Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Loving the Death Bot

When we first moved to North Carolina four months ago, we did so with little money, no jobs, and an incredibly strong faith that we were doing what we knew we were supposed to be doing, all outward appearances aside. So far, no regrets! Shortly after arriving here and in accordance with our pre-move plan, I went and rounded up a job that would provide some income while we sorted out the other details of being here. The benefits of this are, of course, income, as well as the opportunity for a seasoned people-watcher to have a virtual national geographic special of co-workers and guests by whom I am constantly reminded of the complexity of the human journey. Some of them are even becoming friends, little by little, like the prince taming the fox, awaiting the secret. The down side to having a joe job, other than the amount of physical exhaustion, would also, however, be having a virtual national geographic special of co-workers and guests by whom I am constantly reminded of the complexity of the human journey.

Last Friday, we spent all day moving furniture into the new home. By Friday evening, exhausted, and hours past our children's normal bedtimes, I sat down to play with my children a little before finally putting them down for the night. And when Wonder Girl (age 2) came running up to jump into my lap, I first noticed a HUGE lump on the right side of her neck. She had been working through a little cold for a few days at that point, but wasn't acting all that sick or like it hurt, so we decided to wait out the night before getting her checked out. Saturday morning, after returning our moving van, I was sitting in the office of the local urgent care. We signed in, and Wonder Girl went to check out the toybox.

With three older brothers (if we count Wonder Boy as older, which he technically is by just over 2 hours), she immediately picked up a hard, plastic, evil-looking black robot/transformer/terminator-looking action figure-- the kind I don't even let my kids have in our home-- and which had a button on the front that, when you pushed it, made it pretend to walk while red lights flashed in its eyes. CREEPY. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why she liked that silly robot death machine better than some of the other toys in the toybox, but she did. "Yook, mama, it's a PIRATE!" She carried that silly toy around, every now and then declaring it to be a pirate, which from her experience (having recently watched Muppets Treasure Island) was a fun and funny and delightful thing to be!

And after a while, she went from mechanically pushing the buttons and making it do its death march, to holding it and cuddling it, and reading books to it. Pretty soon, she was even expecting me to get in on the action. She ran up to me, pushed the red-eyed robot up against my chest, and grinned. "Wuv it, mama! Wuv da pirate!" Amused by her innocence and irresistible cuteness, I did a lame snuggle, trying to appease her sweet nature. Apparently, my feeble attempt was not enough, and she pressed the death bot harder into my chest-- "Don't you wuv it, Mama? WUV IT!!" So, with all the sincerity I could muster, I snuggled and cuddled her silly toy. "Oh, yes!" I said, "What a wonderful pirate you are! I love this pirate!"

Sitting there in an urgent care office on the weekend, knowing I had to be at work that night, sleep-deprived, stressed out, and unsure of what was wrong with my baby, I snuggled that silly macho toy, declaring to love it, and watching the way my daughter's eyes lit up as I did. The funny thing?-- The more I snuggled it, the more I actually liked that toy, and the better I felt. I am 100% positive that "cute, cuddly, snuggly, and loveable" were not words that the designer of that toy would have thought of when designing that toy. I'm sure their intent was not to foster practice for loving relationships, or to give toddlers the chance to "wuv" and cuddle a new favorite toy. But for her, that didn't matter, and allowing myself (even for a few minutes) to get into her world, where the only intent that matters is her own, I did kinda wuv her pirate, and just for a little while, it was real.

We could learn a lot from a two year old.

I think part of why my relationships with my co-workers (most of them, anyway) aren't as complicated and prone to annoyance might be that usually (not always, but usually), I see the best in them. If they say something stupid, or do something annoying, or act in a way that doesn't on the surface seem to be kind, I do my best to assume positive intent, even if the outer expression of that intent comes in the form of a red-eyed, evil-looking, hard, plastic death bot. Most of us have good intentions, after all, especially when we feel that we are important to others, and that they're interested in seeing us for who we are.

And even if they had bad intent and were trying to frustrate or hurt me, what good would it serve to acknowledge that with either anger or hurftul behavior of my own? What good would it do to tear someone down, to insult them, to play mean-spirited pranks? Would it improve the relationship? Would it solve the problem? Would it make me feel better? What if we allow ourselves to imagine, if only for a few minutes, a situation in which someone DID call you out with specific intent to hurt you, and instead of being hurt and reacting from that hurt, we simply assumed (incorrectly) that it wasn't intentional, continued on our way with a cheerful spirit, and refused to hand over to anyone else the strings and buttons that control our emotions? Would we feel stupid for not fully understanding their ill intent? Or could we simply continue to be at peace with a positive assessment of the situation? What if, instead of getting pissed off, we simply let it roll off, continued to see that person as an overall good person, and refused to get caught up in the emotional drama that permeates our lives (not just at work, but in every sphere of our lives)? In the end, what is our goal? To avenge every wrong, no matter how small? Or to live a life that is fun and vibrant and fully alive? Can we be okay with being wrong about someone else, even if it means our own lives are happier? Can we simply ignore the hard, plastic shell and red, glaring eyes, and love the death bot in spite of it all?

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not always a ray of sunshine. I have my moments when I am full of rage, disappointed in humanity, and convinced that another person is a waste of space. I'm human. But I'd like to think I have many, many more moments in which my love for others outweighs my displaced anger, which assumes that they took my power from me, when in fact, I have to give it away to allow someone else to make me angry.

I guess what it all comes down to, for me, is intent. God's intent (for you to live a life that is constantly frustrated by others, or for you to live an empowered life that is full of joy and meaning), your intent (revenge and hypercriticism, or acceptance and love), and the intent of others (which often, in cases where someone else is coming out against you, boils down to their own self-protection amidst inter- and intra-personal uncertainty).

So what's it going to be? Can we be that patient with others, forgiving of them as we'd hope them to be forgiving of our own shortcomings? Do we stick around long enough to know the fox's secret?

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

When the outer is throwing us off, messing us up, and keeping us frustrated, remember that The Essential is only found with the heart.

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