This might be my longest title in the history of titling blog entries. But, hear me out.
As my Facebook friends & followers know, I recently received a verbal attack by someone with whom I have no daily relationship. I mentioned this in Facebook and got considerable support for my decision to exercise empathy for the person. I do not know the person very well, nor do I socialize with the person. But this person made a decision about me based upon inaccurate information. The person then lashed out at me and made numerous fairly negative comments to me about the person’s opinion of me.
Please note, I have deliberately avoided here and elsewhere, using the person’s name or gender; or describing the context of the person’s encounter or acquaintance with me. I harbor this person no ill will, and do not wish this person to suffer because I choose to reflect on this person’s statements to me and to try to feel empathy and grow as a result. So, please, do not ask.
This blog is intended as a journal of accountability for my efforts to learn not to complain. Sometimes I just talk about my day, and the little joys which I encounter. Other times, I wax verbose, as my son might observe. He has articulated a preference for essays which don’t spell out the intended message.
From time to time, though, I have to grab a situation by the scruff of its neck and glare at it. Such a time presented itself with the words spoken to me by this individual. The communication can only be considered a complaint in the most basic sense of the word.
After recounting mistaken beliefs about something I had done and the presumed, though inaccurate, intent that this person ascribed to me, the castigation of me began. “You are a sad and obnoxious woman,” this person proclaimed. “You foist yourself off on people. You barge into their homes.” More flowed. This came by text. To each of these blasts, I replied, “Have a nice evening!” I had attempted to explain the incorrectness of the person’s understanding, but left off after one attempt. It became clear five or six messages into the tirade that none of my texts would be read. So I copied my wish and pasted it time and time again. “Have a nice evening!” Finally my son suggested that I simply delete the chain. I did so, and we continued our drive from the train station. We had a nice authentic dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I only spoke once more of the incident.
“You’d have to be a pretty unhappy person to blast someone like that,” I remarked. My son just looked at me and smiled. My son’s like that; he smiles in the quiet spaces between the sorrows of the world.
I didn’t think much more of the incident. I posted my comments on Facebook, which kept the facts cryptic and exhorted everybody to take care of each other’s feelings. “Ugliness can mask depression,” I said. “People who behave hatefully usually hide their pain behind their vicious words.” Something like that. I meant it, too. I used to talk to my favorite curmudgeon about evil. “People in pain come across as angry,” I would say. “You’re too good, honey,” he’d reply, patting my knee.
But today, on the first day of a new year, I got to thinking about this person’s condemnation of me. “Sad and obnoxious”, the person labeled me. “Foist yourself off on others, barge into their homes.” I wondered how many of the poisoned arrows hit their mark.
I don’t think I’m sad. I’ve gone through some tough times, with health challenges, a divorce, and a ten-month period of bleeding money while I set up housekeeping here in California and looked for a job. But sad? I test that word, like a sore tooth in a poorly kept mouth. I don’t think so. Maybe the person meant “sad” in the sense of “pathetic”, beneath that person’s standards of how people ought to behave. Maybe so. I judge myself by a different set of rules, so I’ll have to demure.
Obnoxious, I have no problem claiming. I do tend to harp on what I believe. It’s not necessarily always a functional approach to life. But given my values, I don’t seem to have much choice. Lately, I’ve tried to find middle ground with individual people. But the big issues — caring for the downtrodden and abused; rescuing the forlorn and the abandoned; First Amendment rights; the need to protect children — I blast these loud and long. One thing’s clear: If you don’t like my politics, you’d certainly find me obnoxious. I have never talked politics with this individual, though; but I have a social / political blog and I make my views on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness unmistakable.
“Foisting myself on others” might also be a fair characterization. That could especially be so in the last year. If you leave your home and all the familiar faces of a three-decade long life, you can either wither away or darn well make a few new friends. I’ll take that jab right on my Irish chin. I’m not sure what this person knows about my proclivities in this area, but I’ll own them. I cherish every new person in my life, too. Anybody who doesn’t want to know me has the right to walk away. I don’t take prisoners.
“Barging into other people’s homes,” though, that’s a puzzler. The person in question invited me into the person’s home once. It’s a lovely home and I admired it heartily. I never went back because I never got invited back, nor has this person seen me in anyone else’s home since then. We don’t socialize, as I said; and I don’t go to many other people’s houses. I spend most of my time in my own house or at work. If I get invited somewhere, I go. But people’s lives are busy. I spend a lot of time alone. I certainly never barge into any one else’s house.
No, I think I’m innocent of this charge. I hold my head high on this one. I go where I’m asked. I stay home when I’m not.
Like most people with mild tendencies to be obsessive, I internalize every condemnation. All my life, I’ve tended to thrash myself with other people’s whips. However, I’ve let go of that more and more as the last four years have weathered me. When you get rejected as soundly as I got rejected, your wounds need serious nursing. While cloistered, I smeared some of that Triple-Antibiotic on all the old wounds. I’ve done a lot of healing.
I still live in a glass house, but I’ve installed shutters . When the rocks come, I don’t flinch quite as badly. I’ve got a bit more protection. But when the volley subsides, I go outside and study what’s been hurled at me. I try to find the kernel of truth underlying any complaint. I can learn from the negative as well as the positive. If you never listen to criticism, you’ll never have anyone’s viewpoint to compare with the picture you’ve painted of yourself. Only under siege can we learn to rise above the complaint of others.
If I have a New Year’s Resolution, it involves just that: rising above the complaints of others. I can’t even say that I forgive the person who railed on me. I let the complaint against me stand. I examine my life to see where I can become a more authentic human as a result of the input. Then I continue living, still striving, always, to surround myself with love and light. At the end of the day, I realize that everyone’s story has many layers. We never know what the other person feels, or what their day has held, or who kicked them as they walked through the front door that evening, tired and harried, longing only to be cherished.
It’s evening; and a hoot owl calls to its mate across the meadow. The clean clear dark of a Delta night lies outside my window. Life continues.