Hello Family and Friends,
The best thing about September is my birthday! … (30 second dance party- shake, shake, shake…pause… break it down now…. To left….to the right now…do an old school dance… now back to your regularly scheduled email)… And that is about how much celebrating I actually do. I spend more time sitting around contemplating if my life is where it’s supposed to be. Am I a conscious global citizen, an effective Christian, a caring friend, and a good person? Has my life improved since this time last year? Am I making it in the world? Is this it? If I was gone from this world, what would you say about me?
I recently heard the story about Alfred Nobel. Does that name ring a bell? He was pretty successful at making explosives and he invented the dynamite. Unfortunately, one day his brother was killed in one of the explosions and people had mistakenly thought Alfred had died. Alfred’s obituary referred to him as the “Merchant of Death”. Could you imagine finding out the truth of what people thought about you and how they defined your life? This wakeup call provoked him to create a legacy that honored the good in the world. People around the world are honored with Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace. Does his name ring a bell now?
I’m not saying that the only measure of doing good in the world is by getting a Nobel prize or some other form of external recognition. I have many measures in which I evaluate my life every September: Did I right a wrong, did I turn something bad into something good, did I handle conflict in a way that I could be proud of? I used to hold grudges for at least 6 years. Now I’m down to letting things fester for about 6 days at most. I know I’m not perfect; I can still be pretty mean or dismissive… but I’m not as mean as I used to be. This year brought a couple of shady characters into my life that really tested how I treat people when I’m extremely angry with them. Here is my list of things that I learned (and actively working on):
- No matter how right you are- and how wrong they are- it is never about them. One thing I’m learning about relationships and conflict is that it is all about you. You never know what the other person is going to do, how they are going to react, or what they are going to say. But you do have control over your own behavior. I had A LOT of opportunity this year to proactively decide how I wanted to treat the other person despite the possibility of negative retribution. How I actually treated them was a different story… but I tried my best. One thing I always tried to ask myself was, “what type of person does this situation reveal about me?”
- It is never completely about what you are fighting over. Yes, each side has clear arguments and specific things that happened. One thing I learned is that we bring a lot of emotional baggage- that has nothing to do with the situation- to every conflict. The other person may unknowingly touch upon an insecurity you have. You may have biases or judgments against that person. You may be stressed about something else out of your control so you fight with those who are close to you over little things. Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself what else is bothering you besides that person.
- You have to live with yourself after it is all said and done. Most conflict will end relatively soon. You have to live with yourself- not the other person- at the end of the day. You have to answer to your conscious. The other person does not answer to you. You can either replay every negative thing they said and did, or, you can take a good look at yourself and how you were wrong and how you contributed to the problem. The people who care about the play-by-play of the altercation are looking for gossip. The people who help you see how you can grow and learn love you. But only one person has to deal with the aftermath and the consequences.
- If you don’t feel some emotional burden while being the “bigger person” there is a good chance you are not the bigger person in the situation. If you are older than 5 years old, apologies should hurt a little bit. It takes a lot of tension to destroy a relationship, so it should take some work to put it back together. I think we skip heartfelt apologies and genuine/ sincere hope to resolve things because: 1) we typically don’t like to feel any worse than what we already feel so we avoid such acts, and 2) we don’t know how to sincerely apologize and truly forgive so we let things end without dealing with feelings. “Sorry” and “I forgive you” don’t erase pain and other emotions that led to their necessity. As strongly as you felt when you were angry with the other person is as strongly as you should feel when you forgive/ ask forgiveness from that person.
- You are not over it if you keep telling the story.
- Reality TV sometimes gets real. There is a scene in “Little Women of L.A.” in which two women apologized to each other after a serious disagreement they had. I was very moved and touched because it was very genuine and because I personally don’t give and receive “sorry” enough. One of my favorite quotes is, “sometimes you have to accept the apology you are never going to get.”
- Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not doing or saying the right thing. Forgive yourself for being childish. Forgive yourself prolonging the conflict and not walking away. Forgive yourself for putting up with their crap for way too long. Forgive yourself for being the bully. Forgive the other person for being an asshole. Forgive the other person for not saying sorry. Forgive yourself for not doing your best to end on a good note. Forgive the other person for not reciprocating your efforts to make peace. Learn from it and move on because forgiveness is never about the other person. They say un-forgiveness is like drinking rat poison expecting the rat to die.
So, do I think I’m making it in the world? It doesn’t always feel that way, but I theoretically know I am. I’ve decided that I’ve made it in life. I am living the epitome of a life well lived. I woke up this morning and I had the opportunity to decide what I would do with my day. Life could get better; there is always room for more joy, more laughter, more ice cream, more good conversations, more Netflix binges, more love, and more money in the bank. I figured if life isn’t good enough today then it probably won’t be good enough tomorrow (unless I secretly win the lotto). I don’t want place all my hopes that there is a tomorrow or a next birthday month for things to get better.
As you know, this is the 9th out of the 12 letters that I committed to writing this year. Like I said, it doesn’t always feel like life is beautiful but it does when I write to you. The point of these letters is to remind myself that I have so much to be grateful for. Most importantly, I’m grateful to know that there is at least one person in this world who cares to read my monthly ramblings on life. It has to be true because you made it to page 3 of the letter. I really like it when I get a response from you because sometimes it’s the only time I hear from you all year. I even keep some of the things you have written to me because it is so profound I wish I would have written it myself.
Lastly, I realized that I haven’t left enough quotes: It’s funny how day by day , nothing changes. But when you look back , everything is different. When something like this happens, you find out what you’ve been working for all those years.