Yesterday, I had a case of the blues. Honestly, there’s no good reason for this. Maybe I was fixating a little on the craziness of the world, my “should have done” list, or all my recent screw ups. Maybe I just had too much time on my hands on a Sunday afternoon. Losses loomed large and sometimes I stare too long at negative stuff. I’m a menopausal woman who had an extra itchy case of hives all over my neck this week, you all. I’ve been a pitiful woman on a Benadryl drip. “Pitiful” is just flat out how I roll some days, ha? I believe I may have texted a friend this week, “Life sucks and then you die.” I was laughing when I did that, but I think I’ve painted an accurate picture of my recent shortage of awesome sauce? Luckily for me, when I invited myself on a Sunday drive with my cute boyfriend, he complied. We ended up at the Boat House up in Cicero, which happened to be featuring the live music of a guy named Alex who nicknamed me “magenta pants” and then he played “Ring of Fire” for me while I drank a delicious sangria next to Tom. I sang along with Alex and the crowd gathered around us for over an hour. The poor guy played well past his contracted time, because the evening was glorious and the folks gathered kept throwing money in his tip jar and asking for more. Tom’s solicitude was thoughtful. I don’t think he really knew the extent to which I was struggling this week, but he was helpful and kind all the same to humor me with that spontaneous Sunday adventure.
Ah, kindness. It’s sort of like giving someone an interest-free, yet powerfully priceless loan. It’s a handful of encouragement, and love. It’s the antidote to loneliness. The kindest people I know seem to have the innate understanding that everyone is struggling. There’s not a person on the planet who isn’t carrying a cross. Yes, even that perfectly coiffed gal driving the decked out Lexus. The same goes for the handsome Dad pulling out of the gated community down the road whose son is the all-state quarterback. Yep. Them too.
It took me decades to grasp this very basic concept. A lovely (and totally badass) new friend and I were chatting this week over coffee about how this fact was revealed most powerfully for the two of us in the same way– on a retreat at church. For both of us, it happened to be a CRHP retreat. That’s very Catholic thing. In fact, I think they’ve re-tooled it and invented it again under another name. The basic construct though was that a group of women would gather together for the weekend to pray and (hopefully) grow in their faith, while another group of women gave the retreat. Those amazing folks on the “giving” team would share through a series of talks, their personal life experiences and the challenges contained therein. I’m confident that religious denominations all around us have similar terrific offerings. I encourage you to try one if given the opportunity. Inevitably, what was ultimately revealed is that the Lord is phenomenal and amazing and He can always find a way to turn our hot messes into a road that leads us back to Him.
These women were often authentic and raw. To glimpse what is genuine is such a freaking awesome gift. They were highly educated professionals, homemakers, waitresses, and every other walk of life one can imagine. Often, the folks who had inspired in me a little envy when I sat behind them at mass each Sunday would stand up and reveal the heaviest and most ridiculous crosses I could fathom. Some had lost their parents as children, others had lost their children as parents, some had been the victims of abuse, there was infertility, debilitating depression, cancer, and even unspeakable violence. Yet here they were, telling me about God’s love. I was blown away. They were struggling souls, just like me. It was eye-opening. That first retreat really did melt my armor, and I found myself casting aside judgments I had made that just evaporated once I realized my ignorance.
All this seems worth sharing today, because I’m a little gotten by my own weaknesses, and my prayer list at the moment. It contains the names of friends for whom the following are current realities: C has brain cancer, D had a kidney removed, C is fighting breast cancer, D lost his brother to suicide, T is fighting ovarian cancer, G is dying from colon cancer, M and K are fighting depression, M just lost her dad, R is helping his mom transition to a nursing home, P has a chronic, progressive, uncurable disease whose name escapes me, J is reeling from divorce, L has an eating disorder, B is losing her cancer battle, D lost her husband to Covid, D is fighting depression, C has a lifelong chronic disease, W has been deployed to a dangerous part of the world, M had a 2nd stroke, C got a scary diagnosis, and E has leukemia.
You guys, this is not the entire list. These are simply the folks at the top, and I feel honored that I’ve been asked to pray for them. I’d bet if you asked the people around you about who in their lives need prayer, you’d find yourself with a similar list. Prayer is incredibly powerful, and I’d urge you to get in the game if you aren’t yet.
Here’s the thing…sometimes we can do a little more too. I got a complaint this week about one of the men on this list. It seems that he was being an impossible PIA. My dear friend, (the plaintiff in this case, ha?) sounded a whole lot like I often do. Whiny. “He’s difficult, and he doesn’t return my messages! It’s so rude! I mean apparently he’s too busy playing golf to reply to me. I’m so over it!”
Knowing more of the evidence than our “plaintiff” here, I replied, “Listen. I’m not saying you should let anyone take you for granted. Before you say or do something you might regret, try approaching again, without the edge in your voice? What if you give him the benefit of the doubt?”
Not wanting to say more than I should, I felt that was the best I could do. After all, I was asked to pray. This does not equal permission to share a private struggle with others.
I’ve mulled this situation over and I consulted with some wise, practical friends on how to handle difficult people. What it comes down to is this. We’ve simply got to pause, and take a deep breath, and remember that life is fragile and so are the people living them. We are Christian, therefore we are called to BE THE LOVE to whomever shows up in our path. We must suspend our own egos, show empathy, and be kind. That, my friends, is how we help others find Jesus. God is love.
I’m not suggesting all the schmucks displaying contemptible or base behavior deserve our kindness. I’m often “insufficiently refined for the situation” myself and my utter lack of patience leads me to be abrupt, or to feel that a little condescending sarcasm can be justified. It’s not.
Look, I’m not suggesting you and I should always tolerate rotten behavior. I highly doubt that with my temperament I’m even capable of it myself. Also, I’m not advocating for toxic positivity. You know what I mean, right? It’s not normal or good for us to expect ourselves or others to “be positive” all the time. That said, I’m working towards living a life where I can be at the very least civil to even the highly objectionable behavior on the grounds it might merely be triggered by pain, and not egocentricity. I’d like to be a kind person. Yes, even to jerks. Do you know why? Because mean is the easy way out and I’m not lazy. I am a kind person who is deeply in love with Jesus, and grateful to God for His goodness.
And so, now, I am circling back to that Johnny Cash song I requested last night. That guy was a broken man too, but sheesh, he could sing! June Cash might have written her famous song about falling into a forbidden love with the man she eventually married, but she was right about one thing. Love is a burning thing. There’s no doubt about it. It can drive us to greatness, if we let it.
“Act in a way that tall those who come in contact with you will go away joyful. Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God.” –St. Faustina