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