I was moved to tears this morning when I opened my e-mail and found a note from a childhood friend in which she told me she was an avid reader of the blog (thank you!) but, more importantly, that she had had an experience, a profound one that she had been waiting 20 years for, that she came away from feeling both deserving of a gold star and as if she had given one. That, I believe, is the perfect scenario.
In this particular case, my friend achieved such a state of grace when she finally, at long, long last, got an apology from an old, loved boyfriend, a seminal one, one who had wronged her, pretty despicably.
“Gold Star,” she said, “for all the girls who have had their hearts torn apart just wishing that one day, just one day, that jerk would fess up and say those difficult words, ‘I’m sorry.’” That group, of course, includes her, or at least did, before yesterday, before “the jerk” fessed up that he had, indeed, been a jerk. Gold star for you babe!
She happened to look great when he did it, she said, which helped her feel good in the moment, of course. But she came off the best because she gave him what he was looking for: forgiveness and the peace of mind that she had moved on and that he should too. Do we ever really move on? I don’t know, but his apology went a far way toward helping that be true for her. In fact, she told me, she even, in her great relieving generosity, thought that he deserved a gold star.
“It was a hell of a try,” she said, “and if guys knew they could get a gold star for doing it, maybe more would step up. What do you think?”
Here’s what I think: Definitely! We are all of us so afraid to do things because we don’t know what others will think, are afraid of how they might view us. But more often than not, if we go with our instincts, say what we really want to say, step out from in front of the mirror where we inspect ourselves too harshly in ways that no one else will or wants to, we would all be better off. Whenever I get mired in worrying about what others think, I seem always to make the wrong choice, the wrong one for me and, probably, for that other person too. Maybe if we all imagined that there would be positive acknowledgment for taking responsibility, for not hiding behind a scared façade, if there were a gold star or some fantastic or real facsimile, we would begin to do it more?! Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Look, for those who have wronged me, take note: I hereby promise to give you a gold star for your apology. Thanks, in advance. I guess, though, that means I have to do the same…ay, there’s the rub. That’s when it begins to feel hard.
Reciprocity is fundamental, though. Call it 'paying it forward,' 'tit for tat,' 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' or a thousand other phrases we have developed to describe it, but it is what it is: crucial to feeling even halfway decent.
My sage yoga instructor again today read my mind, or the universal unconsciousness, which feel like the same thing on good, connected days. During a moment when we all stood, asses high, stretching our legs taut as if our lives depended on it, she told an inspirational anecdote from a recent subway ride. Yes, ye of little faith, there is such a thing.
She had been feeling good, she said, up and ready for teaching a great class, when she unwittingly clocked a stranger with her bag. Instead of understanding that it had been a mistake, he showered her with, she recalled sweetly, "not nice words." In a flash, her zen-like readiness for helping to restore others' minds and bodies was destroyed. She was angry. In true guru fashion, however, she didn't let her anger get the best of her. She immediately looked around for something good, she said, something to remind her that she wasn't wrong, that the world was a generous, understanding, happy place.
She lighted on goodness immediately, as one is wont to do if looking, in the form of a 20-something punk kid helping an older person with directions. She went on to find a variety of other things, small acts of kindness. I smiled to myself as I listened. It was exactly what giving out gold stars did for me, turning me from foul-tempered to foolishly, impossibly optimistic all in one fell swoop. As usual, she deserved a gold star for imparting her story, for helping all of us disciples on our stretchy, spongy mats try to make sense of things.
"I think I'm going to cry!" she said when I handed it to her. I hope she felt the same way I did after she said that to me after she taught the class, that she felt the blessing of being giver and receiver both.