Saturday, March 24, 2012

Adult Temper Tantrums and Missed Moments

My youngest son, Noah, and I just got back from a spring break adventure in which we traveled by train from Chicago to Washington, DC, to Orlando. Then we flew back to Chicago and drove home. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit family in Orlando, but since we had to go through Washington we decided to spend a little extra time there. The train experience was less than blissful. It was fun during the awake times, but miserable for sleeping. I am sure that if we had had a sleeper car it would have been grand, but they are very pricey. We're tough...we can take it. (At least that's what I thought.)

In DC we had spent the whole day sightseeing which translated into a lot of walking and a lot of standing. We were wiped as we boarded the train. As we were directed to our car the conductor asked how many and I told him two. He said that he was out of seats together, but he would give Noah and me two aisle seats across from each other. It's a bummer not to be seated together any time, but especially for an 18 hour train ride in which we were sharing snacks, cards, etc. No problem. I was seated next to an older guy who looked to be in his late 70s or early 80s. Actually, he was in MY aisle seat. I politely told him I was traveling with my son and asked if he would mind swapping to other aisle seat so that my son and I could sit together. In his heavy New York accent he proceeded to tell me no, that he wouldn't swap seats. At this point, I was incredulous. He continued on and told me that he had recently had hip surgery and he needed to sit in THIS particular aisle seat so he could stretch out his leg. I changed my tactic and informed, again politely, that actually the aisle seat was my seat. (Also, I knew that they had seats for people with disabilities and medical problems that would be better suited to him). He insisted that he was in the right seat. I looked back at Noah and shrugged, squeezed past the old guy, and sat in the seat by the window. Not gonna lie...I was ticked. I crossed my arms, set my jaw, turned my back to him, and stared out the window while seething. He kept talking. "I'm sorry ma'am, I've just had this hip surgery. Here, I'll show you" (and proceeded to hand me some doctor's business card as proof). I curtly told him, "That's fine. I believe you." I did, in fact believe him. I was just miffed that I didn't get my way. Basically, I was acting like a petulant two-year-old.

One would think I would have been compassionate in this scenario. After all, I work with people with disabilities. I have also had back surgery and know how rough prolonged recovery from major orthopedic surgery is...and I was half his age. That all didn't matter though because I was tired from the day and I didn't get my way. So I did what any other self-respecting woman would do. I sulked and pouted. I leaned back and closed my eyes, more to ignore him than to sleep. A guy came by passing out pillows. The gentleman next to me gently tapped me and asked if I wanted to pillow. I mumbled out a "no" and turned my back to him again. I'll refuse a pillow and my own comfort--that'll show him! What an idiot I was!

The conductor passed through the train and punched everyone's tickets. When he realized that Noah and I weren't together, he asked the old guy to swap seats. The man launched into his hip surgery story again. Then the conductor asked the pregnant woman next to Noah if she would move. She did. (I didn't ask her because I felt too defeated after being shot down by a "gentleman."). We swapped seats and I got situated in the window seat next to Noah, still feeling rather grumpy. I decided I needed to let it go and doggone-it if I didn't hear that small, still voice that can only be the Holy Spirit. (How do I know? It came out of nowhere and interrupted my personal agenda.) So what did the Spirit say to me (through the twinge of conscious, not an audible voice)? He told me to get out of my seat, go apologize to that man, and listen to his stories.

The irony of this is that I love a good story. I blogged about it at length on my other blog. I'm usually all about chatting up people in airplanes and the like. However, I didn't want to apologize to this man. That would mean admitting that I was a stranger. I argued about it for a few minutes with Jesus. We had a heated debate in my head. He won, of course. In the meantime, this guy was talking and talking to the pregnant woman that he been moved next to him. He was telling her about his wife, where he was from, etc. He was talking and talking...just like I knew in my gut. He was lonely and needed someone to listen to him. Maybe even hear his surgery war story. As I was just summoning my courage to get up, apologize, and eat some crow, the conductor came back and moved him to a better seat with more leg room. My opportunity was blown. This time, I was remorseful that I didn't get to make amends and that I acted like a spoiled brat. Missed moments like this make me so thankful for grace...and forgiveness...and love.

So, Mr. Hip Surgery Guy on Amtrak from Washington to Orlando on Sunday, March 18, I'm sorry. I was a jerk. I'm sure you are a lovely person. I regret not treating you with more compassion and I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and listen to your stories. Please forgive me.
A Work in Progress

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Your Husband Does What?

It's often a conversation killer. I'm at some social gathering of acquaintances or thrust into a social milieu of some sort in which I know few people, if any. We are making small talk. It's the usual: What do you do?, Do you have children? How old are they? Where are you from? Are you married? What does you spouse do?

When I utter the words, "My husband is a pastor," there is a moment of silence, then a quick "oh really?" as a comment. Often I see the person scanning back through everything he or she said. I know what they are doing. They are trying to determine if they said something offensive, told an off-color joke, or uttered some sort of profanity. It happens about eight times out of ten, that someone begins to apologize to me for something that he/she said before it was known that my husband is a pastor. As if it should really make a difference. When the apologies start, my standard line is usually, "You know, I'm not the Holy Spirit."

While I am not a particular fan of vulgar jokes ( I sure was in 8th grade though!) or profanity, what I really hate is when people change who they are because of who I am married to. I am still the same person I was before you found out I was married to a pastor. I know it's shocking! After all, I am not wearing a jumper, I do wear make-up, and I am an educated, professional woman. I just blew your stereotype. And for the record, this pastor guy, with whom I share a house, a life, and a bed, is a pretty darn non-stereotypical human himself. He runs marathons, loves zombie movies, and one of his favorite songs of all times is Roxanne by The Police--about a prostitute. We're regular folk. He and I still have disagreements, we both get in bad moods,  we have forgotten to pay a bill or two on time. He leaves the toilet seat up and I leave my shoes lying around. We think ill of others sometimes and simply find some people annoying and disagreeable. So don't feel like you have to be perfect around us, because the Lord knows (really) that we certainly aren't. I would much rather have someone be genuine around me than to pretend to be someone they are not because they think it makes them look better. I'm not an idiot--I can usually see right through the veneer of perfection and pseudo-piety.

This past summer, I was with a group of fellow professors and we were all at the "still getting to know each other stage" when the inevitable came up. One thing I love about professors is that they generally don't bat an eye at such things and everyone just carried on as usual. That's beautiful. There was one though who said, "I'll bet you really know how to cook," to which I replied, "I like to think that I do, but I certainly don't know what that has to do with me being married to a pastor. I cook because I enjoy it and I do it for my family."

I just found out a couple of weeks ago that there were concerns about me starting my job at the university where I work. Many of our offices are in pods. We all have our own individual offices, but they may open into a separate outer office, hence the pod. So my "podmate" told me that he just found out that two of our other colleagues were worried about us sharing a pod. They were concerned that he would be too crass for me. We both had a good laugh about that because we make great podmates. We actually have very similar theoretical views on a lot of professional and academic issues and have presented together a few times at our national convention because of it. We talk shop frequently throughout the day and also discuss many, many non-work related issues as well. Ironically, he and my husband have developed a friendship because of their mutual interest in zombies, music, and fixing up cars. Yeah, he drops a few four-letter words here and there, but it doesn't really phase me and I am thankful that he doesn't edit himself to be something he's not.

Conversely, when I was working on my doctorate, one of my professors called me in to go over a paper I had written. After we talked about my paper, he started asking me why I was going to school part-time instead of full-time. I explained that I carried the health insurance for my family, so I needed to keep working my part-time job. He started going on and on about how my husband needed to "be a man" and work extra hard so that I could attend school full-time. He was ranting on and on and then took a breath to pause and ask what my husband did. When I told him that Robert was a youth minister (at that time), he flushed and stammered and began to say things like, "Oh, that is such a noble profession. He is doing such fine work. I totally understand why you are going to school part-time and it sounds like that is a good idea...." ad nauseum. He was backpedaling so hard it was all I could do not to fall on the floor laughing.

Moral of the story? It doesn't really matter what my husband's job is. You wouldn't act differently is he was a physician or plumber or librarian or chef, so don't act differently because he's a pastor. You are still you and I am still me. We need to be authentic with one another to form real relationships. And I'm not judging, nor do I have a super-special relationship with God that's different than what you or anyone else can have, if you choose to do so. Let's just be real...together.