I am struggling to crawl out from under the holiday rock. I am not entirely unhappy to leave the holidays in my rear view mirror, but I am relatively unprepared to face the New Year. Although we successfully navigated another December – with much joy, some sorrow and altogether too many sweets – the January road appears to hold a few pitfalls and some steep terrain of its own. Not to mention a special somebody who is adding a touch of toxic to my day.
I suffer from teeny perfectionist tendencies, and I really do not care to be bullied. My inner control freak is terrified of failure and its evil twin sister, criticism. Three years in law school, along with several years in the practice, might have exacerbated this particular character flaw. Coincidentally, my son and I are experiencing parallel courses of intestinal distress: he has the flu and I am sick to my stomach with dread while my hackles are rising with the feeling of being unjustly attacked.
I think about a friend of mine, a faithful woman who has known her share of unfair persecution (is there any other kind?). With an impish sparkle in her blue eyes, she tells me that she refers to individuals who engage such an aggressive posture as “God’s beloved.”
At least God loves the undeserving wretch, because I am not feeling it.
The whole situation with my “God’s beloved” reminds me why I got out of the litigation game. The hostility makes me sick to my stomach. In an attempt to regain a sense of calm and perspective, I try all my favorite techniques. I pray, meditate, and walk the dog. I wear kick-ass pointy cowboy boots and a cozy sweater. I flirt with my husband. I ask a girlfriend to pray for me, and I pray for her. I wrap the gifts I brought home for the boys when I was traveling last week. Nothing seems to quiet my head or my heart. Or my stomach.
As I am running errands in the late afternoon, I notice a woman who lives in town filling up her gas tank. I know her from my former life as a lawyer. She hasn’t recognized me in years, not since I traded my suit and heels for maternity wear and a designer dog, but she knows my name. Way back when, she and her brother landed themselves in an ugly dispute over their mother’s estate. I represented her brother in the lawsuit. While the good news for me was that my client won, this outcome also resulted in a couple of very nasty interactions. I do not appreciate being blasted in my hometown Ralphs, especially when I am right. I didn’t react, but my insides were churning with the bitterness of injustice. I can’t exactly remember what she said, but I’m sure it would have been preferable if she had simply called me “God’s beloved.” The problem with the litigation paradigm is that it’s about right and wrong, winners and losers. And everybody is left with ulcers.
My mother calls to check up on the sick kid and to confirm I’ve returned home safely. I assure her that the boy is feeling better, and I confide in her that the disappointments and ceaseless woes are at it again. My mother is sympathetic, but she hardly ever says anything negative. As in, never. Not even against bullies who are creating angst and misery in her daughter’s life, which to be honest I was sort of hoping she would. Instead, she says, “Oh dear.”
The edgiest thing she says is, “You just have to love the hell out of him.” And I can hear her smiling, blue eyes twinkling like a mischievous little girl, because she just said “hell.”
This love business can be downright infuriating. I do not WANT to love somebody who doesn’t DESERVE it. My instinct is to blast several choice words in the direction of God’s beloved, throwing in a few cheap insults for good measure. I don’t actually do it, but I do fantasize about it. My poor mother would wonder where I came from, except that my physical resemblance to her is striking. I imagine that more than once she has sighed, turned to my father, and said, “We just have to love the hell out of her.”
I stumble across this quote from Vincent Van Gogh: “Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”
I’m not sure I’m up to the whole love bit, but I do want to perform well. Maybe I could be loving, not because somebody else deserves it, but because I do. Because by choosing to love, I bring out my best effort, my own best self.
A few years ago, I saw the sister from the long ago litigation, in a place I didn’t expect to see her. She had become the crossing guard at my kids’ elementary school. The woman who used to flip me off at the local grocery store would now be entrusted with the safety and well-being of my sons. I wanted to throw up.
But she didn’t seem to recognize me.
I introduced myself and asked her name. She still didn’t register that I was the one who had represented her brother, and she ushered my kids safely across the intersection. We chatted briefly several mornings a week. I brought her See’s Candies for Christmas, and she gave me tangerines from her tree. She continued to protect my children for several years until my youngest son graduated. Now when we see each other in town, she smiles and waves.
Our brief interaction reminds me that Love’s dynamic is ultimately more powerful than the path of anger and aggression. In fact, we are, each one of us, God’s very own. Beloved.
I finally reach that sacred place, feeling the assurance that I am loved. Perhaps not by “God’s beloved,” but by God Herself. Even when vindictive people spew intentionally hurtful venom. Safe in the arms of Love, I find my peace. Not because I am right, but because I belong to Love. My own blue eyes sparkle again.
And I am ready to head into January with renewed confidence, strength and love.
Wishing you strength and light on your New Year’s path. And a sparkle in your eyes.