There is an old Irish proverb, “Don’t be breaking your shin on a stool that’s not in your way.” I have an old habit of doing just that, and it makes for an unhappy life.
I’m working on it though. Learning to care responsibly.
I don’t mean hardening my heart to the plight of others, stopping my involvement in worthy causes. I mean not allowing the pettiness of others to dictate my day. I was in a pretty bad mood for a couple of years because I let everyone I met affect me. The cashier who was rude. The driver who cut me off. The kids who insist on walking in the middle of the street.
The bus in front of me that won’t go any faster, and the guy who won’t get off my bumper.
The waiter who got my order wrong, and the receptionist who wears that awful cologne.
I cared, alright. I cared the wrong way about the wrong things, and in all the caring I had misplaced my smile. Lost my peace. Nearly lost my mind and my better half. The question still rings with bell-like clarity, “Why are you always mad?” She meant angry, but I was really headed for madness. The world was driving me crazy, and I looked at myself and saw my mother. I’ve never met anyone angrier, and I’ve never met anyone I wished less to emulate.
It was a wake-up call.
I was going to have to stage my own intervention.
…don’t be breaking your shin…
Finding my smile has involved a deliberate shift in perception. I can see the stool and not trip over it. I can be the observer, not the receiver - although when I squint it might look like I'm the target. The trick is to stop squinting. The rudeness, the lack of civility, the impoliteness don't have to hurt me, because it’s not about me. It doesn’t have to climb in my pocket and walk around with me all day, and it sure doesn’t have to hurt the people I do care about.
…on a stool that’s not in your way…
When I get home and put my fuzzy slippers on, the tailgater is nowhere around. When I leave the store, the cashier is not coming with me. And maybe if I hadn’t been so angry at the tailgater, I would’ve smiled at the cashier…maybe surprised her into smiling back.
I could’ve pushed that stool out of someone else’s way.