Thursday, January 21, 2010

My way or...

I've been a bit of a slacker here this week, as my kids would say.  The days pass with their usual mix of interesting encounters and my shortcomings revealing themselves to me.  Sigh.   For example, yesterday I was going to post about this conversation I had with a female clerk in a video store, how she felt no hesitation in telling exactly which movie I should choose, which were 'cute', which were 'hilarious,' and which 'people our age' would get a kick out of.  Though on the outside I believe I was polite enough, within there was some consternation, some eye-rolling and not a little judgment that she--a mere video clerk--would assume to know what I (who probably had a decade on her, and--I told myself--a decade more education) would find entertaining. I got exactly that far when I realized how horribly judgmental the whole inner monologue was, and how quickly I began rationalizing that judgment.  And I couldn't bring myself to write about it.  Now until I actually felt repentant.  Which I don't quite.  But I want to.  I want to feel that everyone I encounter is exactly like me--not less important, not less smart, or educated, or...or anything.

There are often those kind of short encounters in our lives.  In mine, anyway.  Encounters where I am certain I know better than the other person...well, just about everything.  A couple of days ago, as I sat in a doctor's waiting room, a lovely little (and I do mean little--I think the husband was about 5 feet, and the wife smaller) Mexican couple came in, and asked if the women behind the counter spoke Spanish.  Neither did. Then they closed the glass window for a moment and conferred (which reminds me, why on earth do they sit behind a window as if they're dealing with state secrets or don't want to get infected?  It's very off-putting--certainly I felt that way for this couple).  Then the woman closest to the window began speaking loudly to the man, who was the spokesman for the couple.  Loudly, like, "What is your name?"  Then she said, "El nombre," which even I know means number.  Across the waiting room, I muttered "Wie heisst du, bitte?" (excuse the spelling, there isn't the correct key on my keyboard!) which is actually German for 'what is your name?'--something I always do when confronted with Spanish.  I know, it's ridiculous, but I know German far better than I do Spanish, so that's where my brain goes.  As I was rooting around in the 40 year old Spanish files for "Como te llamos?" (again, excuse the spelling--I can barely speak Spanish, let alone spell in it!), the clerk continued to raise her voice.  Finally I spoke more loudly, and they all turned toward me.  Unfortunately, I'd just about run out of my Spanish phrases, unless she needed to know the time or their ages.  I should have kept my mouth shut, because among the many, many things I am not, a translator is one.  But I just knew I could solve the problem.  I knew when someone else was making a hash of it, I could smooth it out.  They all turned back to themselves and solved the language issue without me (the woman got her daughter on the phone who speaks Spanish).  I had just complicated things by butting in.

I really hate that I'm like this.  I remember my mother, a life-long elementary school teacher, not only speaking to children in stores or on the street, but actually correcting their behavior.  Butting in, is how I saw it, when it embarrassed the heck out of me.  Later, when she was doing it to MY children, when I was right there, in charge of the situation, it made me stinkin' mad.  She just knew, my mom did, that her way, her approach, her knowledge was best, right, important enough to run over others.  And...I learned this from her.  And I hate it.  I hate that my instinct is for judgment, not mercy.  You know those sayings like, "My way or the highway," or "If Mama's happy, everybody's happy," well, I really hate them.  I hate them because I have the sneaky suspicion that they're true for me, and that makes me ashamed.

You see, I don't really believe that my way--to raise children, to cook, to write, to breath--is the right way.  I don't believe that I must be happy or I'll make everyone around me happy.  My way is far too often just like me--selfish, sinful and bent toward judgment.  There is only one right way and that is not mine.  But hopefully, slowly--slowly as a snail moves across the sand--my way is becoming the right Way.  The more I surrender (even the internal judgment in my head), the more His Was will be worked into me.  May tomorrow find me more full of grace--toward all I meet.

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