January 7, 2011

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

We all have something to learn and something to teach

Patti LambThe other day, I asked my 6-year-old son, Henry, what sound the letter “u” makes.

He thought long and hard. His deliberating went on for some time. I could see the wheels in his mind spinning.

But then his inquisitive look took a turn, and he became defensive. All at once, he snapped, “No fair!”

I looked at him, puzzled.

“No fair,” he repeated. “We haven’t learned that yet.”

Each week, the kindergarten class studies a particular letter in the alphabet. Apparently, they had not yet made it to the letter “u.”

Then it struck me that I should be more careful. Too often, I take for granted that I know where others have been and what they know.

I make snap judgments based on how I think people should act, according to my own experiences. If they don’t comply with the world as I know it, then I dismiss them.

But sometimes we don’t understand if we haven’t been there.

One afternoon several weeks ago, I was trying to herd my 3-year-old daughter, Margaret, from the parking lot into my son’s school. That day, my child was in full-tantrum mode. She was uncooperative and defiant in every way. She stomped and howled. I felt my blood pressure rising.

To make matters even more uncomfortable, I spotted another school mom—a mother I greatly admire—walking through the lot to her car.

She witnessed the entire spectacle. Embarrassed, I stared at the ground, avoiding eye contact at all costs and secretly hoping that a giant pothole might swallow both my daughter and I to diffuse the situation.

Instead of acting like she didn’t see me, which might have made the situation even more awkward, the mom smiled and said, “I’ve been there.” She couldn’t have said anything better. It was just what I needed to hear. And she kept on walking like everything was normal.

Before I had kids, I might have looked at myself in the parking lot and thought, “Woman, get your kid under control!” But sometimes we can’t empathize until we have been through it.

This brought me to a New Year’s resolution. My hope is to be more compassionate. Inspired by my son’s comment, I will attempt to proceed as if people that I consider difficult simply “have not learned that yet.”

If someone acts insecure, I will consider that perhaps she has only known rejection.

If someone doesn’t visit or keep in touch, maybe it is because she hasn’t yet known what it truly feels like to be lonely.

If someone acts greedy, I will know it might be because he has only encountered loss.

If someone is mean, it might be because that is all he has ever known. Maybe he has never been properly introduced to kindness.

Years ago, I was positive that a certain person on this planet woke up every morning and plotted how he could best sabotage my day. Later, I learned that he had been through some trying and heartbreaking times as a young man. He was hurt and hardened, and the only love he had ever known—at best—was very tough love. He had never learned to be gentle.

We can only know what we have been taught by parents, teachers and life circumstances.

In 2011, I hope to keep in mind that everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach.

I am aware that this concept is simple, but I rediscovered it when my son unknowingly issued a gentle reminder that we all progress at different intervals. I think God might smile on such a childlike approach.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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