On July 7, 2021, my greatest cheerleader, most enduring audience, loving critic, incomparable supporter, and most beloved mother, Jane Cook, passed away from this life. Life will never be the same. Writing will never be the same. The following are some pathetic attempts at thoughts on her passing, in the knowledge that words can never express what we feel with great loss and great love. As I wrote the following, I thought of others I loved who have passed and those I love now and foolishly hope will never die. Friends –Seize the Day and let those you love, know it – right now. Jane
#1 Your Love Is Still Here
A lot of people died today,
but only one was mine.
A lot of people passed away.
I wonder, which were Thine?
I know not what is at Life’s End.
A lot of people can pretend,
that Death is simply Heaven’s Bend;
but no one truly comprehends.
All that I know?– You were my friend.
And I shall strive to live the part,
Your love created in my heart.
And I will trust, through all my tears,
that your Love still is here.
#2 I Only Know Now
And do not say to me, “It will…”
I only know what is no longer now.
And do not tell me “It will get better…”
Today I can only live in this moment,
that this bleak Finality “is”.
My eschatology veered sharply from yours,
the moment that my Some\body died.
The End Times are upon me
and I will live with ashes on my soul
in a world that cannot bear the sight of
the ashes I long to wear on my head.
If only the world could see the black armband
constricting the muscles around my heart.
Some\body died today; Some\body who cared for
and was cared for by me;
that first and ultimate person,
who made the “I”, in “me”, a “We”;
that “We” is now forever and ever lost.
And like a limb lopped off of my being,
the ghost of remembrance of what used to be,
gives me no joy.
Encouragements of what I might be able to do someday
without my lost limb,
give me no comfort.
Loss is all. Loss is now.
You long to leap straight and with daring ease,
back to the past of memories,
or to the future, which you believe,
is free of sorrow and heavenly.
Be free in knowing,
I do not begrudge you, your need or your worldview.
But please do not offer it to me.
It is a poor substitution for my grief.
Death for me, has brought endless ending,
and Now, is only dross.
And in my loss,
the emptiness and lack of meaning,
is all I can hold on to.
I cannot see the shore, until I have drowned,
and all I can cling to
is what made me feel safe,
and gave Love its meaning
for me, for us.
I have lost the one voice that’s been inside,
my head, my heart, for all these years.
Please keep your platitudes and thoughts you mean to cheer me.
I will, however, grateful be, if you would silently,
endure with me my tears.
Time has finally condensed the story,
constricting like a deadly boa,
to Only Now.
The Now is the ache of the battering ram of emotions,
the unbidden memories that spell “no more”,
the gaping holes in my heart,
the “what ifs” and “shoulds” and “could haves, should haves, would haves”
… if only.
Oh yes, with time, wounds stop seeping,
and may, in time, become scars.
Yes, duties and needs will stop my weeping,
but for now, my strength is bleeding out.
And in these lost and mournful hours,
I can only know Now, in my heart.
For the You that was mine, and the life that was “ours”,
for me, in life-left, left me ever alone,
from the moment for me, we were finally apart.
Going forward tomorrow I do not know how,
and your memories are slicing me through.
For today, it is true I may only know Now,
Yet one thing I do know — you loved me,
and Oh! How I loved you.
I will always miss you Mom, and I wish I could tell you that again. I will always love you, Mom and I wish that I had told you that more.
First in a Series of Incremental Sight-Changes : How to Be Proud, Without Being Prideful
By Jane Tawel
May 8, 2021
About a year ago, I began to recognize this phrase I said to people I was close to, and that I said to them fairly often I think, as something that I assumed was true, but in actuality was an off-brand. The phrase is: “I am proud of you”, and I said it as something that seemed good but was, in fact a trued line that had gone slightly askew. So, I began to try to see how my use of this particular phrase, and my feelings of this particular sentiment, and my expression of this particular kind of love, could be examined more closely. And I have found, often to the chagrin of my pain-center and not as a boon to my pleasure-center, that one should never examine something closely if one is not willing to change and be changed. The cocoon can be such a safe, closed space to stay in, and emerging has always meant one of my wings gets dinged; sometimes rather badly.
My greatest learning curve in everything has been my relationship with my children, and so it has been with the idea of my “being proud” of them. But anyone can learn some of the things I call “incremental sight-changes” through other relationships. I have learned much, and examined with no small degree of pain from change, in many of my relationships — with my husband, my friends, my co-workers, my parents, teachers, and Carl and John, two unhoused men I have known, just to name a few. To examine means to learn. Sight must have an object to see. And love must have an object to love. And when you love someone, really, really love them, you try to see things through their eyes, hear things through their ears, feel things with their feelings, and walk, at least a little ways, alongside them in their journey. So, for the past, oh, about a year, I have been walking a ways with the idea of “being proud” and trying to shift my point of view closer to the Golden Mean of True Love.
I now have four adult children and it occurred to me, oh, maybe about half a year ago, that they don’t really want me to be proud of them. So I stopped. Or I tried to stop anyway. At least, I stopped saying or writing things in public forums like “I am so proud of _________(fill in blank with specific child’s name)_______. Because what I began to realize is that by saying I was proud of something they had done or had become, I was taking at least partial credit. By being proud I was saying “this thing about you, is because of something I have done, so I’m going to make it also about me by being ‘proud’”. And that just became a flawed way of thinking for me personally. It became, for me, wrong on so many levels. I suppose it would be just as flawed for me to say that I was “proud” of Carl or John, my unhoused, un-jobbed friends for spending their money a certain way or for the new sign they made to attract drivers to their cause.
One of the Great Revelations of all spiritual pursuits and worldview masters, is that we are all unique individuals, and also all part of each other. We are parts, and we are parts of The Whole. We may willingly and gleefully share in the pride of another individual, whether that is by clapping for someone we love, or posting a quote by someone we admire, but in reality, we also share as part of the Whole. We also take part, although often unwittingly, in the foibles and errors and sins and grievous bodily or mental harm done by “that other person” to other persons. Without that recognition of our part in the bad stuff that happens to others and the bad stuff people do to each other, and unless we empathize with all and take into ourselves the “otherness” of the other in all its spectrum of good and bad, we can’t honestly grapple with what it means to “take pride” and “take part” in someone else’s life. My examination of the idea of being proud without being prideful has taken me a tiny step closer to the sort of humble love that I think is true love — the True Love of humble and great people, saints and sinners alike; and the True Love of the Eternal, and the humble changing and Universal Cosmos; and the True Love of a humble Natural World and the Natural Order; and the True Love of the humble servant love of The God Who Sees.
I am learning not to be proud of my children. First of all, a sort of side note here that may seem like a sidetrack, but won’t be, I hope. When they were growing up, I got to home school my four kids for a long, long time in an environment where they could learn without being graded or judged for how well they learned. It was one of the greatest revelatory journeys of my own life, in personal, intellectual, emotional and spiritual ways, ways truly too deep to measure. And while very few parents and families are as privileged as I was to be able to afford home schooling their kids, and then trust that if a kid is learning, they don’t have to necessarily be compared to others in order to learn more, this attitude was something I tried to let effect my teaching later on in traditional school environments and also to encourage my children when they entered what we called “regular school”. And furthermore, even if I hadn’t home schooled I hope I could have eventually learned this important mindset change: What someone, especially one’s child, accomplishes should be first and foremost about what a person or that child FEELS from the accomplishment, not what a person, and especially a child GETS from the accomplishment. Which brings me to the first “Sin of Pride” — The first sin that pride leads us to commit is loving the praise from others and the products or promotions we get, rather than being present in the moment of learning and loving, and being completely immersed in how awe-some it feels to experience the journey of discovery. Feeling proud suddenly whisks us from the immediacy of joyful celebration in discovery to analysis and storage. We take pride and let it rush us to the exit door, where we can hoard the experience, trying to keep the awe-some feelings for a future rainy day. Feeling pride is like taking constant selfies in life, rather than seeing what is happening in your life, right in front of your eyes.
The second great sin of pride, maybe especially for me as a parent, is like a pyramid scheme. It is often, unbeknownst to victim and parental perpetrator, an act of sabotage to take upon oneself the glory for what one’s child has done. If you are not a parent, think about a time that you shared in a co-worker’s accomplishment, even though they did most of the hard work. Or if you can’t hark back to when you were a child, think about a time a boss took credit for something you did and then damned you with faint praise by saying something like, “I couldn’t have done it without Jane” (Darn right, you couldn’t!) As to the parental pride, we usually quite subconsciously and innocently do this. And sometimes, frankly, I think that “said-parent” does the “I am so proud of you, kid” thing in order to make “said parent” feel better about the job she or he has done as a parent. (I think spouses or partners do this with each other too, and that is a whole other ball of wax that can lead to a wonky relationship, but I will assume a reader can discern this by comparison and experience. I know I am.).
This kind of pride in a loved one’s accomplishments feels as if it should be good, but here’s the thing — I know all too well, that the yin of pride has a yang of regret. Everything I have felt proud of that I observe in my children, has an equally strong reversed feeling of regret at all the mistakes I have made. Mistakes that have saddled those same beloved ones with emotional baggage, or physical insecurities, or intellectual burdens, or spiritual quandaries. And when you get to be as old as I am, with as many wonderful and amazing adult children as I have, who still are as absolutely and completely human as I have ever been, you realize that even the mistakes you make with people you love (adore and love more than you do your own life) — your mistakes and sins are part of their lives, too. And those mistakes, ultimately, need forgiving. Your children need to be allowed to forgive you, just as much as you need to be allowed to forgive yourself. True love can’t exist only on the fumes of pride; it takes regret and forgiveness as well.
The flip side of the pride coin is the regret side, and any honest person in any kind of relationship will have to at various times admit to both. The fact that any one still loves me, and has retained enough “good” to be proud of from who we are together, is as miraculous as the fact that anyone has forgiven my errors and survived my sins against them. Now if I could love myself enough to replace my pride with forgiveness for my sins against others, self, God, and the world, that would be a way to see true Grace. The thing is, it is only Grace that has allowed my children, of all people, to retain the good things and the certain parts of them, that I am apt to be proud of.
It is helpful for my own growth as a seeking human being, to accept that just as it is the grace of God, or the incredible luck of a Universal Luck of the thrown dice, that my children have survived the world of woes and very, very scary, no good, bad stuff things that parents can’t protect them from or control in the world or in their children’s lives; my very lucky and grace-kissed children, have also survived me, and they have weathered and soldiered through their parent’s own brokenness, and sinfulness, and just plain “oopsy-so-sorry-about-that” mistakes. And if their surviving and even thriving despite my sins and my mistakes is a gift of God’s grace, then all the amazing wonderful things they are and have and do accomplish, are all also from that same source — God’s grace. And so it is with my boss. And your co-worker. And your friend. And my husband. Grace has gotten through the barriers of our pride and egos with a humble presence that defies our own pride in accomplishments. Grace is the glue that makes us all One. Grace is that which by appearing weak, becomes strong, and can be the mitigating force against false pride. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving without a hint of recognition. Grace is the open, welcoming arms of a God that asks us all to enter into their Circle.
So, the second sin of pride is this, not recognizing God’s Grace in everything. We Midwesterners used to say, “there but for the grace of God”; and I have tried to keep this as prayer whenever I am empathizing with someone else in pain or sorrow or need. It is God’s grace alone that I am me, and not that poor person, whether he is victim or perpetrator. Being grateful as opposed to proud, for something I have or am, means that the glory goes to others and to The Great Other. Being humbled and humble, means I am becoming more a part of the whole of humanity, more whole myself, and more “holy”; for holiness is above all, humble and humbled.
As Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 5:45, “the rain and the sun fall on the good and the evil”. I can thank God for all the many small mercies of grace in my children’s life, and also thank God that by grace, my children and my God will forgive me for all the errors, “sins known and unknown”, that have hurt others, and especially hurt the very people I love most in the world. And when someone hurts me, or hurts the planet, or hurts another human being, I can humbly say, “there but for the grace of God”. And when someone needs something, and I have much more than I could ever need, I can stop my pride from getting in the way of opening my own arms and hands, and without a hint of pride, give freely with a heart full of “there but for the grace of God”.
This humble acceptance of the grace of what we have been gifted and what we share in common, not in what sets us above and apart, this is what tempers pride. In that very same verse, Jesus says, that even if we don’t understand it, if we accept that God’s grace and Goodness are for all humans, all the Earth, all of us and each and every one of us, the “good, the bad, the ugly” (and the mean, the broken, the plain icky, and even the most trying, irritating people of all — the parents); if we can with humility accept that God’s grace is for all, then we can “show that we are children of Our Father, Who is in The Heavens” — and the God that also lives in each of us. God is beyond our pride, since He is beyond even our greatest ideas and understanding. In accepting Who God is, then I can also accept that everyone is, in a sense, also beyond my own petty pride and beyond my own greedy understanding. To put away, to “shoo off”, my need to understand God and yet, still love Him; and at the same time to try, not to understand, but simply, with humbled love, to “walk alongside” another human being from his or her point of view, in that place in my soul, is the beginning of freedom, and the beginning of wisdom; and in true freedom and wisdom, resides True Love. Letting go of the pride of understanding means I am humbled enough to be awed, rather than proud. And being awed, by God, the World, others, my partner, and for me, being awed by my children, is how I come closer to be a “child of The God Who Sees, and a part of the radically loving and Whole Kingdom of The Heavens”.
Whether parent or child, the Third Sin of Pride is the double-edged sword of “the sins of the ancestors” passed down versus the “the future belongs to our children” passed forward. We seldom want to see the bad “stuff” we have as being passed down, as Exodus 34:7 says, “to the third and fourth generations”. But we also often balk at giving credit to our ancestors for our healthy but random DNA or for the third or fourth generation hand-me-down virtues and character strengths. Four children later, and I have learned that those we influence, want to get their own credit for what they accomplish and that if I am claiming too much pride in them, then I am taking a percentage of their credit away. This is true for spouses, friends, bosses, students, partners, and true especially of our children. As a child it has been true of me, as I have explored those sins and virtues I know to have been passed down through blood, genes, personality traits, and the whole “nature versus nurture” gamut. Being proud for the good bits and foisting onto someone else the bad bits, is a great temptation, perhaps especially for those of us who have survived parenthood and are still clinging to the life-support of being a parent of adult children. This also makes one of the manifestations of the Sin of Pride #3 this: Being proud of someone else, takes away from having the right kind of pride in yourself.
Instead of saying to a student or a child or a friend, “I am so proud of you” (which secretly my whole being is when something wonderful happens for or in them); I am trying to remind myself to say instead, “I am proud to be ____ (Fill in blank with title, such as teacher, mom, friend, etc.)__________. For example, “I am proud to be the mom who got to be your mom”. Or “I am proud that I was privileged to be a teacher who taught you to like poetry”. Or “Hubby, my dear, I am proud that I was able to find the perfect gift for your birthday”. Speaking aloud this kind of pride, is like using a two-way mirror to see something just that little bit out of your range of sight. By being proud of something I was “privileged” or “gifted” to do or be part of, the other person gets to keep all their glow for themselves, and I find the true meaning of feeling good about myself — which is always most known in the act of giving myself away for another with no thought to what I get out of it.
We all deserve to feel that kind of pride that comes from giving a part of oneself to the Whole or the wholeness-making of another. Feeling the pride of doing and being what we do in love, shores up the glitchy defenses we have against the consistent onslaughts of anxiety and ego. That kind of being proud, will also, however, help ease the pain a bit, when a person has to take credit for something they should not be proud of and needs forgiveness for, by self or another. Knowing that we share responsibility for our lives together, and yet still are our own unique amalgam of good and bad, mistakes and sins, pleasures and pains, faults and miraculous wonders, are things we can together be proud of and glory in. These things are what make us as human beings, both communally and individually special, special in the Universe of Specially Created Beings. It is what makes us as humble human beings worthy of a God Who Sees us.
Pride was once considered one of the deadly sins, but in modern Western cultures at least, we have come to feel that not only is pride “okay”, but that it is desired. When the current generation of students was asked what they would most like to be, the number one choice wasn’t doctor, teacher, tailor, or book maker, but “famous”. We have somehow come to believe that being known by many for little, is more desirable than being known by few for much. We have replaced the long arc of holiness with the TikTok of fame. We idolize ourselves and others we take a pride in connecting to, whether that is child or political hack. And while we think of pride today as a deserved kudo and may cling to our right to feel pride in self and others, we are daily reminded by newspapers and personal acquaintances alike, that pride is still the cause of many, if not most downfalls. As the Proverb says, “Pride still goes before a fall” — and then it lays there in the rubble with us pretending to clear the way for us to use our excuses about our skinned and bloodied souls.
Pride leads to other less pretty sins, in the short or sometimes long run; sins like greediness, lies, even murder — whether real or the murder kept hidden in one’s thoughts. A list of the sins that pride opens the doors to, would take us into a tome of explanation and extraction, and hence, is a topic for both another day, and for spiritual masters, and seekers much more advanced than I will ever be. Instead, let me reiterate my personal explanation and explore. My recognition of how what felt good and seemed good — being proud of my children — was actually not such a good thing, has helped me understand what “deadly” sin means when it comes specifically to my pride. To be dead is to be “unconscious”, to be “unaware”. This idea of “deadness” versus “aliveness” is one of the great expanded and expansive metaphors in the Hebrew and Christian Bible. In the letters of the Apostle Paul in the Bible, there is much food for thought about what sin really is, not just the personal effects of “wrong choices” but the systemic, religious, state, and corporate sins of the world. As far as being “unconscious” of what our actions do to us and to others, and what they mean in a greater spiritual meaning, the following thoughts from Paul are paradigm shifting:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1–10)
What a profound understanding of grace, Paul had; and also of the real consequences of our taking a false pride in our accomplishments and of deadening our souls with trespasses against humble love. Again, that is something everyone should explore in their own journey towards healing, loving truth and important relationships. It is the endless circle of exploration for rabbis, priests, gurus, and spiritual guides and theologians, who are much more able than I will ever be, to keep trying to illuminate. And while, I am aware that many may not agree with me on this idea of feeling pride in others, especially our children, let me suggest that my exploration of pride may at the very least hold a key for you to explore what sins, what “lesser things”, what outside influences, or what personal struggles, or “deadening remains from the past” make you feel “dead inside” or less than conscious of the moment, the person you are with, or your own most valuable feelings and actions and very own treasured “being”.
Pride may not be the word everyone thinks of when they think of what I am trying to describe. But for me, I have simply found the pride I sometimes (often!) have in my children to be my own little personal slippery slope. Once I feel pride in what they do well or right or who they are that is good or wonderful, it is a quick jaunt down the slope and I can find myself at the bottom of where I am judging them for what I consider is not right or not good and judging myself for what is unwell or unformed within me. And at that point, I can either blame them for what is not right or good, or I can blame myself for what I have done or been that has not been right or good, or I can let go of it all. See what I mean? I can’t have it both ways.
Pride goes before a fall, a tumble down the slippery slope of judgement, in this case. I know that this is often due to my great worries and anxieties for my beloved ones’ safety, health of mind, body, soul and spirit, worry about their happiness or relationships or — well, just the world of worry some of us folks carry with us like a constant pulse in the heart of our personhood. I worry without end that my beloveds will end up more like me than I would like — God forbid. And this type of worry is so obviously a deadening sin as well, is it not? And yet I keep picking at my worry like the age-old parental scab that it is.
My worry, like my false pride, is what takes me down the slippery slope of losing my faith in the existence of a God Who Sees or even really a god who cares all that much. My worry is a panicky feeling that the world and my world are on a fast-track to disaster, or that old insecurity that I am unworthy of love — God’s or anyone else’s. But what I have come to realize is that sometimes my pride is simply my worry taking a field trip. My pride is too often the spy in the camp of my fears.
The Sin of Pride works two ways for many of us, doesn’t it? My pride can lead me to a false sense of ego-security and a god-like judgement of others. Alas, it is also true that my pride can quickly lead me to fall down the rabbit hole of never seeing anything I do or “my people” do as wrong, or unhealthy, or at least not the best choice. By feeling pride in the “sinner”, I forget that they too are sinful and not just in need of my and God’s pride in them but my and God’s grace for them. (Side note: This kind of rampant often unrecognized pride is a great sin of individuals, but also of systems, nations, and organizations, perhaps none more glaring than the pride of religions gone wrong. To feel proud of one’s religion may be the ultimate “sin against the Holy Spirit”. See Thoughts of Jesus for more on this.) The flip side of not “judging” others, is not being discerning and truthful with others, or ourselves. This means my pride can be worn as a mask to hide my mistakes or transgressions against others, or ignore and justify my and my group’s self-justified sins against love and truth. Because pride can not only horribly mar and disfigure true love, but can tragically mar and disfigure love’s truth.
All of this does not take away from the fact that I hope my children know that I am bursting at the seams with joy in knowing and observing and listening to them, at what they have accomplished, who they are becoming, and how they are growing in character — I just don’t want to call it my pride anymore.
I was lucky to have a mother who always let me know she was proud of me (and still lovingly does). Not everyone is as lucky as I have been as a child with a proud mother, and that is a horrible burden that far too many children of all ages still have to carry throughout their lives, the burden of never feeling good enough, never feeling that the someone who should love you most, has never seen their worth. Perhaps those parents are too proud to give away their sense of entitled ego, even to their own children. What a tragedy that kind of pride is and I can only hope and pray that those children who have suffered that kind of ignorance and ignoring, will meet people, at least one person, who will say to them with love, “you are someone who can be proud of who you are and I am proud to be a part of your life”.
I can remember quite clearly, a time when my mostly absent father said he was proud of something I was doing. It was when I went to visit him and had taken up running. When I came back sweaty from my run in the Midwestern heat, a humid heat already on the rise in the early morning, my father, a man of few words, told me how impressed and proud he was that I had taken up running. It took me by surprise, and since he was not a runner, it was something I treasured as sincere gift of acknowledgement from him, about who I was. We remember and hold close those things that parents and teachers, mentors, and lovers say to us when they express a sense of pride in and for us, don’t we? Those times when a person, especially an influential adult, be it auntie or coach, special friend, or temporal co-worker, expresses a feeling of being proud of us can be life-changing. Words of praise given freely, given without any co-opting nor qualifiers, can shape our futures and heal our pasts. But we also remember the things we were made to feel we lacked, the times there was an “absence” of whatever we needed from the adults who were life-shapers, even if that “lack” was expressed in the same breath as pride; and so those of us who are in any position of influence, friend, parent, teacher, or partner, must carefully tread the path of pride we express in someone else.
And that brings me to the fourth and for now, final illumination I have had about the Sin of Pride. Pride is often felt about something done in the past not something in the present, and by claiming it, we rename it, and change its meaning and importance. Whether the thing that brings us a sense of pride is something done by one’s self or those we want to make appendages to our own pride, our “other people”, whether, partner, spouse, student, worker-underling, or child, the fact that it is something that occurred in the past or is something in our character that is a result of something from the past, gives the patina of pride the glow of Fool’s Gold, and not real, solid gold. And this is how several sins may sneak in among our good intentions, like weeds in the fields. Sins often sneak by without detection, by taking us out of the present moment, full of God’s Grace in the Now, and escort us back into the past or misguide us into the future life we can’t live in yet. Accomplishments depend on the past to keep breathing life into us, but so do mistakes depend on clinging to the dead corpses of our pasts. Both must be recognized as no longer belonging to the best that the present has to offer, whether my own present or my “other people’s” present “Nows”. The future can be full of hope, but also of fears. Pride can ruin both, past and future, by making us miss the moment at hand or be fearful we won’t accomplish tomorrow what we did yesterday.
The Torah and Bible, especially those books called the “books of wisdom”, have much, much, much to say about pride. To read the book of Proverbs, one cannot ignore that pride is contrasted over and over, and over again to both humility and the wisdom that comes from being humble. This, of course, is not to say that parents, children, non-parents, and all should seek the kind of false humility that is just a flipped over, flattened out, and disguised sort of pride. In fact, every spiritual guide and religion has a lot to say about pride. The word, “sin” may not work for all religions, so let’s call pride at least, an “inability to see true value”. Succinctly put, the Bible says that “the pride of your heart, deceives you” (Obadiah 1:3). Buddhism sees pride as a “distortion” and un-enlightenment, something based on transitory thoughts. It sees humility as empowering and lasting. This is in keeping with the truths of Judaism and Christianity as well. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you” and “Love is patient and kind; it does not boast or envy; it is not arrogant”. (James 4:10 and I Corinthians 13:4). According to Islam, pride is a disease and the realm of evil. There is a Native American saying that goes something like this: “Greet each day humbly, and with all thanks for the Great Spirit above”. And in all of this, is something Universally true about pride, I think: Pride gets in the way of Spirit. Pride can masquerade as love, but true humility can never be disguised as hatred. And the ultimate shocking truth of all true religious or spiritual thought, is that even God never reveals Himself as proud. God has no need of pride; He just Is. God allows His Creation to speak for itself, and in His observation of who and what all are in their innermost being, God finds joy. This divine observance of life and of others’ lives, can also be ours as human beings created and creating in the image of the Divine. James 4: 5b and 6 reminds us to be humble because by God’s grace we are created to have a divine spirit dwell in us, not by anything we have done, but by God’s love for each of us. “God yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us. But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’.”
My goal in this long exploration of the idea of pride is to explore my own false sense and faulty love of pride, not to take away that warm, fuzzy glow we feel in being a part of others’ accomplishments. And like any exploration that is imprisoned by words, it is faulty and flawed, lacking and incomplete, wrong and yet, maybe a little tiny bit illuminating. Our words merely try to crack open the doors of truth and enlightenment, and so I keep knocking on doors, and putting my foot in the door-crack to hold it open, and I keep peering through the small opening to see if I can see a little more of The Light.
Feeling that we have made a good difference in someone’s life, that we have done or been somehow “good enough” to counter all our foibles and sins, and let someone else — student, partner, friend, or child — have a better life, a stronger “shot at”, a deeper meaning, or a truer understanding of their own wonderful value — that feeling, those reflections, that comprehension of our own worth and value, makes us not separate from, but a part of others, and therefore a part of The Whole.
It is in recognizing that I am not apart from, standing on top looking down at, or riding on the coat-tails of others’ accomplishments and lives, but rather that I am a part of, standing alongside looking outwards and inwards, and riding humbly along God’s Waves of Grace, that lead me, and each of us who love, on towards a glory that we can only imagine. The Light of Truth and Love, embraced by humble presence, shows pride for what it is — a mere dim and cloudy reflected glow. Looking at others and myself with the humility of flawed human understanding but graciously divinely appointed love changes a temporal feeling of pride into a little of the eternal reality of joy.
Now, when I feel the warm glow of pride, in those I have been privileged to either walk alongside, or literally teach how to walk, I will try to grab on to its ultimate meaning before I speak aloud my sense of pride. I will try to grasp hold of that pride I may feel in someone else, to make me aware that we are all more than we appear to be on the outside, and that there is something in the human spirit that rises and rejoices with the Universal Urge to Be Utterly Amazing! When I feel pride, I will speak into that feeling, with a humility that God has granted me the grace to see yet another day on Planet Earth, a day to be better, do better, and to help any one I can help do and be better too. And my pride in others, especially my dearly loved children, will, I hope, train me to be present in the moment, when so much is being, not accomplished but Lived! And with the help of a humble heart, a desire for truth, and a hope in the power of love, I will work to be a part of and a presence in that which defies description, that which makes us whole.
Pride doesn’t have to go before a fall or be the gateway to other sins. Pride can be the mirror that reflects this truth: We are more than we appear to be and we are much more together, than we ever are alone. To be proud is also to be present in someone else’s journey, and I hope to let my pride be the silent prayer of my children’s lives; a prayer not of worry, not for their success, but a prayer for the hope of their future glory and their present glimpses of true joy, by the grace of God. This is how to be “proud”, without being prideful, by understanding that in God’s gracious love and care, we are all sinful, sinned against, but all also, oh, so very worthy of the love of God and of each other. Love given in the humility of knowing that all we have is a gift, and all whom we have been privileged to know and live with, are a part of everything good, past, present, and future; that Love, is always, both goal and Source. Being a part of the whole of everything and everyone, the good and the bad, the successes and the mistakes, the “otherness” and the “sameness”, this is how we find the balance between being proud of ourselves, but humble towards others. Giving up pride helps us to sincerely mourn and rejoice with others, to feel with them, to feel for them, to exalt that which is in all humans that is worthy of glory, and look truthfully at the pride that leads to those sins we all struggle with.
Jesus spoke many profound things to those who would desire to be better humans and more worthy of being called “divine”. Perhaps no words of The Christ’s are more applicable to so many things than these, found in Matthew 18:3: “Truly I tell you, that unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. The wisdom in these words are too numerous to ever be fully understood by anyone, but applicable to almost everything we as adults encounter. Have you ever seen a little child come towards an adult, crayoned drawing in hand, full of the scribbles of his imagination and with a look of utter pride on his face as he gives it to someone he loves: “I made dis for you, Mama”? Have you seen a little child make a mess out of mud and call it a castle: “Come see my castle!”? Or have you gazed at the face of a little girl who has just tied her first shoelace, or a little boy who carefully transplants a ladybug from his shoulder to a safe leafy resting place, proudly saving his first life? Can you recall the first stumbling but proud words from the mouth of the child who has read her first words, or have you tasted the “delicious” concoction that your darling little one has made with all the right ingredients for love, but not necessarily for the delicious treat she imagines you are tasting? Try to remember the first time that a little toddler garbled the sounds, but not the sense of who he is — “me is Goo-won!” Imagine the delight in self accomplishment, when one first realizes with joy, “Me is me-Me!” Imagine how a baby feels about himself when he first realizes, “I have these things called toes. Aren’t they fun to wiggle and tickle? I am so proud of being able to wiggle my toes!” Think about children and how proud they are in the moment, their joy in the present accomplishment, a type of pride felt, without a single thought of comparing it to someone or anything or any time else. Oh, that look of pride in that little child’s face is the purest and simplest form of pride there is because it is pure joy in the journey of living.
That childish pride, is the “good kind of pride” that our First Father and First Mother felt when they walked naked and unafraid in The Garden. The pride of a child is the pride we should relish. It is that sense of just being in the moment with what we can do, not because we are a better person than someone else, but because we are a created human being with skills to learn and a life to enjoy. We all should be aiming to get back to and move forwards toward that ineffable sense of being, something beyond pridefulness, but also something beyond feeling unworthy of that which we were created to be — beings, gloriously free and joyfully proud to be alive.
And while I am still an insecure, prideful mess of an adult, with a little grace, I am also still an evolving, changeable, glory-up-ahead, like-a-wobbly-arrow-aiming-at-the-divine, human being. As a partner, friend, spouse, and above all a mess of a mother, I am proud of myself, that bit by bit, I am giving up my false pride-fulness in what has been done, and I seem to making progress towards feeling proud of what I am holding right now in my small hands. What I have now and who I am now doesn’t have to be amazing, for me to be utterly amazed.
I am, bit by bit, replacing my pride in my beloveds and in my own self, with a child-like awe in who my children and my dearest loves are and then trying to expand that love to an amazement with every person I will encounter today. As a child of God, I am trying to look, and truly see with the eyes of The God Who Sees, The God who remains as joyfully, lovingly, curiously, and awesomely childlike today as He has always been. Today it is well with my soul to be as a proudly childlike as I possibly can and to trust, that I am okay, and I am enough, and my mud-castles and scribbled words are things to feel proud of, just as my children are people that I hold out to God with a mother’s childish pride –“Look, See, Enjoy — these are for You”. This is my day’s journey toward becoming someone I can be proud of, a creature who is loved as dearly as a little old humbled but divine child is — Me-me.
Whatever one’s belief system, this is historically a good weekend to meditate on what makes a belief “true”. If I say I believe something, but don’t in fact, myself, act in accordance with it, what is the meaning and purpose of my belief? If I say I believe Someone loves me enough to suffer for me (and some believe die for me), but I accept that Someone’s love only to make myself feel better, and not in order to love those others in the world in need of a belief in A Love Without Strings Attached, what does that say about what I truly believe about the quality of a Higher Love?
As we look to what we say we believe, we often get stuck in the childish questions, like, “How has it changed me? How am I better a person? How does my future look brighter?” But the real questions to ask myself that the events commemorated in this weekend ask, the grown-up questions of The Christ are: “How does what I believe make me want to change the World? How does The Divine make me a better human being? How do I bring the future Kingdom of God to earth — now, today, here, for all — as The Christ did?”
If we aren’t suffering with others on Friday, and mourning for the whole world, the whole Earth on Saturday, we will never truly know what it is to celebrate life and resurrection on Sunday. No matter what one claims to believe, this is a good weekend to ponder as the philosopher might ask, What do we owe each other? And as the prophets or saints might ask, What would happen if some of us began to really believe in Love?
This will be the first Ash Wednesday in years that I won’t go to a church to begin the season of Lent. Last year when this picture was taken, we still didn’t realize at this time what a year of a sort of “enforced” Lent lay before us. For those of us who try to see the spiritual as alive in the world around us, and who desire to continually learn the necessary requirements of the struggling, emerging wholesome soul, the past year of spiritual disciplines for the care of others, the care of the world that God made, and the care of the self, has been nothing compared to what we claim The Jewish Messiah, The Christ lived out and died for. I will not have ashes on my forehead today but I will contemplate what is said each year when we celebrate the beginning of the wilderness journey into Lent: “Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you will return. Repent!”
Ah — but believe also that –There is Good News (Gospel). Today I may recognize my worthlessness and fragility, my need to express sorrow and my ongoing imprisonment of pain, but it is merely meant as healing exercise in order to recognize true worth in others, true worth in all that is on the earth that God made, true worth even in my own known self. I am paradoxically but dust, but I am also a beloved child of God. And so is my neighbor beloved of God, and so is my enemy beloved of God. And in all of that comes the freedom of believing that hope and faith and love are eternally thriving and whatever we have of those three things will never return to dust, but always remain.
The time for Rejoicing will come to all those who wait and try to do Good. Today has always been one of my favorite holy-days because, strange person that I am, I love realizing how very, very human and frail and fragile and temporary our lives are and yet how the divinity of our souls strives on for glory. I love being reminded that I am broken and battered, sinful and wrong, in need of humbling; and yet, with practice and discipline, I am assured that I can be better tomorrow than I was today. I am grateful to believe in a God who reminds me that no matter what is happening in the world or in my very being, Love wins every time –even over ashes and dust.
“To grant to those who mourn in the world— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
I must begin with a BIG DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming in this post that I do this, can do this, or will do this in my relationships. I am merely setting out to teach myself a thing or two along with maybe a few of you. I can say, however, that the times I HAVE done this in either my most important relationships or my most trivial relationships, I have been much, much the better person for it, and I would hope the relationship has been the better for it too.
We are most of us, in several types of relationships. Whether spouse, partner, friend, family member, or co-worker, we are also most of us faced with times when the relationship goes off course or hits a bump or sometimes, threatens to implode or explode. When this happens, we have a choice to either ignore and let the situation flounder, fester, get worse, fall apart, slowly decay, or even die; or we can try to change the dynamics, fidget with the dance steps, and right the wrong. For this post, I use the metaphor of Righting the Ship — the RelationSHIP; and I would like to believe, that no matter where any particular relationSHIP ends, no matter what the port or destiny, it is very important to learn to make things right, at minimum for one’s own self, hopefully for both of the people in it, but ultimately because there is something BIGGER in a relationship between two people than either of the individuals by themselves. While no man is truly an island, some people do manage to go through life mostly in a little one-person dingy. And while my sailing through life alone in a dingy, can feel like freedom and can keep me from experiencing the rough waters of life that one is subjected to in any relationSHIP; in a little dingy by myself, I can never sail the “Seven Seas”, the great oceans, or ever reach the amazing shores that I can when I sail a relationSHIP with someone else. Sailing any relationSHIP with others is how we best learn to navigate our own lives.
But it isn’t easy to steer any course with someone else. Even just a little day-trip with a coworker can suddenly hit squalls. And those big relationSHIPS? — yowza! So many icebergs to avoid, big waves to bounce through, and irritating mates you have to bunk with! And so we need not only maps, compasses, oars, and life jackets — we need disaster plans, escape routes, and some flexibility amongst the crew. We also must have a huge dose of humility in the face of the unknown factors or uncontrollable elements. We must humble ourselves in any relationSHIP with the knowledge we have about the unfairness of the Fates, the unpredictability of the weather, or the hidden depths we can never truly know in both the world’s deep waters, and the unknowable deep depths of each human being.
By admitting at least to oneself, that one cares enough about both the relationship and one’s own inner peace and joy to do something about whatever happened to un-right or miss-steer the relationSHIP, we can at least keep ourselves from drowning in helplessness or hopelessness. And it is not always an admission of one’s personal responsibility, as much as it is an acceptance of one’s personal ability. In other words, I have the right and the responsibility and the ability to determine the importance of any relationship’s smooth sailing and my own smooth sailing with whomever I happen to be in a particular “relation — SHIP” with. And the longer and better we sail, or row, or steer any kind of relationships in this life, the more seaworthy we can become. It doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing, but it can help tremendously in keeping one from drowning or becoming sea-sick.
Imagine that a relationSHIP is just that — a ship. Ships come in all sizes and styles, and so do relationSHIPS. Think of your friend or co-worker as the other person in a rowboat. When that boat tips over or springs a hole and begins to fill with water, you are both going to be in a world of “wet” — tears and pain, or even a drowning if someone doesn’t do something. Don’t wait for the other person, but get to work on righting the boat. Of course, ultimately you hope that the other person will need and want to help you. No one should keep trying to fix a relationship that keeps breaking apart any more than someone should keep trying to patch holes in the bottom of a boat if your sailing partner keeps hammering holes into the hull. Swim for shore, friend, swim for shore! Abandon relationSHIP if there is no hope, and look for a new horizon. There will be a new person, whether life-mate or work-mate, to row or sail a relationSHIP with, all in good time. And just maybe the person you stopped trying to do everything for, trying to fix and right the sinking relationSHIP for, all by yourself, maybe he or she will stop knocking holes in relationSHIPS in the future, (maybe thanks in part to your own suffering self).
Some relationships are so special, meaningful, deep and large that they are like gigantic cruisers or warships. Don’t try to save the relationSHIP if you know for a fact it is the Titanic headed straight for the iceberg, or the big guns on the warship have started firing at the relationSHIP itself, instead of the enemy; but if the cruiser or the warship are basically seaworthy and your mate trustworthy, then you may have to be the one to be firm with your co-captain that the ship is badly sailing off-course, and take the time and energy to do whatever it takes — batten down the hatches, patch the hull’s holes, mend the sails, change course (sometimes drastically), or fight the pirates.
If the ship is basically water tight and usually sailing the right way to safe harbor, then during those times (and sometimes this may be daily), when the relationSHIP may hit some turbulence or even encounter a big iceberg up head, those should be seen as a time to call out a distress signal, and put all hands on deck, not to abandon the ship. And if you wake up to find you have somehow managed to go badly off course with someone you love, it only takes one person in a BIG relationSHIP to get out a trustworthy compass and to begin steering you both back to True North.
I love the music and lyrics of Joni Mitchel, but in her song, “A Case of You”, when she writes: “Just before our love got lost, you said “I am as constant as a northern star, “ and I said “Constantly in the darkness Where’s that at? If you want me, I’ll be in the bar” — Mitchel only gets it half right. She knows her own limitations in the relationship well, but she doesn’t have enough faith in her own abilities. Most of us don’t have enough faith in our abilities nor enough commitment to our responsibilities; and so we either look for a new relationship and abandon the current relationSHIP, or we stay on board, but we don’t row as hard, or care about how straight our direction, or we stop enjoying the view, and we just give up and just accept things the way they are in the current relationship. And sometimes, tragically, we let the whole “ship” sink without a fight. But any relationSHIP is worth some effort and some are worth a lot of effort.
So, let’s polish our oars and swab our decks and if necessary, learn to tread water a bit better and look at these suggestions on how to right a relationSHIP, for one day, one trip, a long cruise, a working season of fishing or tugboating, or a life-time of happier, more fulfilling, less “hole-y and more “holy”, more seaworthy sailing.
The R’s of Righting a Relationship
By Jane Tawel
1. RELEASE. If it’s a fight or argument or any situation with the other person that is getting out of control, apologize for what you are about to do and leave the person, the area, the conversation. Know that it is a bit of a power play, and do not do it until you absolutely must, but release the situation, and “walk away”. RELEASE the moment of conflict. RELEASE your need to have an immediate solution. RELEASE your power to bend the other person’s will or change their mind. Let go of a specific time frame to fix it. You want to fix it, but it doesn’t have to be right now. RELEASE yourself from your own immediate needs. RELEASE yourself and the other person from your feelings. Go away and on your own, alone, into the void of the universe, (not onto the other person) RELEASE your anger, hurt, fears, confusion, etc. RELEASE your grasp on your feelings and your justifications and your arguments. Let them go for however long it takes to find your center, your equilibrium, your mojo, your spirit, your peace, your words, your explanation, your questions, your identity, YOURSELF. When the relationSHIP has begun to speed out of control, HIT THE BRAKES, take down the sails that have inflated with too much windiness, and RELEASE the relationSHIP’s runaway energy that is steering your ship in a dangerous direction. Then take a:
2. REST. This is not always easy, but completely necessary, even if you are at odds with a boss or co-worker, and it isn’t your break-time. Sometimes we are in a relationSHIP in which we are chained like a slave to the underbelly of that relationSHIP at work or even in the family situation at home. At minimum, take a bathroom break (without a phone so you can’t call some one up to vent to), but if possible, take a walk outside. (Fresh air can clear our minds and rest our souls). After you have released yourself from the situation, REST EVERYTHING. Rest your emotions, your body, your mind, and your spirit. This means you can not do any work on any of them. Stop thinking about anything (use deep breathing or a mantra or hum some silly ditty). Stop feeling (recognize feelings as something you can now control now that you have walked away from their cause). Stop doing (whatever your body is doing it should be “play”, not work for it to feel rested). And Stop “spiritualizing” (if you pray, don’t — you can get help later after you have rested and usually prayer at this point will be about the problem you just RELEASED, so give yourself a REST). If you are stuck at a desk, or next to a sick bed, or with someone you must share space with, at least close your eyes, breathe deeply, and completely empty your mind and relax your body for as long as you can get away with it. If this is a home relationship conflict that you have just RELEASED yourself from, REST as long as you possibly can. Even if you need to read a book or watch a show, or take a walk (without your phone), or sit or lie down (even take a nap) in a private place, do it. The important thing is to DO NOTHING about the conflict, and do nothing that will just detour the stress onto something or someone else. Take an attitude of REST from the situation as long as you need to, even if you have to do it for a day or a week, (longer than that is usually not very helpful for either you or the other person), but REST for as long as you can or as long as you need to. Do not feel guilty; feel instead the toll the problem in the relationSHIP has taken on you, and the effects of the depletion or the added weight that your recent disagreement has had on your emotions and your inner strength, and REST. Regain your strength before heading from your berth back to being on-deck. Think of the recent conflict as if it were the last leg of a very hard race and you have rowed or manned the sails or the wheel, until your arms ache and you absolutely must take time to recuperate before heading back to the relationSHIP to do your part in steering, full-speed ahead. Relationships, no matter of what kind, take work and if yours just involved a lot of work without seeming to “get you anywhere”, then you need to take time before trying to recalibrate your direction and set sail again. You can re-navigate the course much better after you REST.
3. REJUVENATE. This is another way of saying RENEW. This can be either a time when I REJUVENATE my own thinking about the relationship, the problem or conflict, or renew some old thinking about myself; OR it can be a time when I RENEW my desire to see the other person with more kindness, more understanding, more desire, more acceptance, more adjustment, more humility, or just more need to make things right between us. REJUVENATING can not be forced however, and until there is a spark of this RENEWAL or perhaps sense of “wholeness” inside me, I can’t get the relationSHIP righted. Think of this idea of REJUVENATION like fixing the battery of a big boat. It may only take a spark, but eventually there have to be two jumper cables to attach in order to REJUVENATE the source of energy and life. There has to be a spark of energy to get the battery up and running again, but until you have let things cool down, you shouldn’t try to jump-start the RENEWAL process. Until there is that spark of desire or some idea about how to RENEW the energy needed to right the relationship, it is best not to force it. On the other hand, you can’t keep the ship going forward without some new and added energy and whether that is from a jump-start to the old battery, or some new wind in the sails, or some duct-tape on a broken oar, you will want to find the energy to REJUVENATE towards the future journey and up-ahead horizon. On the flip side, you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bilge water or forget all the things you have already learned or shared in your time together in any particular relationSHIP. So — -
4. REMEMBER. One of the greatest ways to REJUVENATE the relationship besides giving it new life, is to REMEMBER. This can be something you do together as soon as you have RELEASED, RESTED, and REJUVENATED; remembering with the other person if you are feeling strong enough to do that, or you can REMEMBER just by yourself. REMEMBER the good times, recall the good things about them, pull up memories no matter how small about shared vision, accomplishments, or tears or laughter. But, you can also strengthen your ability to right the relationSHIP by REMEMBERing your own past accomplishments in your own life, in this relationship and in other relationships that may seem to have nothing to do with this one. Reminding yourself of your strengths, your abilities, your accomplishments, and your successful relationship moments can hone your skills and give you faith and hope in the one you are dealing with now. REMEMBERing the good things and good times in and with the other person specifically, and the strength and successes and good times generally in yourself and your own life, will take away some of the fears about your abilities to navigate these particular waves that may have buffeted or bashed up your relationship in the present. If possible, REMEMBER the fun, the joy, the mutual accomplishments (whether that is a project or a child), the strength you found in each other and together, and let the memories grab like strong arms and open hands, onto each side of your overturned relationSHIP and right it. Then when the boat is right-side up in your mind and hopefully in the other person’s because you have shared those memories — THEN you can begin to bail out the water that threatened to capsize the two of you. Bailing out the dirty water left over after you have righted the ship, means you —
5. REJECT. This doesn’t mean I REJECT the other person, or the other person’s feelings or ideas of how to solve our smaller immediate issue or our long-term bigger problems. What I REJECT is a need to go backwards and REGURGITATE the disagreement. Have you ever tried to row a boat backwards or back a ship into dock? It isn’t easy and it isn’t advisable. This doesn’t mean we will not have to REVISIT the problem in the relationSHIP, but we should first REJECT any notion of picking up the same broken oars or tattered sails or stubbornly sailing in the wrong direction toward a rocky, undock-able shore. Don’t let the Sirens’ song tempt you to prove you were right and he was wrong and lull you into a false sense of happiness or sense that you are “winning”. And do not let your feelings rise up like dead pirates from a watery grave to convince you that there is buried treasure in what you feel or imagine to be “out there”, rather than the true treasure in what you already have — right there in the relationSHIP.
6. RECOMMIT. This is when you begin to bail out the water, together. I can do this alone, and if I really value the other person, and have an understanding of him or her that lets me know they just can’t help bail us out right now, I may begin the hard work of bailing out alone and by myself. Eventually I have found, if I managed to RELEASE, REST, REJUVENATE, and REMEMBER, then I can RECOMMIT and give the other person some time or cut them slack. Maybe the next time they will be the one bailing me out of the mess we got our relationSHIP into, so I want to take the long view and see important relationships as worth bringing safely home to shore, even if the other person can’t “get on board” with that yet. I do hope though, that in any truly worthy relationship, the other person will want to join me in that commitment to the work of mending, recalibrating, fixing, redirecting, and righting the relationSHIP before it completely tips over and sinks. When she does, that is when I know the relationSHIP is worth the hard work it takes to keep sailing forward. When both of us commit to figuring out how to navigate the present and future journeys together, then we RECOMMIT to something bigger than either of us — the relationSHIP. Somehow, then we are not just two deckhands, or two captains of our fate, left to the whims of weather or the world, but there is a THIRD identity that we make together — we are the relationSHIP. This has an almost mythical quality, when we remember that ships have long been personified by sailors, captains and crews. Ships and boats and seas and all that go with them, are symbolic of those eternal ideas and ideals, and crossing all cultures and people-groups throughout time.
In terms of relationSHIPS, I want to mention here, briefly that we are usually most concerned with those we have between the sexes or with those who identify as a different gender than ourselves (our spouse or partner), or in families, perhaps even with those who are the same gender we are but manifest it differently due to age, or power structure, or understanding of identity. But if we maybe step back, and think that in deep, important relationships especially, we can be more aware of both the feminine and masculine attributes each of us has, we can understand the yin and yang, or the push and pull of our individual and mutual needs, desires, and understanding of our destination. For now, can we all just try to channel our inner “feminine” spirits. Think of the mastheads on ships, which are always female. Thinking of my own part in righting relationSHIPS as more feminine in spirit, as opposed to a more masculine understanding of my psyche, can not only help me find the right kind of strength, but can help me look at the other person as more complicated, more mysterious, but also more understandable than I might otherwise do. He or she is just like me, both feminine and masculine — and also completely mysterious to me, depending on my own current balance or imbalance between the two sides of myself. I think, reaching down into our inner “female-strength”, can tell us a lot and help us a lot, if we are willing, (for both those of us who are male or female in gender or character). To right a relationship that has been attacked by the sirens of our need for power or fear of vulnerability or just our plain mistakes or wrongness in what we have done as part of the “crew”; we might all do well to meditate on that “feminine” quality we all have (or should?), that part of us that wants to be both cared for and taken care of, that “nurturing” side that is in all of us. If you can’t do this, perhaps you can at least see your important relationSHIPs as the old sailors saw their real ships. The relationSHIP has its own type of feminine power and its own ability to nurture, just like sailors once thought the ship had its own goddess or mother power to protect and nurture and care for those sailing her.
7. REACH-OUT. Seriously, this is perhaps the most obvious but also the hardest. Don’t let the other person drown. REACH OUT a hand to save them. We all do love to be needed and it is easy to watch a little too long as our partner flails around in the watery depths, not knowing how to get back to the safety of a healthy relationSHIP, while watching us with-hold our hand or refuse to throw our mate a life-jacket. Don’t watch too long, or the person really might decide it’s better to risk drowning or to wait for another relationSHIP to come along so they can board that one instead of yours. But if you are the one that seems to be drowning and you can’t seem to get back on board or find the desire to grab onto the side of the relationSHIP and get back to work on the relationSHIP, at least tread water until you can find your strokes. If you can’t yet imagine wanting to mend the tears in the sails or the breaks in the hull, at least just grab the hand your partner is reaching out to you. Don’t reject that helping hand because it isn’t being reached out in the way YOU would do it, or the life-jacket looks a bit flimsy or dirty, or you want her to jump in the water and risk your pulling her down with you. Just do it, grab on, seaweed and all, and get back on the boat. Don’t float around in the flotsam and jetsam waiting for a better way to stop drowning — REACH OUT. Get back on the boat however you manage to scramble up there. There is time then to — -
8. REASSESS. In a relationship, whether with a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent, or a coworker, we all have to eventually REASSESS. REASSESS your capabilities, your desire, your options, and the seaworthiness of the relationSHIP at that particular place and time. It may be that the crew has changed, and it’s time to let your mate or the once children now grown, have more responsibility in the steering department. It may be that you have had a successful run, and now it is time to retire and take up fishing from the shore. It may not be worth your working so hard or taking the time for this journey you have recently embarked on, but you may want to take a trip with it later. At the same time, the relationSHIP may not be something you want to continue to crew. This may involve looking at the relationSHIP as ultimately unseaworthy, and you need to jump ship before you go down with it. But usually, you have just hit a bad wave, or you have fallen overboard but you can get back on, or you have had some really, really, really bad weather, but you still want to keep rowing ahead with the person who has had the other oar all this time.
The end of a relationship is usually not because the craft has suddenly hit bad weather, or suddenly one of you changes your rowing style. No, usually your relationSHIP has been gradually inching its way off-course. But most relationSHIPS are worth at least some fixing, some help, some learning and growth, even if the crew changes. It is usually, in the end, more a matter of REASSESSing the situation not REASSESSing the relationship.
Before I let a situation irrevocably change my relationship, I should ask: Is it a deal breaker that will eventually cause the relationSHIP to steer into an iceberg of irredeemable consequences? Or is it something that I and the other person can both steer around and recalibrate the speed at which we were going? Is this situation salvageable, with a little elbow grease maybe, but perhaps better equipped and seaworthy in the long run? Is it a matter that will take some hard work together, but can ultimately lead the relationSHIP to a better shore, a brighter vista, a home where even a Crusoe or a family of Swiss Robinsons can live happily ever after? Or is the glitch in the smooth sailing of the relationSHIP really, as so often it is, something so small and inconsequential, something like a pigeon pooping on the deck, but which got all out of proportion, and was blown- up into a “sh*&%$#t storm”? In that case, we just need to say, “well, that was a bunch of pigeon poop! Let’s swab the deck and get back to the sailing ahead, my Matey.”
If we are honest, most of the time, no matter what type of relationship we are talking about, when we hit a snag, we tend to see icebergs when there really are none. The mirage of dangers ahead when we have a disagreement with someone can persuade us to actually steer toward a real danger that we don’t see or imagine. This is the opposite of the tragedy of the Titanic. I call this the Robert Peary- RelationSHIP Conundrum. Seeing something that isn’t there can cause the relationSHIP to go just as far adrift and off -course as not seeing something that is there.
The joy of relationship with my child.
9. Finally, to right a relationSHIP — RESTORE. This last step is the hardest, but also the most beautiful. If one of you ends up with a broken oar, you need to fix it or get another. Don’t make the other person row without one. If you have worn off the paint on one side of the boat by coming in too fast to dock at the pier, you will need to take some time to RESTORE the luster and beauty of that boat. It may be something you don’t want to do, but this is a lot easier than buying a whole new boat. True, it will not be the same as when the relationSHIP was brand new, but working on a RESTORATION together, can even end up making the boat more seaworthy and more beautiful. Even if the relationSHIP however, has truly crashed into the shoals, and there is no saving it, you can still work on some RESTORATION. At first, this might mean you can not bail on the other person and jump on board right away to another relationSHIP. Eventually, you may not both end up on the same ship, but you can still do some RESTORATION. Alone or together.
You may need to restore your own equilibrium, maybe take some courses in how to be better at whatever your last “job” was in a personal or professional relationship, maybe get some therapy to get over the traumas that caused this particular relationSHIP to crash and bust apart. Eventually you may even find you can RESTORE at least the peace between you and the other person. This may involve a long, long wait and it may involve a willingness for both of you to “investigate” the real cause of the shipwreck of your relationship. It will involve forgiveness of yourself and the other person but also at least a RESTORATION to communicating your hopes that both of you will have smoother sailing in your separate futures and hopefully, that your time on the deck of your relationSHIP together has made you both better at crewing and captaining your own relationSHIPS now.
The very best RESTORATION, though, comes when you and the other person RESTORE the relationSHIP together. This should be our goal in all the things and people who matter. Neither I nor the other person can ever really restore ourselves to some idea of our “original -self”, but we can RESTORE the things — the essences — that make up the original intent and purpose and greater good and higher meaning of the US. When we RESTORE, we understand that the relationship is so much more important than either of us on our own.
There is a “holiness”, an “eternity”, a “sacredness” that may exist in each one alone, but to know what is truly all that a human being was created to be, we must accept that true wholeness is when one is with some one other than just one’s self. Relationships no matter the importance, the length, or the circumstances are what keep the true horizons of life and keep us focused on the safe shores and the ultimate goal in view as we steer our own small crafts through life. Being with another person, whether partner, friend, boss, or family member gives me a vision of other vast seas, unimaginable depths, and glorious vistas; and allows me to live into the mysteries that surpass my presumptions. As Emily Dickinson wrote:
“As if the Sea should part And show a further Sea — And that — a further — and the Three But a presumption be — Of Periods of Seas — Unvisited of Shores — Themselves the Verge of Seas to be — Eternity — is Those — “
If you have given up on a relationship or your relationship is truly and permanently busted apart, never to set sail again, I would recommend you at least not give up on other people or on yourself. For a while, you may need to see yourself as a lonely sailor, who will, like a relational Odysseus, have to Right the Relationship of yourself to others, even if it is scary and lonely and you aren’t very sure you have the heroism it will take. And if you are in a relationship that you are afraid has hit a pretty bad shoal, or you seem to have misplaced your oars, don’t give up. Don’t give up hope and don’t give up on the other person and don’t give up on yourself.
Be that which makes each of us the very best person one can be — a sailor who knows she can not sail for long alone. We will only see the highest stars, and set the firmest course, and only reach our most sacred shores, when we keep our relationSHIPS righted and right.
My great teachers about relationships
In closing, I would like to look at this idea of Restoration from another difficult endeavor and point of view — the restoration of a work of art. It is interesting, if you have ever had the privilege, to watch an art restorer work on a valuable painting. The restorer can not of course restore something to its original — that “ship has sailed” for good, passed away into the history of different materials and the original artist long gone. No one can step into the same place in a stream twice, not even a brilliant art restorer. But the art restorer will do his or her very best, using all the skills and knowledge and imagination, history, and creativity possible to restore the beauty and integrity of the original painting, before it was damaged or allowed to decay.
This is our job in any relationship, to use every possible means to restore beauty and integrity to our own life and to the lives of those who choose to share life with us. We can not try to do the impossible and go back in time to an original idea of what a relationship was, and if we can not fix the damage, we need learn to live with the damage, heart-breaking as it may be. We may not be able to restore a relationship and with sorrow but more wisdom, we may need to move on to something we can work on, and restore. The new some thing won’t make the old damaged painting any less special, but will add a new layer of paint to our pallet, and bring a new sense of our own and others’ beauty, and allow us to embark on a different but no less artistic and beautiful endeavor. We should feel sad if we can not restore a relationship, but it can still hang in the halls of our memories and make us better at restoring the art of our lives and those of others in the future.
Our task at present, may be a restoration of the classic art we already have, or it may not. The old can not be made the same but it can be restored. And even if I must paint something new, by that I can restore something within my own artistic, relational soul. Either way, we must RESTORE our faith in our own artistic vision and our abilities to live and love, work and play, and imagine and create.
I hope that by doing the work and these suggested practices to right a relationship, we can set sail with new direction and greater joy in our relationSHIPS.
Welcome aboard, land lubbers. Avast, mateys! Ships Ahoy! — Jane
By John Masefield
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.