We interact with strangers, family and friends within the foggy haze of what’s going on behind the scenes in our lives and theirs. Stuff in other people’s lives that we don’t know about unless we sense it, ask about it or experience it first hand.
In this video scene, Kevin Costner gets to the core of what we deal with in our most basic human interactions. It’s when we are knee-deep in our own crap that we might forget about our kid’s crap, our co-worker’s crap, our spouse’s crap and stuff-that-isn’t-our-business crap. It’s no wonder we can’t always effectively communicate with the ones we love.
Other than finding ways to creatively injure myself, I’m not naturally good anything. Always a benchwarmer and never on the court, I often complain to my dear hubby that I don’t have the skills that come so easily to him and my kids. That being said, I do have one unique talent and it has everything to do with what we are talking about today.
I see people. I see more than what meets the eye.
I can assess their spirit and quickly learn their life story by launching into an interrogation posed in a way that the person doesn’t even realize what’s happening. It’s not unusual to see me peppering a person with questions all the while becoming completely enthralled and absorbed in who they are. Don’t be nervous if you feel like I’ve done this to you–it’s such a part of who I am and don’t even consciously notice when it happens. I love to study friends and family alike with a genuine interest fostered by cat- like curiosity.
It would be arrogant of me to call this a natural ability, because it’s a practiced talent that I’ve purposely honed with years of trial and error. Kinda like going out and hitting a bucket balls on the driving range everyday–a person gets better with repetition. I discovered early in life that it was in my own selfish best- interest to be able to read people and know the crap that they were dealing with so that I could dodge the balls and reap the benefits.
This skill has made me a natural negotiator, peacekeeper and empathetic know-just-enough-to-be-dangerous faux therapist. Even as a fifth grader, I knew that by asking the right questions, recognizing body language and understanding what wasn’t verbalized, I could read parents, teachers, and friends to quickly identify hot buttons. I could sense a general mood in order to find ways to keep people happy, off of my back and most importantly—ensure that they were not mad at me.
How many times have you thought/worried that you were the cause of another person’s bad mood? That feeling of being unsettled and rattled as you poured over the last interactions, “Was it something I said?” “Did I do something wrong?” “Why are they so distant? Did I screw up again?”
I’ve been right there with you. It took a few years and some near-fatal mistakes before I finally figured out that most of the time, people’s bad moods, disengagement and sadness typically had NOTHING to do with me.
What? I’m not the center of the Universe? Who knew!?!
This new insight was liberating and dangerous all at once. Liberating because I could banish the worry that I was the source of their irritation. Dangerous because I thought that since I could see people, that I could also fix people. Like I had been granted Super Power Fixing Skills that even Napoleon Dynamite didn’t have.
Friends, family and strangers—no one has been safe from my helpful tendencies and many of you reading this have been my unsuspecting victims. Fortunately, you guys are also extremely forgiving and have given me more than enough second chances to get it right.
And this is the part I’ve been trying to get to. All these previous paragraphs of pontificating and really–I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for the times you let me into the most personal and private places in your life–I treasure the relationships that have given me the gift of knowing you better. I especially thank you for the times you kept me humble, reminded me that life is bigger than what’s right in front of us and for the times you read right through my own crap.
• Thanks to the young woman letting her kids run wild at the Jiffy Lube while she talked on the phone.
I wanted to take your baby and hold her while you tended to your wild toddler. I wanted to give you all of my cash so that you could buy yourself a shirt and pair of jeans that fit…but, old age and acquired wisdom stepped in and somehow, I refrained from a fake laugh and condescending piece of advice. Thank you for teaching me that a warm smile and a kind, genuine comment about your pretty baby was enough to momentarily take your mind off of the fact that you have no help at home, that finances were tight and that you worry about your busy, active toddler. The amazing smile you gave me back to me taught me volumes about the resilient human spirit and I’m forever thankful for your life lesson.
• Thank you to my dear friends—strong, brave individuals who wouldn’t hesitate to hide a body for me if I needed it.
Thank you for teaching me that it’s okay to ask what’s wrong but not be offended when you won’t tell me. That it’s okay to offer help and not be hurt if the offer is never called upon. Many of you are taking care of kids and parents and households and classrooms all at the same time with just enough energy to fall into bed exhausted at day’s end. Maybe you worry about the future and how you’ll handle your kids leaving the nest. You might struggle with the guilt of spending just another minute away from the family you love because you are too busy providing for them at a job that demands your full attention and time for longer than the 40 hours you are paid for.
You need my understanding, not whining, and certainly not my crap! Most importantly, I’ve learned that you will call me when you really need me and I’ll be there with my own shovel and backhoe if that’s what it takes.
• For the stranger behind the check-out counter, at the airport, at the grocery store, on the other end of the phone at the IT Help desk.
You are dealing with things I will never know about all while putting on a happy-ish face for the public. You project and deliver your sapped spirit and negative energy over to me without being aware of it. The hanging shoulders, tired eyes and smile that says nothing and everything all at once. I’ll accept your negative energy with understanding and empathy and give you back any bit of positive energy that I woke up with that morning–I usually have some to spare.
• To my family: Scott, Tanna and Dane
For the times when I’ve given too much of this positive energy away… purposefully; to friends, strangers, and even people on the other end of the phone that I can’t see. I’m sorry. Sorry that I’m zapped when I get home and too tired to speak or engage or be present because what should have been reserved for you was given to someone else. Sorry for the times that I’ve disappeared into the bathtub looking like something that should be cast in the Tales of the Crypt only to emerge a cleaned up version of The Walking Dead.
Of all the people I should see, you are often the folks that I don’t.
To BD: I’m sorry that I completely missed, for the tenth time in a row, that you just got your hair cut and that you are still the handsome man I married 22 years ago.
To Dane-man: I’m sorry for the times I mistook your 13-year-old irritability for a poor attitude when it was really just a bad day in the trenches of the middle school battlefield.
For Tanna Banana: I’m so sorry that I didn’t hear your real words the first four times you told me you wanted move to a college closer to home. I’m supposed to be good at this and some days I can’t even read the people I love the very most.
I said at the beginning of the Imperfection Series that these stories would be lighthearted and any lessons learned would completely accidental. I do apologize for this heavier subject, but something/Someone prompted me to write this today and I couldn’t do anything else until I took care of it.
We wage internal and external battles every day and feel the isolation and helplessness an insurmountable problem can divvy up.
Look around, be aware, read people and know that you are not alone. The happiest smiles hide the deepest pain, the loudest laughter suppresses the hurt, and those tired, weary eyes are just looking for a little understanding.
We are all dealing with a lot of shit here.
Up next: Favorite Things: Reader’s Challenge. Come back on Friday because I have a fun JOB for my friendly readers.