Monday, January 17, 2011

To give and to receive

Mostly I think of myself and what I want, what's convenient and comfortable for me. However, I do perform acts of kindness on occasion, flowers for my wife, anticipating colleagues' needs at work, giving rides to friends and acquaintances, letting people in cars turn in front of me or pedestrians cross in front of my car. Once I went out of my way to take a stranger from an airport to another city. (As it turned out, this may have been unnecessary, as there was a shuttle she might have taken; it just didn't occur to me at the time.) But I have been given far more than I have ever given.

And when I broke my ankle in the summer of 2008, I learned what it means to receive gracefully, let myself be helped. The visits in the hospital, the phone calls, the friends who came and sat with me and talked with me and brought me books, who took me places and had a chair and a cushion ready for me ... I cannot pay it back, but I learned to accept it gratefully and look for a chance to do likewise at the next opportunity.

That's what I thought of when I read Brene Brown's moving post at Kind Over Matter on being able to receive.

I also think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10" 25-37). Years ago a friend told me a different understanding of that story. Jesus is asked about the Golden Rule by a lawyer who probably finds it inconvenient to follow. The lawyer then, "seeking to justify himself," asks "who is my neighbor." In response, Jesus tells the story, how the man was lying beaten on the road to Jericho and passed by a priest and a Levite, until a Samaritan comes by and ministers to the injured man. Jesus asks "“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer answers, "the one who had mercy on him." Jesus tells him: "Go and do likewise." What my friend showed me is that "neighbor" has a double meaning. The lawyer asks "who is my neighbor?" The Samaritan was neighbor to the victim. So my neighbor, as this parable says, is not only whom I can help, but who can help me, that we can help each other, if I help and allow myself to receive help.

Note: Martin Luther King discusses this parable to powerful effect in his last speech in Memphis here and here. (About 10 minutes in, overlapping the first and second parts.) According to King, the priest and the Levite probably thought "what's going to happen to me if I help this man," while the Samaritan thought "what will happen to him if I do not help him?" I may have thought something similar with the woman in the airport.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

None of my business

How liberating it is to accept things are none of my business. Once I was nosy and had to be part of every conversation going on around me. And while I am concerned with what's going on around me, to get aware of the situation with family members and friends, to visit with them, to help them or be helped, most of what happens is none of my business. It's powerful, and it's freeing, maybe I can concentrate on the priority. I think I know what should be done, but maybe I have no idea, and my opinion is worth less than a cup of coffee.

(I am reminded of Godard's Masculin/Feminin, where the brunette, like she's being interviewed, keeps answering the boy's questions with "that's none of your business, " and finally she says, to effect, "because I am none of your business.")

I also remember Mary Poppins telling the children "curiosity killed a cat once," and the preacher in the Long Secret saying to Harriet and Beth Ellen " do you know the perils of undue curiosity?" At the same time, why not be curious, why not ask questions, why not wonder? And yet why?

"Curiouser and curiouser," says Alice. Curious and not curious. Ask and don't ask. Can I hold two thoughts at the same time, ask when appropriate and not appropriate, "What's new? How has life been treating you?" My mother used to ask me a lot of questions and I would say, "Let's not discuss it." She could say it for me before it came out of my mouth.

It may or may not be appropriate. As Pooh said: "One of those, in case it isn't."

My, I am confused this morning, time to find something to do.

Afterthought: There is a Henry James story called "The Tree of Knowledge," about a man going to great lengths to keep something from himself. I think of it from time to time, and it still speaks to me, maybe that's me.

"What can communicate tries"

The above words are from a poem by Cid Corman, don't remember which. And I don't know if I can communicate, say what I mean, or even mean what I say, from this living/dying corpse.

Alone and not alone. I remember hearing that F.H. Bradley described human experience as a "circle enclosed on the outside." There are things inside that I know, maybe, but I don't know how to articulate them. And there are things I don't know about you, unless you tell me, and I don't know what you're really thinking, and perhaps it's none of my business.

I generally have a positive outlook, some degree of curiosity, compassion for others and patience. The patience has not been easy to come by. (And some wonder if it is a virtue anyway.) For instance, I was getting frustrated with my daughter for taking so long to get ready to go out to dinner. Just put anything on, I thought, and then it dawned on me that she didn't want to just put "anything" on, that how she looks and her image is very important to her, so I waited. It was that brief moment of understanding, rare for me.

And there are parts of me that are dark to myself. I think of the Johari window, which I learned about in a management class some years ago, that image has always stuck with me. It's an effective model with four rooms: things I know and others know, things I don't know or see that others know about me, things I don't even know that are hidden with me and things that I know that no one else knows and I probably won't reveal. It's a humbling concept, especially with half the field unknown to me at least, the limits of my knowledge, perception and understanding. So everyone's walking around with Johari windows, or known unknowns or unknown knowns.

A good reason for connecting with others, to save me from my bullshit, have I considered this angle, have I forgotten about this that actually means something to me? How does my daughter feel right now? Did she sleep well, is she still asleep, is she cold or warm, anxious or relaxed, or did she stay up much of the night posting on Facebook?

So what do I know?

I'm lucky to be alive and in a warm place and have food and air and water and have support of family and friends, even though I take all this for granted and won't ask for help and have a hard time taking or acting on the help that's given me.

I know the sun will shine in my back door someday.

I know that life flows in and through me.

I know that whatever I've done and what I do today has consequences and I am responsible.

And I know that I know only a little and can say less and have to accept that 99.99999999.....% is out of my control and have to find the next thing that must be done, as Gary Snyder said after his brief detour into the maverick bar, "the real work, to/"What is to be done."

(Do kids still respect the college dean?)