J. and I had a winning moment yesterday. You see, we have this ongoing “joke” now about how every time we are on our way to mentoring the Atlanta Jesuit Volunteers (which is bimonthly), we argue en route. “Joke” is in quotes because it’s not a funny kind of joke. However! Yesterday, in mutual acts of pure will, we deliberately chose to break the pattern! Granted – it took us literally 12 months but – we did it!
You might find yourself asking, “But E., how could two adults, with pretty good communication skills, possibly argue every time about driving directions when you have easy access to GoogleMaps, when you’re going to a place you’ve been over two dozen times, to a place you enjoy going, in which you are supposed to provide guidance and examples of maturity, intentionality, and self-awareness?” Great question. There is no logic here.
Our best guess is that our regular en-route-JV-house arguments happen at the intersection of habit, hunger, rushing against time (we go in the evening hours after work), forgetting small details (we usually take dessert/beer), over-extention and under-appreciation, trafficy angst, and un-commuicated expectations (“I thought you would print the handout”). It really is the perfect storm, no?
Not yesterday. Yesterday, on the verge of extreme frustration, teetering on the edge of an argument, we chose a different path! Slowly, begrudgingly, against our inner-five-year-olds, we mustered up the will (and opened to the grace) to check-in instead of picking a fight, to laugh instead of tense conversation. Then we high-fived. Now we have this experience that reminds us what it’s like to break the spell, that a new habit is being formed to choose another option when we notice the familiar temptation. I credit the Holy Spirit, the dove in the poster below (by Bro. Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS) who is whispering “Work with me.”
How many times do we all let ourselves to get flustered over something that’s really about something else? How easy is it to pick a fight when we’re hungry, lonely, tired, have a bruised ego? What about when we’re trying to prove something? when we need affirmation? instead of asking for what we need, using humor, or being honest about where we’re at?
I’m learning that these tiny milliseconds present a choice, the choice to turn towards J. or turn away from J. I’m realizing how much power I have (and J. has, and all of us have) to make or break a moment, to use it to connect with each other or subtly isolate from each other. I’m learning to take ownership of my role in these moments of our car ride, and to practice humor and benefit-of-doubting and connection.
This experience of choosing — of training ourselves — to think differently reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005, which went viral in the past couple years: