This 2015 Burning Man installation really moved me. I also appreciated this description: The sculpture of two adults fighting, back to one another… yet the inner child in them both just want to connect and love one another. Age has so many beautiful gifts, but one that I could live without is the pride and resentment we hold onto when we are in conflict with others.” ~Alexi Panos
We have been mired in some family conflict this year. I can’t get into it here – it’s not really my story to tell at this particular juncture – but we’ve all been there.
Here’s something I’ve learned: Stubbornness gets us nowhere. And often leads us to ends that nobody wants (see picture above): turned away from each other, heads in our hands.
Expectations are another killer. It’s so hard to reconcile what has been with what we wish would be with what simply is. Especially when it comes to family.
Also: You can’t make other people see what you want them to see or understand what you want them to understand. That is, unless both parties are willing to come to the table and do the hard scary work of being vulnerable and talking about what is going in their pained,complicated, emotionally-charged non-rational hearts. Everyone has to let go of being ‘right’. There is no right. There is no wrong. In nearly every situation it’s a murky mess of reactions to something that happened.
I keep thinking about this quote from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water”
Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
I keep thinking about stepping out of my skull-sized kingdom and how to sacrifice in those unsexy ways. (I mean how many times have I pictured myself delivering some totally articulate spot-on speech that nails all the right points and changes someone’s mind? I’m as guilty of believing I’m right as anyone else.) I’m trying to figure out when to fight and when to let go. I’m trying to let go of expectations and accept what is.
It’s messy, painful work that is never finished, acceptance. Or maybe, as Cheryl Strayed said: “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
Here’s something else she said: “Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.”
I wish it was as simple as turning toward each other, offering up our hands and pressing our palms together. I’m going to hold that image in my heart.
(As a side note – on the subject of believing ourselves to be right vs. opening our minds to new perspectives – I oddly found myself thinking about this conflict when listening to Radiolab’s excellent podcast The Rhino Hunter. While the Cecil the lion story raged around the world, I, like many, saw myself as a proponent of animal rights – and hunters of exotic animals as ego-driven killers. Of course the reality of it all is complicated. This story challenged all of my ideas and conclusions. In fact, I’m still not sure where I land. It’s so easy for me to say I’d never kill an animal – that I don’t believe in it. But I’d also never pony up $350,000, (or any money for that matter)- as the rhino hunter in this story does – to help conserve these animals.)