My righteousness knows no bounds.
It struck me as I was driving home the other day how deeply mired I am in being right with–and about–a certain person of my acquaintance. I’ve spent a lifetime digging in to my perspective on this person’s behavior and I have proof–PROOF, I tell you–that this person has wronged me and those I love repeatedly and seemingly without being checked.
I am right. When you look at the evidence, which I very righteously trotted out for a couple of acquaintances over the last few days, you can see that I am right in my view of this person. I AM RIGHT.
And yet, I saw myself being RIGHT through someone else’s eyes the other day. It took a while. A few hours afterward, I was in my car making my slow way home through a slushy day and the look on that person’s face came into view in my mind and I wondered what that look was about, and it hit me, and quite hard. Enough to make me sick to my stomach and worry that my esteem had been lessened in the mind of that person.
This is all so vague, is it not? I won’t give particulars, but here’s the gist of it: the person I was venting about is someone with a medically-certified mental condition. And I trotted that out as if it were something to jeer and sneer at. What an oaf, I am. A truly RIGHTEOUS oaf.
The wonder is I saw it. The wonder is there was someone there who knew how to guide me to that realization without pissing me off—letting me figure it out on my own, trusting that I would, trusting me in a way I haven’t had the energy to trust myself in a long time.
But here it is: the realization that, with the medical diagnosis, that relationship has changed. I’m still holding on to old patterns and looking at them through a lens that no longer focuses correctly. However much I want that person to recognize that their behavior is harmful and childish, they won’t. So, as I always tell my children when they complain about other people, I have to ask myself: “who CAN you change?”
The answer: me.
I have to use the new lens, the one that focuses correctly, the one that sees the person in question as s/he IS; not as I wish him/her to be.
I have to change. I have to accept the difference not in the relationship, but in my response to the behavior I find damaging. Not giving a pass for bad behavior, but redirecting my energy to what I can make different.
It isn’t easy, this growing up thing, is it? This learning to be better, do better, understand better? This is what my failing has been with the person in question, my inability to see the world anew, through the diagnosis of mental illness, and with different expectations.
It came to me in a flash, though, as I was driving. I saw the look on that other person’s face, and then I flashed to a seminar I attended as a correspondent for the local newspaper. It was a lunch for non-medical professional caregivers of people with Alzheimers. During the presentation, a medical professional flashed on the screen some photos of post-mortem brains (yes, while we were eating). One was of someone who died with a “healthy” brain, the other was the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s brain was hollow inside, as if the disease was eating away the brain from the inside out.
The medical professional said “So, if you find yourself asking quesitons like ‘What were you thinking, walking out of the house with no pants on?’ and expecting the person to provide you with a rational answer, you have to understand you aren’t going to get it.” The photo gave an opportunity for those in the room to understand, in a tangible way, that their expectations for their partners/parents to be as they used to be, to act as they used to act, to understand as they used to understand were founded on an expectation of those partners/parents to be “normative.” And they weren’t. Would never be again.
I had not really processed the mental illness diagnosis as something real. It was more of the drama that attended this person–the unacceptable need to create tension in situations that needed no more added tension. But now I have.
I wrote about righteousness before, and this feels like the same thing—the need to be right overtook my capacity for fully understanding the new situation because the “new” situation felt like the same old stuff, but with a new label. Because IT WAS! The label didn’t change the person, but it had to change my response to her/him—and I hadn’t let it.
I’m still not sure I’m ready to let go of the rock of righteousness, but I know if I want to regain my sense of my own capabilites, my trust in my own instincts about what is really right and what is not, I’m going to have to some day.
I’m betting it will be sooner rather than later; I’m also betting I’ll have this same conversation with myself over another issue sometime in the future because I am what I am and no more. I learn incrementally and seemingly at a snail’s pace, but I learn. And each time I remind myself, it feels like I’m loosening that grip on righteousness a little bit more.
Strange how, when you let go of the rock of righteousness, you are better able to extend your hand and heart to those who truly need it.
Wish me luck on this journey. I have a long way to go.