Rabbit Holes: August 15, 2016
Jack starts third grade tomorrow. We’re all a little nervous and a little excited about it. I’ve been resisting the urge to buy myself a calendar and some new desk supplies. Emma and Mark both started back today, so Jack and I shared a companionable working day. Over our carrots and PB&Honey sandwiches, I read to him Glennon Doyle Melton’s letter to her son, Chase, the day before he started third grade. It’s so good. I wish I’d written it. The letter, Brave is a Decision, is a call to compassion. It is a call to notice the kids who are being left out, who are being teased, who need help. And more than just to notice: to do something to help. It is an acknowledgment that compassion is hard.
While I read, Jack nodded, agreeing, mulling it over. Then he asked, “What if you’re the one being left out?”
There it is. The double-edged sword of compassion. If I am feeling vulnerable, compassion requires a bravery, a vulnerability, that can seem intolerable. Yet tolerating someone else’s pain is equally untenable.
My boy is not the most popular. He doesn’t excel in team sports; he’s not a teacher’s pet. He is a fearless climber with an uncanny sense of balance; he’s clever and well-spoken around adults. He created his own superhero; he all out opposes princesses. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t get picked first; I’m pretty sure he gets teased.
What if you’re the one being left out?
I told him that I was left out a lot. That I didn’t really fit in and that I was teased. I told him it hurt, and that I still remember some of the incidents.
In ninth grade, my first year at a new school, I played volleyball. One of my teammates lived in my neighborhood and drove to school, so my mom usually wanted me to get a ride home from practice with her. I hated asking, because she always made it feel like an imposition. I think of her every time I pass her house, even though she no longer lives there.
I vowed that if I ever got a car, I would always offer people rides—before they could even ask. And I have done that—31 years and counting. Fun people and friends, but also boring people and those who annoy me. (Not you—I always enjoy you.)
“Kind people are brave people. Because brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.” --Glennon Doyle Melton
So sometimes I avoid doing something because of fear.
But what about when it’s not so emotionally fraught? And if it’s something I generally like doing?
In his response to my blog preview, Bill considered the motivational aspect—avoiding pain/loss being a stronger motivator than confronting those things to pursue a goal/pleasure. Over lunch, Jack described inertia: we’d rather stick with the thing we’re doing than change to the other thing—even if we’d like it better.
“I’ll have to tell you that retirement has allowed me to cut way back on forcing myself to do stuff I don’t really want to do, even the but it’s good for you stuff. But not all. This business of secondary gain is tricky, isn’t it?” asked Bert.
Indeed. Most of you who responded pounced on the difficulty of things that are good for you--exercise being mentioned most frequently. And, I loved Taryn’s suggestion that “it has something to do with an enforced routine, making it innately objectionable” Amen, sister. Points to Bethany for this: “I think the apostle Paul would chime in about not doing the things you desire to do, and doing the things you desire not to do.”
Yes to all these answers.
To muscle past the inertia, the tyranny of routine, the sheer boring repetitiveness; there has to be (Bert’s) secondary gain on the other side. And it’s not always the knowledge of what the gain will be. Sometimes it’s the potential of a gain; the promise that the journey that began with that first step will end somewhere better than I started. Knowledge is the first, not the last, step.
Dr. David Katz is a nutritionist I recently heard interviewed about fad diets. The biggest take away for me was this: “Knowledge is not power. It’s the prerequisite to power. It’s knowledge that you apply that’s really power.”
Applying knowledge. This is how we circle back to pick up the issue of bravery. Acting on our knowledge requires bravery. Whether that’s including an outsider or foregoing the beer or slogging through a writing project—we make the decision to brave the fear, the change, the tedium. And we trust the mystery.
My new favorite podcast is 99% Invisible*, which explores “the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” During a recent episode about the 200 acre scale model of the Mississippi River Basin, a guest rejected Mark Twain’s assertion that the river lost its grace and poetry the more intimately he knew it. To the contrary, remarked Stanford Gibson, a hydraulic engineer with the US Army Corps of Engineers. “The idea that science demystifies the world—I just don’t understand that. I feel like the deeper down the scientific rabbit hole I go, the bigger and grander and more magical the world seems.”
Mystery doesn’t occur to the passive. And since I know this—I have experienced and trust this—I apply that knowledge to force myself over the humps of inertia, difficulty, fear or monotony. Or, as Roman Mars concludes in that 99% Invisible episode:
“Knowledge creates wonder.”
And that is why I keep showing up to meditate. That’s why I keep showing up on the yoga mat. That, my friends, is why I keep showing up at church. Because the deeper down those rabbit holes I go, the bigger and grander the mystery becomes.
I can’t learn this for Jack. He must struggle, be left out and teased, develop compassion and the bravery to act upon it. But I can be there when it’s hard.
I can be a witness to the wonder; a witness to the Mystery that makes the struggle worthwhile.
*A good first taste would be to watch 99% Invisible’s host, Roman Mars’s TED talk about the horrible design of city flags.