose to be light. And when I forget that I chose to be light -which on average is about 246 times a day – I can just choose it again….