A Walk in the Woods

IMG_0434Yesterday I walked in the woods with my dear friend, sharing the sights and sounds of Stony Creek Metropark on a warming Saturday morning. We’d started a conversation an hour before, and there was still much to be said on both sides.  Or perhaps it began months earlier, after he talked me into reading Richard Dawkins’ controversial work, The God Delusion. I’d avoided the book, not wanted to read a polemic against religion. After reading just over half the book, I couldn’t complete it. It felt hostile and angry, not feelings I hold at all toward religion and religious people. And, yes, it held arguments against the likelihood of the existence of God that resonated with — and expanded on — my own. But I’d had enough.

Whenever the conversation began, its basic components remained the same. He feels the world is worse for religion while I maintain it’s given more to humanity than it has taken. He cites genocide, wars, hate crimes, exclusionary behavior, and a host of hostilities, all in the name of religion. He’s right, of course. Throughout history, religious differences and religious beliefs have led to atrocities, both large and small, many in the name of a god, or at least with the intent of doing what that faith believes is the work of their god.

Yes, he’s right. Terrible acts have been committed and will continue to be committed under the shelter of religion and religious thought. Religion serves to set a group apart, encouraging a community to share values and ideals. In the course of this setting apart, those different may be seen as in the way of the truth as that group perceives it. Those with differing views of the greater reality are sometimes seen as in conflict with that particular truth, which when taken to extreme, can lead to violence. But, I counter, plenty of hate has occurred without religion as a motivator. Racism and sexism, while fostered by some religious groups, run rampant through history regardless of religion. Mass executions under Stalin and Mao were not religiously motivated either. And some atrocities have multiple triggers, as in Darfur.

A bit of googling around lead me to dozens of poorly documented lists tallying the dead from both religious and nonreligious atrocities. The numbers go the way of the one doing the tallying — the religious cite higher numbers killed in conflicts not based in religion while the agnostics/atheists claim the count goes the other way. I’ve not the time nor inclination to do the math myself, and I’m fine with saying its a draw. Either way, human beings have committed unimaginable wrongs against others of their species in an astounding number of ways.

Humans find ways to divide. We’ve evolved to gather in community for protection at the very least. As a species, we thrive when we divvy daily tasks yet still stick together when whomever is perceived as the dangerous ‘other’ comes into our camp. We’re territorial, suspicious, and tribal. We don’t like change, and living in proximity of ‘other’ requires either change or the removal of ‘other’. Religion or not, I maintained, we have always and sadly likely always will battle ‘other.’

And so the conversation went, as we walked through the woods, debating the topic heatedly but without anger. We enjoy a good back-and-forth, which is good, since I seem wired to walk into one sometimes just for the mental stimulation, regardless of how strongly I feel about a topic. We did pause for a group of birders, not sure they’d share our enthusiasm for the subject, but otherwise, the debate continued through the woods.

What bothers me most in conversations like this is what I perceive as hostility against religion.  Now, my dear friend is decidedly not hostile against religion or religious people. He’s a tolerant, accepting chap, devoted to peace and human rights and as loving, kind, and smart as they come. He’s just not the hostile type. And yet I find my hackles raised when the conversation takes this turn. Suddenly, I’m ready to defend the tolerant portion of the religious, the part that includes my family (and his) and many of my friends (and his). It’s me against the anti-religious tide, and I raise my verbal staff to part the seas for the faithful and kind.

Well, at least I do put up a good verbal defense. Or at least I think it is. My dear friend (and for this and other traits I do love him), is unfazed, lobbing counterpoints to each of my replies. We’re without statistics, walking by water and through woods, stopping once to wait for a chipmunk to pass and again avoid trampling a butterfly. I talk about the good done by religious people, about churches and temples and mosques committed to helping the poor and downtrodden. I talk about the benefits of the institutionalization of values, such as the Golden Rule, a exhortation repeated in most world religions to treat others as one would want to be treated, to love as we want to be loved. We each attempt to measure the immeasurable to support our respective opinions.

Miles later, we’re no closer to agreement and not entirely out of fuel for this fine discussion. He’s calling me on my logical inconsistencies to the point where I just start pointing them out myself to save verbiage  I’m pointing fingers at overstatements and wanderings, at least as I see them. And despite my tone, I’m satisfied and happy. We don’t agree. We’re unlikely to agree on this one, and even if we started toward agreement on some middle ground, I’m not sure either of us would admit it. I’ve had to think deeply, and I’m sure I’ll continue to think deeply about the role of religion in this world. I’ll mull and stew.

And we’ll undoubtedly debate again, and I’m glad. These debates stir my thoughts beyond the subject at hand. I start to think about the motivations behind my stance. Sometimes, it’s just out of desire to be obstinate that I take the up to his down. But generally, like today, there is more there. With this question — the question of whether religion has given more to humanity that it’s taken — I found the strength of my attachment to the hope that religion could some day be tempered and moderate, used cooperatively as a point of shared general values of love and compassion for humanity. I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic that we’ll ever reach that point. We’re just far too…human. I’m just not so sure the balance leans are far into the red as some say. In the woods — in the peace of the trees and waters and residents of both, my friend at my side and my children’s futures in my heart — I have hope.

Conflict Acceptance


Oh, to land this gently during conflict, without sending petals dropping to the ground but yet having spoken my heart.

I’m a bit conflict-avoidant. Not avoidant of what I perceive as low-risk conflict. I rather enjoy debates about a host of issues and semantic questions. That’s mental stimulation that keeps me thinking and searching for more information while honing my argumentative skills. Not the hostile kind of argument. The persuasive sort requiring a blend of quick wit, precise vocabulary, and the ability to reason. Ethos, logos, and pathos. Those are the conflicts that feed by brain, hone my debate skills, and stir my blood.

I don’t like the kind of conflict that makes me sweat, my heart race, and my stomach to flip. I doubt many people do, although I understand that some people like adrenaline rushes, like the kind that come from bungee jumping or climbing to the top of the monkey bars. Those rushes just make me feel sick. It’s not just the physiological effects of conflict bother me. It scares me and just doesn’t fit well with my general tendency to want people not to hate me or just not to talk about me with nasty words behind my back. Cowardly? Maybe.

But conflict happens. Sometimes it’s heat-of-the-moment conflict, the kind more likely to occur with the ones you love the most. In the perceived safety of family, it’s easy to behave badly. I know. I’ve done it. Today. And earlier this week. Other times, it’s conflict with a bit more distance, the kind that occurs over the meeting table at work or church or in an online discussion with friends or acquaintances.  It’s reasonable and even preferable to avoid the low-stakes squabbles that can open rifts in these communities or our own homes. But sometimes, introducing conflict — or even potential conflict — is necessary for growth, change, and even deeper love.

In my over forty years on this journey of life, I’ve been in conflict with more people than I care to count. Too many times, the conflict was a waste of emotion and time while being damaging to the relationship and to myself. Too often I’ve sacrificed my principles in the heat of a conflict-turned-argument (and not the fun kind). In no particular order, I’ve misassigned blame, name-called, brought up old wrongs,  argued from misunderstanding another, and committed a thousand other disagreement sins. Oh, I can go on and on and on… And every time — every single time — the process shreds me. The adrenaline that carried me through my diatribe leaves me sick and sad, shameful of my loss of control and ready to slink under a rock.

I do get it right sometimes. Most of the time, I can raise my concerns in a peaceful, productive way. I tend to forget about these non-events where I say what I need to say in a way that respects the other’s dignity and worth since they don’t leave me either giddy with success nor depleted and sick of my own voice. But they happen. And that’s where I’m stuck. Why does it work so well sometimes, my ability to enter conflict — or perceived conflict? Why other times does it utterly fail?

A recent explosion at someone I love set me thinking about this. Or more precisely, our conversation after my return to sanity set me thinking. It’s far to easy for me to ignore the build up to serious conflict. While I’m generally fairly emotionally attuned to others, I’m not always so attuned with my own heart. Conflict bothers me. Perceived conflict, genuine conflict, the idea of conflict. It all undoes me. So I’ve become pretty skilled at denying I’m starting to feel it. That works at times. Most differences, after all, don’t matter and don’t really need mentioning.

At some points, though, in some circumstances, it rushes up though, unbidden and unwelcome, surprising me and, likely, whomever is suddenly in the role of opponent. And I’m off. Now, this only happens with those to whom are closest to me, the very people I want least to be in conflict with. And that’s likely the key. I’d rather pass off those first nudges of irritation as misplaced since, after all, this is someone I love. How could I be irritated? Or more to the point, how could I ever tell them that I’m irritated?

When I explode at my children — the very people whom I love the most — it sometimes is borne out of this lack of awareness. More often, it’s borne out of fear. These are the beings whom I brought into the world, and they are my responsibility. While I’m not vain enough to think how they turn out is under my control, I’m also aware that what happens as they grow has at least something to do with how they are raised, and I’m the one doing the bulk of the raising. And educating. That all weighs heavily on my shoulders, especially as my older reaches for 16. What if I’ve done it wrong? How many poor choices did I make? Why didn’t I do this…or not do that? And in that questioning whirling upstairs, something small can suddenly seem very big. Fear over the future and my own competence can make a normal tween or teen issue loom large. Kaboom.

If awareness if the first step, I’ve been standing on it firmly for a while. The next is increasing my awareness of that building of tension, the feeling I push down because it isn’t an “appropriate” feeling. My dear friend reminds me that, in any relationship, conflict is inevitable. We are just simply too different from each other to avoid it. Well, that blows my first choice — just ignoring those differences or trying to accommodate them all on my own. It seems a wiser path would be acknowledging those issues earlier. Rats.

Despite my disappointment about the inevitability of conflict between humans with differing minds and hearts, I know he’s right. Even when I don’t enter a conflict, I’m dragged down by the unpleasant sensation of feeling upset about a situation while feeling that I’m a rat of a friend/coworker/relative for just having the feeling. While I’m often called assertive, I find it hard to be so in these close situations, at least when I feel out of sorts about something between me and the other. I’ve committed to trying, and while its unlikely anyone will burst into flames if I raise a small concern, the whole idea of disagreeing about something personal that matters brings a sheen to my forehead.

And so I’ll try. I doubt I’m alone in my desire to avoid gut-wrenching (or just briefly awkward) conflict, and I’d love to hear with others about how they manage this with aplomb and peace, or just without wanting take to bed. And if you’re avoiding and exploding too, share that. I’d like to know I’m not alone in that less-than-healthy trend. And if we disagree? Hey, I hear that’s just what happens sometimes. I’m sure we can handle it.


Transition Lenses

Truth be told, I don’t transition easily.  That’s no shock to my friends and likely explains a bit for my acquaintances and meeting cohorts, but somehow, my reaction to shifts in routine, location, or even the weather still catches me by surprise.

This time, I’m just a few hours back from a fine three days away with my One Good Friend (main squeeze, significant other, whatever).  Three days of hiking through the woods and fields of the middle of southern Michigan, canoeing on the Kalamazoo river, eating meals neither of us had cook, and enjoying general companionship with one of my favorite adults.  While the trip relaxed and renewed me, by the last day, I was itching to write.  While we delightfully drew out the last day, taking the long way home to hike Hidden Lake Gardens and stalled the journey’s end with a meal just minutes from home, I was eagerly anticipating an evening alone at home before my boys return tomorrow morning.  I had it all planned out.  I’d unpack enough to throw a deserving load of laundry in, read through the mail, check for phone messages, and settle into write.  An impromptu trip to a small publishing company in Marshall reignited my book-writing fire, and sleep had challenged me the previous two nights as I tried to recall my outline for my book, a list written last summer and revisited since only by accident when shuffling through my files.  With a few chores out of the way and a full stomach, what barriers between me and writing could arise?

Me.  That’s the barrier.  Not the house.  Not the return to responsibility.  Not the shift from half of a duo to all of a solo.  Just my general difficulty moving from one mindset to another.  New shoes?  I need several days or more to adjust.  Expecting oatmeal for breakfast and find the canister empty?  Briefly consider a run to the store, ruminate about toast, and eventually make do.  My ex-husband has to swap a planned night with the kids for another night?    Silence.  Long silence.  Perhaps a verbal pause or so, all the while mind whirling and readjusting expectations, with (generally) calm acquiescence.   While I handle transitions far better now than even ten years back, I still find they leave me stunned, either speechless or overflowing with (generally the wrong words).

A few years back, my older son, tired of bright sun in his eyes during soccer games, tried those lenses that transition from sunglass-like in the daylight to almost clear glass inside.  Data indicated that they’d shift in a minute, making for visual comfort in no time at all, no matter what the lighting.  My son was excited, at least initially.  It turns out a minute is a long time when you walk into a dimly lit house after being out in the sun.  It turns out to be too long, at least for my then 11-year old son, who ditched the transitioning lenses for good-old clear polycarbonate at his next annual exam.  Seems the transition time just didn’t work for him.

My brain often feels like those glasses when a sudden change occurs.  I knew that the move from vacation to home would be rough.  I knew I’d likely feel at loose ends and a bit lonely after several days of companionship.  I planned accordingly, parsing out chores and writing, planning for a glass of wine at 7 or so, with a snack at 9.  Surely, with all that planning, the transition would be barely noticeable.

Upon arriving home, I stalled my reentry a bit longer, chatting with a neighbor for a while before even opening my front door.  Once she returned to her gardening, I unpacked the car, cleaning up a bit as I went.  Since that process was surprisingly swift without two boys to prod along, I quickly moved to laundry and guinea pig care before settling down to write.

But my mind went silent, dark as could be.  The stillness I’d sought quickly became unbearable.  Unwilling or unable to let my emotions and thoughts adjust, I read email, surfed Facebook, checked my voicemail, and generally fidgeted in body and mind, fighting the angst.  No luck.  My tension continued to mount, and I continued to fight.  I was furious and took myself to task.  I’d been eagerly anticipating this time without child or One Good Friend to start work on a writing project (at best) or to blog (not a bad choice either).  I’d spent two days with my mind flooding with ideas and energy, and here was my chance.  And I was blowing it.

But I was sad and lost.   A bit lonely, even. And simply out of sorts, dark lenses in a dark house.

When I could acknowledge that pain, the tears came.  Not the long, jagged tears soul-wrenching events evoke, but just some sad tears to honor change.  I also messaged a few friends, sharing a bit of my sorrow and quickly moving on to other subjects.  Before long, the lenses had cleared, just a hint of tint from my trip remaining, enough to remind me and bring a smile.

Like my younger son (although to a lesser degree), change challenges me, stalls me out or induces stonewalling and anger.  Sometimes, that emotion flies out.  Often it turns in, tying me up in knots until I face it and allow it simply to be.  Disapproving of my feelings during my transition today didn’t alter the feeling.  Acknowledging it, sharing it, and letting it pass on its own did.   I’m not ever likely to be free-wheeling and easygoing with transitions, and that’s okay.  Just honoring that part of me makes all the difference and makes that transition time less distressing.





Planning for the transition didn’t ease the transition at all


Pride and Humility (Vice and Virtue Series, Part 7)

Part 7 of a series of posts reflecting on the Vice and Virtue series of sermons at UUCF.

Tried this, and it really doesn't work. (www.savagechickens.com)

Lust and innocence.  Gluttony and temperance.  Greed and charity. Sloth and diligence.  Wrath and patience.  Envy and kindness.  Six vices with their six virtues down.  One set to go. Whew.  I’ve reverted to some rather slothful ways, given the last of the Vice and Virtue sermons, Pride and Humility, was given mid-May.  Perhaps I’m just wearing out on systematically exploring more of my shortcomings.  I do so much of that without a prompt, although reflecting on this series has guided that self-exploration.

“Pride is the mask of one’s own faults.”  This Jewish proverb began Rev. Alex Riegel’s sermon on pride and humility.  Using a mix of audience participation and teachings sprinkled with musings, Alex explored pride, individuality, and the separation from the divine that comes along with those.  He discusses healthy pride, which is pride in things one does well.  (I think it’s a fairly slippery slope from healthy pride to malignant pride, but I can appreciate his distinction.)

Pride is the mask of one’s own faults.  I like that.  So often,that in which I pridefully delight are the traits of mine that are most tenuous or underdeveloped.  I’ll hear a friend relate a frustration with a child and leap in with advice.  How is this pride?  It’s a way to look confident and sure of this messy business we call parenting that’s fraught with complications.  But how easy it is to lean back and say what someone else should do.  How reassuring to me, in all my parental insecurity, it is to confidently reassure another.

That action smacks of egotism, I know.  And as the words slip out of my mouth, I cringe.  After all, I’ve hardly mastered parenting.  My kids hardly behave ideally in every situation. We have as many hiccups as most in our day-to-day lives, often it feels like more.  I’d love to say my behavior as a parent was beyond reproach, but I have my ugly moments far too often.  I can yell, rant, and altogether behave in ways that would make Dr. Sears, Martha Sears, Elizabeth Pantley and a host of other connected parenting folks gasp in collective alarm.  I wasn’t raised by ranters and yellers.  Far from it.  I was actually, if my parents are to be believed, easy to parent.  I was eager to please, risk-averse, and altogether quite different from my boys.  Yeah, I was mouthy (and I still am), but that’s sometimes an asset.  Really.

Anyway, I don’t want to end up yelling.  I’m hardly PROUD of my irrational rants. Over 90% of the time, I can manage to pull out my good parenting skills (thanks to Sears, Pantley, good friends, and decent instincts) and parent knowing with healthy pride that I’m doing okay.  I’m respecting their personhood while maintaining authority.  Most of the other 10% of the time consists of a few “do it because I told you to” choruses alternating with verses about loss of computer privileges and the woes of poor planning/lying/food in one’s bedroom in a house that has ants.

Awareness it the key.  Awareness that in those areas where we feel most unsure are the same areas where we may find pride enter in.  Not false pride — just pride in what we have managed, sometimes with a struggle and always with massive imperfection.  Not healthy pride, which generally just causes us to smile in the mirror occasionally.  Pride as vice.  The kind of pride that messes with our relationships with others.  After all, most of our friendships, if healthy, are built on compassion, common interests, and respect all with a fair amount of reciprocity.  Pulling out the, “This works for me and will undoubtedly work for you no matter how different you and your children are from me and my children” card puts a monkey wrench in that mix.

No one's taking his jammies or meow.

With pride, you think you’re it.  The cat’s pajamas and meow all rolled into one fantastic package.  That’s a quite a trip down that slippery slope from healthy pride, where you recognize a strength but know you don’t have the market cornered on that strength.  In healthy pride, humility keeps that pride from being a vice.  It also keeps one from being a pain in the butt.  And when talking with a friend, humility is what makes one lead a piece of advice or anecdote with something similar to, “Well this worked for me, at least this time it did.”

Humility keeps one grounded.  Knowing you don’t know it all, that you don’t have all the answers, even about those fields that are your domain.  Twenty years ago — heck, even 10 years ago, I spoke and thought in more absolutes.  I confused my opinion or experience with ultimate truth.  As the decades have passed, I’m increasingly aware of how much I don’t know.  I’m also increasingly able to admit that there is much I don’t know.  Much of the humility I’ve developed is thanks to my kids.  First, they know a bunch of stuff I don’t.  One can read the sky with uncanny accuracy.  The other can ID swords and ancient weaponry with disturbing precision.  I can’t do either, but they’ve taught me a ton.  Second, they ask a bunch about things I don’t know.  In fact, “I don’t know,” may be my most often voiced phrase.  (No danger of pride in humility, here.  I really don’t like not knowing or being wrong, and my mouth tends to get me into pickles regularly.)

And that bit about pride causing separation from the divine?  I’m still foggy on what exactly I see as the divine, but whether it is the whole-bigger-than the parts community,the energy of the workings of the universe, or something else entirely, making this part tricky for me.  Pride certainly separate us from each other.  Pride is inwardly focused, leaving no room to look beyond the self.  Feeling sufficient in the self (something we’re encouraged to do in this society) lessens the sense of self as a part of a greater whole.  Call that whole Life, call it God, call it community — pride leads us to look in rather than out.  That view won’t lead to connection and interdependency.  With a healthy dose of humility, we see how we need each other, see how bigger community is than the sum of its parts.

So back to the key of awareness.  Simply being aware of times where pride separates us from others is a step toward better relations with others.  Being aware that we’ve not evolved to be self-sufficient islands leads us to better relations to our better selves.  Being aware of all our vices can lead to greater virtue and better relationships, human and divine, especially as we cultivate the virtues.   Innocence, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, and kindness.  All with a good dose of humility.



Habits of the Heart that Hurt

Band-aids help, but it's better not to inflict the harm in the first place. (From Cute Band-Aid Pictures)

I have bad habits. Hardly unique, huh? Some are newer, acquired in adulthood. Many go back as far as I can remember. Some are harmless, like always putting my left hand behind back handling the tea kettle, even when it’s cold. Others are less benign, like picking and my cuticles down to the first knuckle. (That one is gross.  Learned it from my Dad very young.)

Those habits don’t influence anyone but me, however. (Aside from occasionally bankrupting the family band-aid stash and grossing them out.) The habits of my heart and mind that I wrestle with the most can cause collateral damage, and they are amazingly hard to change.

Those who know me well are all too aware of my tenacity and ability to verbally spar. I can stubbornly hold a line of thought long past the point of reason. While that may not be a big deal if I could keep that in my head, all too often, I just don’t keep in there. It shoots out my mouth, and I struggle to turn if off.

Recently my older son got the brunt of it. After discovering his version of studying for a test was unlikely to produce a passing grade, he was on the receiving end of a tirade on studying habits and the importance of attending to information even when you don’t find it scintillating. After a few minutes (could be longer, since I don’t check the clock mid-rampage), he rather miserably asked if I could move on to the part where I show him how to study more effectively. Ouch.

I’d like to report I shifted gears immediately, but that would be a lie. I told my mouth to stop, but a few more sentences landed on my already-weary son before I managed to shift to a supportive instructional mode.

Damn.  And damage done.

I’m working on it, but I really struggle with turning off my mouth when I’m trying to be understood.  My younger is the same way, and it drives me crazy.  You’d think years of inserting ear plugs while counting to ten and breathing deeply while listening to his rants would teach me to SHUT UP, but no dice.  Several times I’ve told him he’s hitting me with his words.  I should know. I’ve done it to those I love the most.


It really is about being understood, being truly heard.  I went many years in my marriage not feeling this was happening.  I felt chronically misunderstood, and it smarted.  I spent far too much time stating and restating my case, waiting for information back that I was understood by the one whose path I shared.  Not necessarily agreed with, just understood.  I was rarely successful, with equal blame to my delivery and his issues.  I’d like to say that pattern started during that marriage, but I’ve been fairly verbally tenacious since, well, I could talk.  Which, shockingly, was rather early.


Nearly 42 years of, well, talking too much when I’m anxious to be understood.  Okay, more like 41.  I doubt I was that much of a verbal pain in the ear my first year of life.  Fortunately, I’m becoming more aware of this habit of the heart and mouth.  Sometimes, I can feel it coming and pause, holding it in.  Other times, as I hear it build and feel my anxiety rise with it, I can arrest it.  But not always.  Not when I’m the most upset, feeling the most vulnerable.  It still sometimes pours out, flooding the ears of whomever is the targeted audience.

Fortunately, I’ve (largely) broken another particularly bad habit.  From early childhood, apologizing has been another stumbling block.  As I entered my current relationship of the last year and a bit, I figured out to say I’m sorry and really mean it.  I know, we learned that in preschool, but as a rather anxious kid and adult who desired to be understood and really likes to be right, this was a stumbling point in my closest relationship.  I’m far better at this now, although some of my apologies take a long time to express given my general verbosity and that understanding business.  I still sometimes struggle to not put qualifiers on my apologies.  I’ve found they are better received without going something like, “I’m sorry I freaked out when you couldn’t manage to keep the appointment/date we’ve had scheduled for the past two weeks.”  I’ll admit a simple, “I’m sorry.  I was dreadfully wrong,” goes over better.

I could go on, enumerating my bad habits of heart and mind, but frankly, I’ve had it.  After making heartfelt apologies today (probably more than needed, but sometimes I keep going hoping I’ll feel better) for my runaway mouth last night, I’m weary of my own whining.  Here’s to continuous improvement, or at least continuous attempts at improvement.  Here’s to keeping my mouth shut and needing less band-aids for myself and those I love the most.

Blowing Up

The eruption of a galactic “super-volcano” in the massive galaxy M87, as witnessed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NSF’s Very Large Array (VLA). Okay, I didn’t blow up that much. (Image is thanks to NASA’s Image Gallery)

I blew it.  Okay, I blow it fairly often, generally with those closest to me, my boys.  I love my children dearly and value our homeschooling time and life together beyond words, but all that closeness can lead to some less-than-ideal parenting if I’m not paying attention.   And I’ve certainly had not-so-kind words with my ex-husband, but that’s been generally smoother as well.  I’ll make no excuses for those transgressions of patience and compassion, but they’re not the focus of my disappointment in myself now.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve succumbed to using angry words against another adult (ex-spouse excluded), and yesterday I added one time to that total.  While I still think I can hold the total in my palm, it’s one more time than I want to have occurred.  I’ll not share the details here, but suffice it say I was off guard and feeling highly protective when the encounter occurred.  Again, those aren’t excuses.  I didn’t rant or rave, swear or curse, or act violently, but I didn’t speak with respect and compassion.  And I believe strongly in cultivating respect and compassion.

Yes, I followed my strong words with a written apology.  I’ve replayed the scene over and over in my mind, knowing the exact moment when I started to protect my ego and not my friend.   That’s where the problem started.  As soon as my speech was more about protecting that outer sense of self, the ego, I was no longer protecting a friend or acting out of love.  As soon as my words were made to sting rather than repair or even explain my position, I’d crossed from of being caring friend and to cranky, rude person.   I lost my center, simply put.  I lost touch with that connection with other humans, the connection that touches, in my view, the divine.

A psychologist I saw during the end of my marriage gave me some wise words about anger.  Anger, she explained, is based in fear of loss:  fear of loss of a person, a thing, or of control.  Since that conversation,  over two years ago, I’ve examined my anger and looked for where my fear of loss was. With the boys, it’s generally from my fear of loss of control of a situation.  Dealing with a child who causes delays, interrupts a call/book/thought/nap, or screams at me has led to my fear of loss of control of the situation.  I don’t generally have a desire to control my kids (I really have way too much to work on with myself to put effort into that, even if it were a good idea.), but I do find that sometimes I just want things how I want them, darn it.  When I can stay in the moment, drop my expectations, and just let go of the idea of having to control the moods of the people in the house, no anger occurs.  And, surprise, surprise, the child’s issue generally resolves quickly.  Hmm.

With adults, I generally don’t have the fear of loss.  I had plenty of that fear during my last few years of marriage, the separation, and divorce.  I feared loss of my spouse, of my home, of my ability to homeschool my boys, of my children’s well-being.   Some of that fear came out as tears and sorrow.  Some came out with angry words.  As time has progressed, I fear less, although I still occasionally feel anger flare when I fear for my kids’ emotional well-being.  But in my general dealings with adults, while I may be opinionated and vocal, I rarely have an angry exchange.  Perhaps I don’t perceive much to be at risk.  No fear of loss, no anger.   Perhaps I just can work through those fears more successfully.

So what happened yesterday?  I’ve thought at length about that and despaired plenty.  I can still touch the anger I felt, but finding the fear behind it has taken some effort.   Our exchange started without incident, but I know the moment my fear came up and bubbled out as anger, the point where I was no longer speaking out of compassion for my friend but out of fear voiced as anger.  Not fear of bodily harm, loss of possession, or anything tangible like that, but simple fear of loss of what I see as true.  Those of you who know me likely know I hold and voice some strong opinions (generally voiced with respect to those around me).  I tend to over-identify with being right, although I’m aware that being right is subjective most of the time. (My younger has tried to argue math problem answers with me.  In the math he’s doing, if you’re wrong, you’re wrong.  That’s a different post.)  It’s a bit of a personal pickle for me, and I know it can extend beyond the personal and bug others.  I work on it, sometimes with more success than other times.

But this time, I blew it.  I went from fear to anger in a breath.  I lost my focus on connection, compassion, and love and slipped into judgement and anger.  And while I can’t take it back, I can apologize, again, and start over again.  With my next breath, I can begin again, aware of my fear and anger.  Aware that they’re intense feelings.  Aware they’ll pass.    And hoping that the pain I caused another with my expression of anger can pass as well.