Sunday, March 04, 2007

lenten journal: be kind

Somewhere towards the end of her sermon this morning, Ginger quoted Philo of Alexandria (not to be confused with Philo of Pawtucket):

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
The words have hung with me all day. When I sat down to write tonight, they took me back to a conversation I had with Chef on Friday, as we were getting ready for a monster weekend and already feeling the pressure. At this point, it looked as through I was going to be responsible for preparing a meal for 260 people on Saturday with only one of the dishwashers to help me. I was frustrated, not at Chef, but at the Owner, who appears to see labor costs as The Thing You Cut First and Often.
“You’re right,” Chef said, “and I can see things from his si—“

I interrupted him and went on with my lament. He tried again.

“I understand. All I’m saying is I can see where he’s coming from.”

With indignation I said, “I have no need to defend him. I’ll get the job done regardless of his abuse. I’m just tired of it.”
In the eighteen months I have worked at the Inn, the Owner has been around maybe four of them. He has homes in two other countries and spends much of his time traveling. He calls in daily to say what he has to say. I’ve never had an extended conversation with him and the brief talks we’ve had have all related to my job. I know a few of the details of his life, but I don’t know him at all, nor him me. I see how he treats his employees and how he relates to people depending on how he views their stations in life, but I have never heard him explain why he makes the relational choices he makes. I have an image of him, but I don’t know what his questions are, what his struggles are, what battles he is fighting. Every time he makes what I consider to be a bonehead move, or an insensitive one, I allow myself to feel justified in writing him off. I don’t want to feel like he matters, or that he has a perspective with even the least bit of credibility. And then Ginger had to go and say:
Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
Everyone. That means the Owner, too. That means what I perceive as his deliberate insensitivity has roots in a past I know nothing of, the way my determination to make something or somewhere feel like home grows out of my rootlessness, or my passion to do a great job comes, at least partly, from my own crippling yet dogged sense that love is earned and I have to keep proving myself. That means I have to make room in my image of him for moments when he might wish he were not the way he is, or that he might want the same kind of acceptance and approval I’m looking for.


Ginger often says of me that I’m pretty longsuffering, but if I think something’s not fair I dig in hard. I don’t want to hear any explanations. I don’t care what the explanations are. There is right and fair and just and there is – well, there is no other option. When I allow myself to be the Aproned Crusader at work, I see the Owner’s actions as unjust and unfair and I can quickly allow myself to not give him any identity other than the one who is responsible for it all. I don’t want to give him a chance to be human in my eyes. If I allow myself to see him as a person, then I’m forced to come to terms with the way in which my attitude towards him is incompatible with the faith and ethic I profess. Hey, wait a minute – how did this become about me?
Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
The first therapist I ever saw said, “Remember in any situation there are only two things you can control: what you do and what you say. You can’t change anything else.” I can’t make the Owner treat people differently. I can’t control whom he fires or lays off or pretty much anything else he says or does. I can decide whether or not I spend time at work talking about him. I can control where I draw the line as to how I respond to what I see as injustice. I can choose to be kind to him, to work to humanize him in my eyes so I think of him as more than a caricature. I can decide to stay true to the person I want to be regardless of what he does.

I can be kind.

I don’t foster any rosy fantasy that if I can just befriend him and he realizes I really want to get to know him that he will become a different person. I don’t even think Philo thought that about whoever was driving him nuts when he said those words centuries ago. Changing him is not even the point. It is about me: what I do, what I say, what I feel, how I live.

Ginger also quoted Teresa of Avila this morning:
Christ has no body on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
I find it easy to be the hands that carry the soup for dinner at church, or the feet that move to help Pedro. But to be the eyes that see the Owner with compassion or allow him to be humanized in my sight is hard, hard work.
Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.


Anonymous said...

I've been convicted by wisdom. Thank you for your honest post. It went directly to my heart, and I will be a better person for it. Your struggle is my struggle, brother.

Olivia said...

Thank you for this poignant, deep-hitting, and well-written post. Very moving…the true meaning of kindness.

Anonymous said...

For years now I've lived with and taught a system of personal and spiritual growth called The Enneagram. It really helps to understand yourself and others. And just like you, I sometimes think "Damn!" Because I've got no excuse for not treating everyone with understanding and compassion, and you're absolutely right - it's bloody hard.

don't eat alone said...


Ginger introduced me to the Enneagram years ago. I'm a Seven -- the Enthusiast -- and she is a One. I tease her that the Ones are the people who come up with systems like this to help explain everyone else. ;-) It's a really helpful tool.


Anonymous said...

Define 'battle'. One's 'battle' may be over whether or not to wear Prada rather than Gucci, or a black Ferrari rather than a red one.

I'm pretty sure Pedro's battles trump the Owner's.

don't eat alone said...

The way I heard the quote spoke to the battle we all fight internally -- with our pasts, with our wounds, with coming to terms with ourselves in thi world. Worrying about the Ferrari is symptomatic of a deeper battle, I think.

Pedro certainly knows more about desperation than the Owner, but one is not more human than the other.

I'm working hard to remember than.


Sr. Heather said...

Wow. An incredible post. I admire your willingness to make yourself vulnerable in this public forum, especially with struggles like this. One of the prayers that I often pray is, "God, please help me to love X, because you know he is hard to like!" I often find that when I relinquish my struggle to love/like/be kind to a difficult person, it becomes easier.

About 8 years ago, I had one coworker who was absolutely impossible, and I know I wasn't alone in thinking this, but his rage seemed to fall on me more than on anyone else in the office. I would feel physically ill when I pulled into the parking lot and saw his car. But I started praying that prayer every morning on my commute, and the divine - and human - response was amazing. I stopped trying so hard, and things became much easier. Now, I never did end up actually liking the guy, but I got some insight into his Great Battle(s), and I did find that I had love for him.

Best to you in your Great Battle, and as you cope with the Battles of everyone around you.

Magdalene6127 said...

Milton, as always, I come away from your post with words to chew on, spiritual nourishment. I am thinking about a boss I had many years ago, whom I have generally dismissed as "crazy/ mean." Now I am thinking again.



Scott said...

You're right, Milton: "Damn."

So, is this what conviction feels like?


spookyrach said...

Dang ol' Ginger. Geeze.

*scuffs the dirt with toe*

Lori said...

Well crimeny! The first time I read this I wanted to print multiple copies, hand them to some folks around me and say "See! Look! This is how you need to deal with me dadgumit!"

Then I read it again and had to make multiple copies for myself to post about the house.

Ditto Spooky

Anonymous said...

It was important for me to remember this post today. I linked it.