I’ll Be Right Over Here

“The relationship is more important than being right.” This little bit of wisdom is one of the top ten Mom-isms that my children hear on continuous loop.

In practice, it looks like this: I call my elderly father-in-law at 11:00 to let him know that I will pick him up at 11:30. He seems perturbed, and it takes me a second to figure out why. Gruffly, he says “It’s 11:30 now.” I’m pretty sure it’s 11:00, and I say so, but just to be sure, I look again at my watch, the clock on the wall and my phone. “No,” he is adamant. “It’s already 11:30.”

It’s 11:00. Really, truly, objectively eleven o’clock. But there is no doubt in his mind that it’s 11:30, and there is absolutely no point in my continuing the disagreement, not that I’ve ever “won” an argument with the man. Instead, I tell him that I will pick him up at noon, and he is satisfied. We have lovely luncheon together with the family, and that is the point.

It’s not always so easy. Someone left a note on my windshield last week, written on the back of a Jack-in-the-Box receipt, accusing me of taking up two or three parking spots. “Not cool!” the note proclaimed. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how three cars could possibly have fit in the one marked spot holding my car. But instead of tossing the handwritten missive into the garbage with contempt, which was my first impulse, I folded it and tucked it inside the glovebox. Curiously, there was something about this interaction that I wanted to honor.

It bugged me. I wanted to defend myself, to stand at the curb with the offending note-writer and figure out how, exactly, two cars would fit in that spot, let alone three. It embarrassed me. I like to think of myself as thoughtful, generous and considerate, and this note flew in the face of my preferred self-image. It perplexed me. I wondered what this person had going on in his day that my unfortunate parking job had provoked him to take the time to write the note and leave it on my car. I was disappointed that I had created such frustration, and I was grateful that she hadn’t keyed my car in her rage.

I grew up with the debt/debtor version of the Lord’s Prayer, but this is one of those times when the trespass version was illuminating. The act of trespass is so visceral – physically walking on land that belongs to someone else. As I thought about the verse, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I mentally added the phrase, “because they’re coming.” It’s going to happen. The trespassers are on their way. And sometimes we are the trespassers, even if unintentionally.

This is the challenge of living in community. We will step on each other’s toes – literally and figuratively – all the time.

I broke a toe once when the boys were little, and I remember being astonished at just how many times in a day a busy toddler can step on his mother’s feet. He didn’t mean to cause pain, of course, and I did my best to dance my feet to safety. Even so, the occasional toddler stomp was a small price to pay in the grand scheme.

Maintaining a relationship is not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about the capacity to forgive and to be forgiven, which is much more difficult.

Sometimes, it’s impossible. Sadly, not every relationship is worth the investment. When continuing a relationship means subjecting myself to ongoing abuse, then the best I can do is to cultivate a compassionate stance, from over here. Way over here. I will keep my toes and my children’s toes out of harm’s way, thank you very much. No less forgiving, just a lot less trespassable.

Sometimes inspiration comes from the oddest places, like a hastily-scribbled rebuke from a stranger. But there it is. Trespass is unavoidable. Forgiveness is critical. With that insight, my inner harmony surrounding the interaction was restored. I tossed the note in the garbage.

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Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And serenity in forgiveness.

Friend-Like Strangers

I was thinking about her on my walk the other day, this woman whose name I do not know but whose path I cross from time to time on our mutual walks. I did see her in the grocery store once, but she didn’t seem to recognize me out of context, wearing lipstick and without my defective hunting dog at my side. It’s funny to call her a stranger when I see her regularly, but I don’t really know much about her, other than what the scarf covering her head seems to betray about her health. Several months back, I was happy to see her without the scarf, her thick, dark hair growing back. As usual, we were heading toward each other along a certain stretch of road but in opposite directions, and when we caught each other’s eyes, I couldn’t help but grin and say, “It’s good to see you looking so healthy!” She returned the smile, but then her eyes grew downcast, and she confided that she was fighting again.

I didn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know me. I don’t know her. Even so, I pressed my hands over my heart and told her that I would hold her in my prayers.

I didn’t see her again for months. The other day, as I was running along the stretch where I most often see her, I began to fear that perhaps I might not see her again.

I saw her the very next day. She was wearing her scarf again, but she was outside and on the move. I was with my most faithful running partner (second-most faithful if you count the dog), and I was so delighted to see her that I stopped to hello and chat for just a few seconds. I wish I had asked her her name, but I was too embarrassed. I’m not entirely sure why. There is a real comfort in knowing each other by name, and yet we can bless each other even in anonymity.

Never have I felt more humbled than one evening shortly following Sam’s death – before the “official” meal schedules had been coordinated – when a woman whose name I did not know stood on my front porch with dinner for my sons and me. I recognized her face; our children attended the same elementary school, but hers and mine were all in different grades and classes. She knew how hard it is to get dinner on the table under the best of circumstances, juggling work, sports, and volunteer schedules. She didn’t know much about me, other than that I had been suddenly widowed, and she showed up and offered her own family’s favorite comfort food. Grace personified.

I am resolved to ask my friend-like stranger her name when next I see her, and I hope I see her soon. But there is something about praying for a stranger that draws me into the very heart of prayer. I don’t know her history, the time she insulted her sister-in-law or embarrassed a colleague or broke a promise. I don’t know what she’s afraid of, why she consulted with her physician this week, or her therapist, or her lawyer. I don’t know how her mother abused her, or who her favorite author is, or who she voted for. Which movies make her laugh. I don’t know whether she hurls epithets at her ex-husband, or her kids, or at Jesus, or whether she reads picture books to her young nieces – or to struggling readers in an impoverished school district – every opportunity she gets, or all of the above, and none of that matters. I am not burdened by her offensive habits, and I am not influenced by her status. All I know for sure is that we are on this treacherous and beautiful road together. None of the details get in the way. My judgment stands clear of my intentions. I wrap her in my heart and lift her toward the divine.

On Sunday, I saw another woman whose name and story I do not know. I see her in church, and like my other friendly stranger, I hadn’t seen her in a while. She usually sits alone, often in the pew behind me and my puppy pack of boys. I do not know the nature of her personal struggles, but I pray for peace in our hearts. I turn to introduce myself, but she has left before the final blessing, before I could ask her name.

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Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And the prayers of strangers.