Personally…

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On a cold winter day I went into my friend Angela’s office and plunked myself melodramatically into a chair beside her desk. I was drinking orange tea just like today. I was wearing boots just like today. I was battling too-long bangs just like today. I had been late to work, just like today.

I can’t remember exactly what I was upset about, but I’d had my feelings hurt, which always makes me simultaneously sad and furious at the same time. I remember she looked at me with a nonplussed expression on her face. She was drinking coffee out of a pink and purple cat mug. She said, “Nine times out of ten, when people get upset at you, it’s a lot more about them than you.”

I frowned at her, because it wasn’t really what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear, “You’re right! They’re wrong! They’re jerks! They should be covered in honey and thrown to the ants!”

But something about that statement stuck with me. It stuck with me that day. That week. The next year. And it’s still here, rattling around in my head.

That particular sentiment could be interpreted in a way that lets us off the hook. It could be interpreted, “Hey, no worries. It’s their problem, not yours.” I think we can all agree that’s bunk, because we all screw up. We all make others mad, and say things we shouldn’t, and do things we shouldn’t. We’re all, in the end, accountable for our actions.

But she was still on to something very important. We all see life through our own very special filter. And that filter is skewed. That filter is made up of hurts and joys unique only to us. We see things through a pair of glasses tinted by how we feel about our parents, church experiences, marriage successes or failures, jobs, winning, losing, money, love, rejection.

People’s reactions to my divorce has reminded me of that day in Angela’s office. Sometimes it’s not about my divorce. Sometimes it’s about their parent’s divorce. Sometimes it’s about their uncomfortable worries about their own marriage. Sometimes it’s about the limited frame of their life experiences and inability to feel empathy for something they don’t have a scope of understanding for. Sometimes it’s a lot less about me than I ever imagined.

The simple truth is, I’m trying very hard to remember these things. I’m trying very hard not to take things so personally. That’s much easier said than done when coming face to face with very specific judgments and opinions and anger. But then I remember their filters. I remember that I have my own filters. My own triggers. My own pair of tinted glasses through which I dole out  judgments on the things around me. It’s hard. Perspective is darn near impossible when it comes right down to it.

I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I take nothing personally. My heart is too sensitive. I care too much sometimes. But I do remember Angela’s advice from that day. I do try to take a moment, look at the person who is judging or processing or angry with me, and think about where they’re coming from. And sometimes, it’s a lot less about me, and a lot more about the glasses they’re wearing when they look at me.  When I think of it this way, the hurt lessens. The anger lessens. And believe me, that’s what I want. I don’t want things to be about being right, and someone else being wrong. I just want… peace. I want to forgive. I want to move on. I want to focus as much mental energy as possible on happiness and prayer and becoming who and what I’m supposed to be in this one precious life I’ve been given.

I’m thankful to Angela for so many things she gave me during our friendship. Losing her was one of the hardest experiences imaginable. But that day, with me drinking my tea and battling too-long bangs, and her drinking coffee out of her cat mug, she gave me perhaps the most important gift of all. She gave me the ability to turn loose of the hurt. To turn loose of the anger. To realize that we’re all hauling around an immense amount of baggage, baggage that changes the way we process the world around us.  She introduced me to the freedom of not taking everything personally.

And she also reminded me that covering someone in honey and throwing them to the ants would probably end with my getting to know a bail bondsman on a first name basis.

And no one has time for that.

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    Hi. Long time lurker here, but I just had to comment today. This is what I have been trying to teach my eight year old daughter now that the meanness has started at school. That most of the time when people are being mean or just shockingly insensitive, it’s because they are hurting on the inside, for things we don’t know about or maybe can’t understand. It seldom has anything to do with the person whom their meanness is turned on. I think if you can acknowledge, even if only to yourself, the humanity and hurt that another carries around, then it is easier to separate yourself from their lashing out. We talk about how “that’s probably their hurt talking.” But, on the flip side, it’s also not your job to fix their hurt or let them continue to be mean without separating yourself from the situation. Sometimes you just have to give a little distance and let them work out their business.
    Best to you and Jane.

    Like

  2. Serenity says:

    Love this. Leo Babauta wrote a post recently about this inner gem we are all walking around constantly trying to protect. It makes us defensive and grumpy and all other Gollum-like issues (“my precious!). The inner gem is basically wanting others to believe we are perfect, and it’s an illusion. We aren’t perfect, there is no gem. I loved that, too, though I think we all do have an inner gem. It’s our sense of worth, and we’re the only ones who can take care of it. We can’t expect others to do so, and we can’t fault them when they’re terrible at it. 🙂 Great post. And so true – when others react to your divorce, it is not about you.

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  3. Crystal says:

    People are still talking about your divorce? They have nothing better to talk about? It’s somehow shocking in this day and age to end an unhappy relationship? Either you live in the most boring town in the states and your divorce is therefore viewed as the most exciting thing since sliced bread or you’re surrounded by some really pushy, nosy people.

    The next time someone asks you about your divorce tell them you’d love to give them all the nitty gritty details but you’ve been having such a great time you can’t remember them anymore. Then ask them if it’s true they love to be smacked on the bottom while screaming, “Please, Sir, may I have another!” because that’s the rumor going around town.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whitney J. says:

    Its so unfortunate that you would still be questioned about something that is never anyone else’s business in the first place. Our society is too desensitized to recognize the uncouthness of their behavior and their incessant need to know every heartbreaking detail.
    I’m recently divorced, and the cleaving away from my unloving husband was the easiest part. We had a terrible marriage. What was most devastating was the behavior of our friends who will never know the truth and the gritty details because I won’t talk about it. They pick the side of the party who can sling the most dirt and can share every mortifying details of a marriage that should only ever stay between two people. I hate that I had to move, lose time with my child, and survive on a single income in a duel income world. However, the feeling of limitless possibility equals freedom.
    You are so right to express that this is simply a flaw in peoples’ character based on their negative experiences. If anything, it’s sad they have had such jading experiences to make them focus on negativity than to celebrate a road less traveled. Keep on keeping on.

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  5. Jennifer C. says:

    Wonderful blog. I discovered you through a link on Facebook to your article about you experience in Patty Cobb dorm at Harding University. Both of my children graduated from Harding but I had never heard Gertie’s story.

    This blog entitled, Personally, expresses an attitude I’ve tried to have. If I choose not to think too much about what someone says, choose not to over analyze their words, choose not to look for perceived hidden meanings, and as this says, choose not to take things personally then I’m freed from possible misunderstandings that could damage relationships and from lots of hurt feelings. And after all, perhaps what we thought we heard was not what someone was really trying to say.

    I’m glad I found you blog. I’ll be following it.

    Like

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