Friday, September 02, 2011

In the Quiet Heart

I had a three distinct, consecutive experiences the other day that got me thinking about tolerance, understanding, and compassion.

#2 has had her learner's permit for two weeks. She is doing very, very well. However, she is still learning. It's why they don't just hand out licenses to kids on their birthdays. One of the things that is hard to do is to determine how much time you have to merge or turn into traffic. Because #2 is also still figuring out how much and when to accelerate, we are leaving very large buffers in car lengths when merging onto a busy road. That day we were sitting at a yield sign waiting for enough space when the guy behind us apparently decided that she'd missed some opportunities to go and honked. That sort of impatience is hard enough for me to blow off when I'm the driver, but when it's my kid, mama-bear began to emerge. I really wanted to let this guy have a piece of my mind. "Give my kid a break! She's been driving for two weeks! Come and see me in 7 years when your kid there starts to drive!" Of course, I couldn't do it. But man, did I ever want to.

We got to our destination, which was a frozen yogurt place, and ordered our last-day-of-summer treats. When #3 finished hers, she dumped her trash into a very small waste bin that was clearly intended for sample cups. Not the end of the world, but to avoid having my family fill the bin unnecessarily I mentioned to #1 that when she was finished she ought to use the bigger bin by the door. In response #1 threw a fit. She started yelling that she never used small trash cans and why was I telling her to use the big one--it was #3 who used the wrong can. She went on, and I tried to calm her down a little, but it's sometimes best just to drop it and let her tirade run it's course. As frequently happens in these cases, we got stared at by a woman who was also there with her teenage kids. It's not obvious by looking at #1 that she is mentally handicapped. And the sight of an almost 17 year old throwing a toddler-style fit is not pretty. I get that. But I always feel torn between wishing I could explain and feeling resentful that I should have to explain in order to have some grace extended to my child. So I (not very maturely) stared right back at the woman until she turned back around.

After dropping the kids home I needed to run to the store for school lunch supplies for the next morning. (I firmly believe in getting things done waaay in advance.) On the way, my gas started acting weirdly. I was loosing momentum and was getting ready to pull over to the shoulder just past a 4-way stop when my (11 month old) car died entirely. This left me without steering, so all I could do was coast to the stop-sign. I immediately turned on my hazards and literally within about 20 seconds two guys had each hopped out of their vehicles to help me push the car to the side of the road. I called Larry for help, and while I waited for him to arrive about every 5th car to pass during this rush-hour time asked if I needed help or a phone or gas or if help was on it's way. It was exceptional. Most of these folks were probably on their way home from being gone all day and yet were willing to take time to potentially give more time to help a stranger.

Standing there on the side of the road, I started to think about the difference between these situations and how others responded to my family and I. It wasn't hard to pinpoint. It all came down to the hazard lights. People instantly knew that I was in distress. They responded as I believe most of us would. There's no 14-year-old-new-driver light for my car. There's no severe-mental-retardation light for my daughter. And it didn't take long for me to think of the fact that perhaps there was a light that the impatient driver behind me was wishing he could flash, so that I could understand his mood or sense of urgency. Sure, he could have extended some compassion, but then so could have I toward him in return.

We never know who's husband is chronically ill, or who is care-giving a mother with cancer. Who battles anxiety, or who has kids with special needs. It might be me. But it might be the woman eating yogurt at the table next to me, or the guy driving a car behind me. And if it's not any of those concerns, it could very well be something else.

I love the LDS hymn "Lord, I Would Follow Thee." One of the verses sings,

Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see.
And in the next,
I would be my brother's keeper; I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary, I would show a gentle heart.

It's that gentle heart that all of us yearn for as we muddle through life. And it's the gentle heart that many of us, myself most definitely included, need to practice giving more freely.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Happy New Year

The following post was originally posted by myself on my friend Chris's blog in September 2009. I thought it was worth reposting here.

My father was a university student when I was born. I was in the third grade when he received his PhD. I went straight to college myself after graduating high school, and got married during my junior year. My husband started a master's program as I was finishing my bachelor's degree. And my two oldest children were in school when he finally decided not to pay to write a dissertation for a doctorate in history that he no longer planned to use. My oldest child is about to start ninth grade and my baby, second.

My entire life has revolved around the traditional school calendar.

I guess it makes sense then that I always feel a greater sense of renewal and starting afresh on September 1st than I do in January. In September we start new routines, we advance grades, we buy new clothes, new backpacks, and new supplies. In September we make new friends and reacquaint ourselves with old ones. We start new sport seasons in new, larger cleats. We are assigned new teachers and occasionally adjust to a whole new school. In January we merely pick up where we left off before the Christmas Holidays. And occasionally make resolutions that have generally been forgotten by February.

Last year was a stressful one for my family. We moved 900 miles away, built a house and a warehouse, faced a family tragedy and business and personal financial struggles. Many good things happened, too, and overall I feel blessed. But I approach this new school year ready to move on. I look forward to a year where we are settled into our surrounding environs and routines. Where the stressors we encounter are every-day, garden variety stresses. Where we have only one house payment and our business is all located in one state under one enormous roof. I look forward to getting more involved again at my kids' schools. As the four of them will be spread among three campuses, this should keep me plenty busy.

Just for good measure, I'll throw in here that I look forward to weighing about 15 pounds less than I currently do. But I'm sure that effort will be abandoned by October.