He sat silent, his hand on the door handle, steeling himself. I waited, knowing how hard this was for him. We did this often. He took a deep breath but he didn’t say, “Do I have to go?” Instead, he said, “I wish I weren’t scared.”
My mother heart leapt into my throat, but I knew he could do this, and I knew I needed to put my heart back where it belonged and help him. I laid my hand on his leg and gripped it with comfortable firmness (because I don’t like to cry when someone shows kindness during a tough moment either) and said, “You know the magic trick, honey. You find what you’re looking for.”
We were sitting outside the middle school at ten minutes to 8 and he needed to start another day. We’d moved halfway through his sixth grade year from a comfortable rural school to a school with half again as many students in his own grade as in the former K-12 combined. He had a profound learning disability and had received wonderful one-on-one instruction for nearly three years, but when we moved the new administrators determined that they couldn’t come close to providing the experience he had had, so he was placed in large classrooms with everyone else. It was instructional culture shock, social culture shock, and occurring as it did in the midst of an emotional move, it was emotionally unsettling as well.
At home we talked about finding what we seek in life. I listened as he described what was hardest for him and then we talked about other things he might see if he looked at daily situations like paintings with many things going on outside his first focus. We counted his blessings (it makes me cringe to say that, but it was more me helping him count his blessings, not doing it for him.) We worked out plans for how to find the positive in his daily life. I gave examples of how I was seeking the positive in our move and he tried too. Valiantly. But it was still hard, and when rough, inner-city kids shoved him into lockers or yelled at him, he had to figure out how to be tough without being angry. It was a daily battle for a tender-hearted boy.
I had homeschooled for 8 years. I was not afraid to pull him out of school and do it again. Many, many days I considered it when I drove home, turned off the car, and stared out the windshield sightlessly. I chose not to withdraw him because I knew there was something he and his 4 younger siblings needed from this experience. I didn’t know what it was or that it was only to be 4 months (that would have made it a lot easier) but in retrospect that 4 months made our next move – across country – much easier. They had to learn how to be tough. They also had to learn how to find the good.
Yesterday I read a short essay on travel in which the author (Michael Wilcox) mentions this perspective. It is a willingness to see the best instead of the worst. It makes adventuring a rich experience instead of a frightening or disgusting one. We come away with much greater understanding when we are willing to take people on their terms instead of our expectations. And we are more comfortable in the process.
I read another short essay yesterday outlining some of the same ideas, and was intrigued by a comment (#21) by a woman who had been calm enough to listen and therefore been well-prepared to serve when a need suddenly arose. Little was said by the God who inspired her about why she was to take this particular path, but the quiet voice was persistent enough to be compelling. And she listened, with a disposition to be pleased and was rewarded with a well of personal capacity.
A disposition to be pleased, a willingness to be quiet and to see the divinity in others, in situations, and even in that big, bad, ugly, evil world may be the most important step in becoming perceptive, and perhaps it’s even more important than guarding against being taken advantage of.
What interferes with our disposition to be pleased? Fear, anger, recrimination, judgment, … or perhaps just having settled too comfortably into a sense that we perceive things aright already. What did my son find to be pleased about? His teachers were kind and loved how open and sweet he was, in a rough school lots more people had learning disabilities and didn’t know it (so he wasn’t the odd one anymore), and when he didn’t allow himself to be afraid or angry he found that people stopped pushing him around – and within time he went to school resigned but stronger.
For all that I love activists, and within me there is an advocate always willing to be roused and handed a hand-painted sign, perhaps our best first self-observation is, “I wish I weren’t _____ (scared, angry, defensive, too sure of myself.)” Perhaps in that moment we have our best chance at a disposition to be pleased, and being pleased – finding pleasing situations in surprising places – will therefore be that much more likely.
How would life be different if we had an adventurer’s outlook?
When has a willingness to be pleased made you more aware of all that was going on in a situation? Have you also found greater peace in letting go of your righteous indignations? And has a willingness to let a desire or a commitment work within you ever paved the way for something really wonderful down the line?