“Adversity introduces a person to himself.”
– Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135)
Anger mugged me bad this week. And like any good mugging, I didn’t even see it coming.
Having been so bore-sighted on nursing my better-half back to health after surgery, I had been his advocate with the doctor’s office; fetched prescriptions; schlepped meals and removed dressings like a champion [although not necessarily in that order]. And when I slept? I couldn’t help but keep one ear open for the slightest moan or groan. Taking a cue from the Blues Brothers, I was a man on a mission…a mission from…ah skip it, you know the line.
Granted, there was other stuff to do like going to work, brushing my teeth, doing dishes and paying the bills. There were deadlines to meet (and a blog to write), but amidst all of that, I soldiered on with unerring purpose. Having been on the other side of being the patient, I get the importance of being the uber-nurse and the benefit issuing from such a singular purpose. For whatever reason, I’m really good at this part.
So in the midst of all that and from seemingly out of nowhere, Rick asked me “What are you doing?”.
The tone of his voice told me he was both frustrated and confused…about something. Even now, days later, the memory of those words still hit me like fingernails on a grade school chalkboard. While struggling to keep a calm external composure, my insides instantly went to channeling a volcanic Ralph Kramden. Except in my version, there was no Alice and it went something like ‘Keep this up and you really will need a hospital. You, of all people, are challenging me on something I’m not doing while I’m managing to keep everything else pulled together?‘.
Within seconds of his question, I felt my teeth beginning to grind as my hands started clenching in rage. I remember telling myself, ‘Fine, if that’s the thanks I get, let’s light this candle – game on’. I was done being compassionate. I had had it with being polite and within minutes, was stoking the fires of an epic argument that quickly reached thermonuclear temperatures, lasting well into the night and into the next morning. How dare anyone tell me, a practicing renaissance man, that I’m the one going off track (or the deep end).
I don’t know about the fairer sex, but for us guys, I think the anger reflex comes out of fear and an off-footed pride that we’re not afraid. Maybe it’s why we never ask for directions. We’d rather be lost and drive in circles for hours than stop at the gas station…especially the one with the big blinking “Maps For Sale” sign in the window. I wonder if it isn’t the same force that makes doctors crumby patients or finds CPA’s who haven’t balanced their own checkbook since 1993. “What are you doing? I thought you said you were going to…”
For as much as I’ve learned about me and the Life I’m in, it drives me berserk when someone outside my head calls me out for having lost sight of my forest for its trees. And all it took to ignite my blazing inferno was one simple question: “What are you doing?”
I don’t really know why, but I’ve always been really good at being a heat-seeking missile when it comes to concentrating on the one thing that needs to happen, letting nothing else get in the way of my objective. It’s a rush when I click into battle mode. Somehow, some way, I will stay on it and take no prisoners in my quest to conquer; to win the one battle that makes defeat everywhere else irrelevant. Body counts? Scorched earth? Hurt feelings? No big deal in the heat of battle, right? I’m on a mission.
Problem with all of that is I’m not Alexander the Great and my life is not the Battle of Gaugamela. I get into deep obsessive/compulsive trouble when all I can see is one tree as the rest of my forest fades into the mist.
I know, I know…it’s all about ‘balance’.
Debbie Ford, in her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, speaks to this. She talks about how, if you’ve struggled with being a raging %itch (or %astard) – all the time – all your life – then maybe the key to your mental health and happiness lies in embracing the fact that you are one. It’s not all that you are, but it is the one thing you’re afraid to name. Calling parts of yourself for what they are gives you permission to move on to forgiving yourself for thinking it was a curse. With that accomplished, then you can re-purpose your ‘flaw’ into a useful tool. The imagery that helps me is the ‘tree’ taking its rightful place in its forest.
Was there ever an instance when you had a crooked mechanic hinting you might want to get a 2nd mortgage to pay for what was going to have be done to get you back on the road? You knew you were getting played. So being the right time and place, you went ballistic on him. Letting that part of you loose to go out and play can have its’ advantages. It can be pretty liberating to show someone tempted to take you for granted some big teeth. Dogs and mail carriers have been working that one out for years.
My point, is when everything in my Life is calm and going according to plan, ‘balance‘ is no problem. When it isn’t, I continue to struggle with my reflexive instinct to focus on the immediate threat in front of me – and only that threat – until the danger has passed.
I don’t know where this might find you, but having first apologized, my challenge this week is to readjust my dials; to be grace-filled when someone cares enough to ask, “What are you doing?” In my case, it wasn’t the attack I pegged it to be. It was Love. I was being reminded that there’s a whole woods full of trees out there waiting for me to rejoin them.
Humbled at needing to be reminded that the question was a gift, I reprise the old skin bracer tag-line, “Thanks, I needed that”.
My goal for myself this week is to tend to my own Soul with the same insight and wisdom I bring to my patient.
I am grateful (now) at having been reminded to check my pride at the entrance to the woods the next time I’ve got a tree to face.
“Hi, my name is Forest, Forest Dan”.
Photo Credits: Tree No 1 and Tree No 10 by Myoung Ho Lee. Lee is represented by Gallery Zandari, Seoul, Korea (prints are available through Lens Culture). Ralph Kramden: CBS (1957-1971); “She Can’t See The Forest For The Trees” by John Grimsley: http://www.roswellphotosociety.org/galleries/gallery.php?gallery=20; Oak Tree in North Field by Bob Embleton: http://www.geograph.org.uk/reuse.php?id=2783047 (© Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence); The Forest For the Trees (path): http://doloresayotte.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/the-forest-for-the-trees-september-4-2010/; “Thanks, I needed that” (John Goodman) Mennen/Colgate-Palmolive
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