Monday, May 18, 2009

ancient habits

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I was brought up in an atmosphere that counseled or enforced an unwillingness to accept praise. If those I might have expected to support and praise me were unable or unwilling to do so, if such praises as they did offer were belied by their actions, and if things felt as if whatever comforting rug was occasionally offered was constantly being pulled out from under me, then I was, in fact, not praiseworthy ... and I learned to distrust the praise and comfort that might be offered elsewhere.

I see my growing-up reaction as understandable, but I see the deeply-ingrained habit as mistaken. A hardened habit is like a hardened artery ... not good for the blood flow. It is one thing to find the defensive skills that will address the slings and arrows that life can offer up and quite another to imagine, knee-jerk fashion, that life is lying to you ... even when it is.

It is all, as the Buddhists might say, another bit of ego and ego, however precious, simply cannot provide ease and peace. And so, like some child setting out, I think I will practice on wobbly feet ... saying "thank you." I'm not sure that I can revise this hardened artery in this lifetime, but I will practice. "Thank you" ... and mean it... attempt to drill out this clogged approach to things and let the blood flow more freely. Naturally there are people who do or say nice things simply as a means of flattery or as a tool for eliciting thanks or indebtedness from others, but even so ... "thank you."

At my age, clogged arteries are a real threat. :)

Last night, I took my latest kidney stone to the hospital emergency room and while I was sitting there, waiting my turn, a woman in her fifties sat down a couple of seats to my right. Across the way from us was a soldier dressed in fatigues. He and his wife had a little boy who needed attending to. The woman in her fifties started to talk to the soldier -- thanking him for his service, and then saying that her son had been in Iraq and had had both his legs blown off. The son was doing well in rehab, the woman said, playing wheelchair sports, among other things. The woman didn't cry (she had probably cried before) and she was apparently doing what she could to get on with the facts life had provided her with.

But, since her story was new to me, I wanted to cry. I too have sons and they too might have their legs blown off. And just imagining that -- just imagining, not experiencing -- made my heart ache and my gorge rise. On what bookshelf of satisfied solutions can you place such an experience? It defies all nostrums. No dodging and ducking can provide an escape. It is a scream beyond a scream, a fact so factual and in-your-face that ... that ... that ... what can you say or do?

It is hard to say "thank you," but I will practice.

Who thanks whom? This, to me, is serious ... not some religious or philosophical bullshit. Who thanks whom ... honestly?

I will practice.

What other honest choice is there?
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