Once, many moons ago, two friends got into a fight on the playground. I cannot for the life of me remember what they were brawling about, but it revolved around a boy and a game of kiss chase and maybe the class parakeet. The parakeet was named Hercules and would eventually get stepped on and lose all his tail feathers. Fifth grade was a brutal place for small aviary pets. But that is neither here nor there. Nor is the kiss chasing with smelly boys just on the cusp of growing strange body hair.
What I remember most is the face flushing stress I felt as I tried to smooth things out between them. I can’t really remember anything other than those emotions of worry and responsibility and fight or flight as voices got high pitched and shriek-ish.
And I remember thinking, “Why do I care?” Even at the age of 11, in a world filled with 1990’s perms and after school reruns of The Golden Girls, I was already trying to run interference when things went sideways.
I’ve always hated awkward situations. I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid them, and when thrust into the middle of them I try to make them better. Even if it’s not my situation or place TO feel responsible for making it better… there I am. Talking faster. Smiling wider. Using my hands and being overly cheerful like, “Hey, look, see? We’re all okay. It’s not so bad. Let’s eat some cake. Here, have my piece too.” It feels like the mental equivalent of tap dancing really hard and really fast.
I’m not sure when the “caring so much” started. But sometimes I wish it hadn’t.
In the past I hated fights. I hated being on the receiving end of disapproval. I hated seeing others being on the receiving end as well. When confronted with someone who was aggressive with their anger, or yelled, or screamed, or lost their temper, I usually tried to make nice at any cost and then if that didn’t work I shrunk back into a corner and literally did my best to become one with the dry wall.
I have never liked that part of myself.
The part that made-nice at the expense of all else.
The part that felt like a coward.
The part that turned into a shell of herself.
This past year has been a gigantic hands-on lesson in overcoming that cowardice. I refer to it as The Backbone Expedition.
(“Oh, look! There it is! Over there underneath five inches of dust and some receipts from 1998.”)
I learned that instead of smiling wider, or tap dancer faster, I can just… not.
I learned that being a nice Christian girl/woman doesn’t mean you allow others to plow over you like an ineffective speed bump.
I learned that peace for the sake of peace is useless.
And just like that 1990’s playground fight and the boys and the chasing and the kissing and the tail-feather-less classroom parakeet, sometimes, it’s just not my responsibility and I have the right to walk away and pull a body-temperature warmed granola bar out of my back pocket, take a seat on a faraway bench, watch the fight from a distance and take a deep breath.
I’m learning that it was never my job in the first place.