I'm struck today by the tendency we humans have of jumping to conclusions, by the swiftness with which we can reach assessments. "What a jerk!" or "How dare she!?" for example. Even "She's a saint!" The slow guy in front of me taking his sweet ol' time making his left turn: to him I say aloud, rolling my eyes, in the containment of my car where he could not possibly hear me, "Are you sure, now?" And just as soon as those words are out of my mouth, I remember a minister-friend telling the story of a woman grieving the sudden death of her parents. How that affected her driving, her walking, her talking: she wasn't herself, as we say, her reflexes dulled, slowed by her sorrow. Always assume the best, leave room for a person's circumstances: this is what I took away from that story. And today, I am glad I didn't honk at the guy slow to turn. I'm also glad when I don't honk at the car stopped in front of me at a green light--for no apparent reason until the reason is revealed: kid chasing ball. Person in wheelchair crossing, or the like. When I remember, I give people 'the benefit of the doubt,' as we say.
I could say I've been on the receiving end lately of a flurry of snap judgments. Judgments which left little or no room for the benefit of doubt. But more and more--and especially after yesterday--I see how not personal it all is (except of course when it is). It would seem that I am simply at the effect of the reflex of a mechanism apparently programmed to judge, to blame. It's funny, when you think about it. That we can all be walking around thinking (usually without even knowing that we're thinking) that this guy and that guy and the other guy is out to get us. We don't say it that way; we say they're mean or deceptive or dismissive or whatever. When I wrote about "The Slasher," I left out the thought that maybe this stick action with the flowers was venting something for this kid, and keeping him from reaching a boiling point that would provoke him to much more violent acts. I didn't say that I thought maybe he's lashing out about a troubling situation at home. Who knows? There are all sorts of reasons a kid might whack flowers like that--simple unconsciousness being one of them. But I don't know, I can't know the real reason. What I see, though, when I look more closely is this: it's not personal. To the other it might be personal--even justified: by X statement or Y omission or Z action, I am revealed to you as the jerk that I am--perhaps you've made such a judgment based on something I've written here. Or you are revealed to me as the jerk that you are. Keep this up long enough and what am I but surrounded by a bunch of jerks! So what is up with this picture?
I heard a radio DJ make a public apology today to Paula Abdul for saying she looked drunk at an interview earlier this year. Turns out the talented songstress was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy two years ago, and can unexpectedly experience symptoms at times that might be mistaken for intoxication--swaying, slurring of speech. "She says it's character defamation," said the DJ before she apologized. Well, it is character defamation, is it not?
We do this, don't we. We jump to all sorts of conclusions--even "good" ones.
I took this photograph in my garden a few days ago. I shot the bleeding hearts last year, and have several images of them that I like, but I tried it again just the same, to see what I might turn up. There was bright sun this day for one thing, which was missing in the old shots. I was surprised, as I compared the new images, to discover something that I've never noticed about this sweet and so very distinctive flower, a flower that has caught my attention since I was a girl. Only yesterday did I realize that the "arms" (sepals?) start closed tight at the base, then open up to the sides gradually as they bloom ending, after some time, up against the heart part. (All three stages are evident in this image here.) So what, you may think. So this: I consider myself to be a keen observer. It is not unusual for me to hear comments about this: "Boy, you don't miss a trick, do you?" But after years--decades--of looking at the bleeding heart and not seeing that detail, a central not even a peripheral detail when you think about it, I have to stop and ask myself: what else am I not seeing?
Yesterday, I returned to my Alma mater for a walk around Lake Waban on a quest for lady slippers and a sighting of the four new cygnets born to their parent swans last weekend. I was filled up--fulfilled and then some--by these and some other unexpected beauties of the wood. But this white rhododendron in particular--lovely enough with the naked eye, but absolutely spectacular in close up--has stopped me in my tracks. How about those colors: that mustardy-olive splatter above a pistil terminating in fire-engine red, surrounded by stamens capped with pink- lavender anthers, and the flower petals edged ever so subtly in lavender: who thought of this?!!?
If a person tried doing what this flower is "doing," what are the chances we might call him or her showy or weird or creative or splashy or funky or... ? You might look at this flower and call it hideous. I look and see a crazy, exquisitely gorgeous life expression. I see freedom and perfection. I see magnificent design. I see brilliance, in every sense of the word. I also see a particle of Love, the Life Force, not trying to be baudy or funky or hideous or brilliant. It is just being IT, whether I like it or not, whether I notice it or not, whether I approve or disapprove, with or without my resistance--nothing personal. Just like you, and me, and the guy slow on the turn, and the golf buddy who's chronically late, and the prospect who won't return calls, and the kids who track mud in the house, and and and.
It's not personal: got it. Maybe by the grace of Love's countless reminders, I'll even remember it and, as art imitates life, let life imitate Love.