My wife positively abhors houseflies. When the Oklahoma summer sun burnishes our back yard with its torturous shine, even the pestilence cease their plague and seek the great indoors. They come in droves and light upon fruit, both those born of vine and womankind. They fester in tall corners and shake hands with themselves, like desperate men making deals with the Devil. Unfortunately for them, neither the Devil nor the flies are an equal match for Mary.
She loathes them. She despises them. Her seething has rendered skill. She takes them with swatters. She swats them with dishrags. She picks them out of air, mid-flight. There isn’t a buzzing beast within a square mile that doesn’t fear her. The Orkin Man meets Jackie Chan, made manifest in a mother.
And, you would think given a paragon so adept at vanquishing its foe that my kids would jibe and mock at the houseflies as they buzzed about the house. Not so…
All of my children are considerably preoccupied with them. You might say, “petriflied”. They notice their presence in every room. They fret. They squirm. They ask to be saved.
The observations that I have taken away from this curious phenomenon (other than the fact that we won’t be attending a picnic anytime soon) are these:
[lead]”Your greatest strength- your expertise, experience, and deepest efforts- may be a frightful reality to the soul of an Other.”[/lead]
I can already hear many of you retorting, “Oh, c’mon, that’s their baggage! I can’t be responsible for that”. That’s fair, I guess. There will always be misunderstandings, envy, and competition to muddy the water. However, I still think there is a lesson to be learned here. If nothing else, can’t we admit that many times our ambition- that unquenchable drive for the attainment of excellence- is often motivated by an essential wound, a place within us that is murky and inglorious. Insecurity, hatred, and all manner of ugliness frequently lead to ribbon cuttings. Children (and all other souls) are perceptive about these things: while we only see our stock rising and the obstacles dropping like flies, others only sense the haunting threat that prompts our frantic flurries.
Thought: Do your best to purify your power.
[lead]”Your strength is someone else’s burden to bear.”[/lead]
After over a decade of marriage, I have a small mountain of anecdotal evidence for this. I am a thinker. Mary is a doer. I am a dreamer. Mary is categorically pragmatic. She is a planner. I can take 20 minutes to pick out which candy bar I want. We have lovingly plagued one another with ourselves all this time. Don’t get me wrong: I am not disparaging any of these qualities. On the contrary, they help to make up the very best of us. And that’s just the point. Because we’re different people and because we’re human, we often suffer much, even at the behest of our finest attributes.
The heavy click-clack of the high-powered corporate mom may sound like the drums of war in the ears of her artist daughter…
The corner office in the father’s built-from-nothing company might seem more like a cage to his passionate son…
The cleric’s collar and the shroud of the prayerful have often felt like millstones when forced upon the neck of sinners…
Thought: Wield your power with charity. Don’t be a hammer; a hammer only crushes. Be a sword. A sword is a scalpel if used with precision and in the service of health.
[lead]”Your strength is not meant for everyone.”[/lead]
“If I can do it, so can you!” is meant to be a declaration that inspires folks to achieve. And, it’s supposed to ring as a statement of humility, I suppose. But, I suspect that it is often not either of these things. Instead, this mantra can have an insidious, vengeful tone- a demand that all other humanity must bear up under the same weight that you have shouldered, the very load that made you mighty. I remember a moment when my oldest son, Rocky was just about 18 months old. We were playing together and he fell down. As he began to whimper, I felt a strange vigor well up in my soul. My teeth clinched. My neck tensed up. In a tone that sounded like a devil from within I looked at him and said, “You’re NOT hurt. Be tough!” Immediately I froze, my mind transported to a montage of tribulations that had marred my youth.
“If I had to do it, so you must!”
In that moment I swore to be so enormously strong that I would never again visit that hideous strength upon my son. It is not his to bear.