Saturday, September 22, 2012

re-learning old lessons

The other day I was discussing how angry I was at someone, and instead of blindly agreeing with me and letting me spending the next 20 minutes in full-out complaint mode, they offered a different take. It's all about control...why are you letting someone else control you? Because that's what it is. By eliciting that emotional response, they are controlling you...


And I knew this. Didn't I? When I was in my 20's (oh wow, did I just say that? How could that be so long ago?) so in my late 20's I lived in Detroit and worked at a small community organization in probably one of the few non-predominantly black neighborhoods in the city. I met so many great people, some of whom I still keep up with today. But there was nobody like Beth Budd. Beth was a 70-something year old, young-at-heart woman who I got to know in the short time I was there. She had me and another intern Raúl over to her house once a week for dinner. Raúl worked for the husband of my boss, and we were friends from he day we met...even lived in the same building with he crazy landlord. He, too, was from the Chicago suburbs, only on the Indiana side (eew.) anyway....

So we really got to know all about Beth. She was a filipino american who immigrated to our country with an American soldier in the middle of the century. She married for love, but when she go here, she found that his picture perfect idea of a wife and hers did not match. She glossed over the details, but her choice of words hinted at more. "got away...left with nothing...dropped everything...finally happy again."

So each week we ate her Filipino food, sometime great, sometimes ok. We got used to her cats--she had lots of them that ate right alongside us in the kitchen. We listened to her stories from the Phillipines and sometimes ate her treats that some family sent over from the islands. We looked at old pictures with her. When she reminisced about her woman-of-the-year award through her Filipino-American organization, she gave us each a mug that celebrated the event...I still have it.

It was a great time. Each week she took care of us like we were her own. She had a son, I think, but I don't think he was around much.

So one day she'd stopped by my office and was visibly upset. I dont think she'd come there to tell me anything, I just happened to run into her. (my office was in this HUGE catholic church that she attended. And those cats are in church like all week long. Most of the people I dealt with went to mass everyday.) So she proceeds to tell me how her upstairs tenant hadn't paid rent in two months, and that when she went to inquire, the woman cussed her out, pushed her out the door and slammed the door in her face. And that when she'd come home the next day, some of her beloved plants on her porch had been turned over.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!?!?! Stop the madness. We talked awhile and I can't even remember what I said to her, because inside I was on FIRE.

I called Raúl, and it was on. That b**** did what? How does someone our age mess with an older person? Who does that? And especially to Beth? We were gonna go over there and handle this. But what about her boyfriend? Raúl said not to worry about it, we'll deal with him too. We were both LIVID. After work. Yeah. After work we're gonna go over there and whatever goes down is going down. Nobody f**** with our Beth.

As the day went on, I felt increasingly uneasy. I did not like how i was thinking, how angry i was. This didn't seem like it would end well. What else could we do? We couldn't let someone treat her like this?

And then I had this epiphany of am I any better of a person if I react in anger and hatred? Who am I to play the role of judge and jury? Then I thought about the word "reaction." RE-action. It's essentially taking some action, good or bad, and putting it right back out there. Someone makes you bitterly angry? And so you, REacting, begin spreading more bitterness and anger. Does that make sense? What if we chose not to REact, but to act according to our own beliefs? What if I said I want to live in love and peace, living by a personal constitution to do no harm, to do my best to make other people's lives better through being kind, respectful and pleasant? What it I live by THOSE rules, and whenever someone or some situation confronts me with something that does not align with those, I have to draw inward to find that sense of being?

It was a huge moment of clarity and self-reflection for me. Yet at age 41, why am I still needing these lessons? I guess we all need to be reminded of things. After this "revelation" of sorts I had back in Detroit, I wrote this on a piece of paper: ACT / REACT. Just a little reminder. I carried it in my wallet. Maybe I need to do that again. Little reminders of who I strive to be.

Here's Beth:

Here's her plant haven on her porch, although this doesnt really show how many she had. Nicest porch on the block, hands down.

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