My kids and I walk a lot. I prefer to walk everywhere when I can, and since the store is only a half mile away, the church as well, we walk as much as possible. I'm in the habit of stepping to the street side of the sidewalk. It's something I was taught as a kid. The bigger, protective people walk closer to the street to protect the smaller people from the cars that are driving by. Also, this way if a kid stumbles, they will stumble into the bigger person rather than just falling into the street and into the way of on-coming cars. Ever since I've had kids, this has been an automatic impulse: walking in the most protective way. Since the streets around here are not small and slow streets, but fast moving, multi-lane streets, this has become even more automatic. I walk on the street side and often hold the hands of the children with whom I'm walking to make sure no one dashes into danger. Yesterday, however, I was walking with David. We started with David walking on the street side, but, without conscious awareness, I felt uneasy and quickly moved so that I was on the street side. He gave me a puzzled look and asked why I had done that.
"Moved to the street side."
Oh. I hadn't noticed, but realized that it was again an automatic reaction to a sense of uneasiness or wrongness. Without thinking I moved to that place because I felt uncomfortable walking with someone I care about in a non-protective way. It didn't matter that David is 7 inches taller and weighs twice what I weigh. What mattered was being able to protect the person I was with.
But the whole conversation and realization of my own automatic behavior caused me to pause and think about what behaviors we teach ourselves that then become automatic, and what behaviors we need to reteach ourselves to become automatic from the place of being people of "the way" or people who follow God's call to love one another. The behaviors we practice become habit. The ways we interact with others become second nature when done routinely. We have a choice about what we practice and the ways we interact with others. We have a choice about what behaviors become habitual.
Last week I was in a foul mood. I was cranky because it had been raining and raining. The constant dark and the lack of exercise don't agree with me. And even though we need the water, always, in CA, I was just done with all the wet. I was driving to run an errand I wasn't excited about and grumbling to myself about life, love, work, etc. I came to a red light and saw a woman crossing the street on her way to the hospital. I didn't know if she was heading there to visit someone or if she worked there, but I could tell that either way, she was not having a good day. She walked very slowly, looked down the whole time and her face was filled with sorrow and sadness. I found myself caught in her expression, and sent up a prayer for her to have a day with joy and healing in it, whatever that might look like. If I'd been in a place where I could have pulled over and parked, I would have done so, but again, this was on a six-lane fast moving street and I knew by the time I found a place she would be inside. I sent energy her way, and found myself internally reaching out to hug her spirit.
That one act, taking a moment to get out of myself and focus on another, changed my whole attitude that morning. I was no longer thinking about ME. I was focused on someone else's needs and wanting good for her.
That episode, too, caused me to pause and think about what we practice. What we practice makes a difference. It makes a difference for me, and when my attitude and behavior changes, it makes a difference for others as well.
There are so many things we need to practice. But here are some of the things I am choosing the practice today:
1. Gratitude or remembering that we are so blessed by everything that comes our way. We have food, shelter, friends, family, air, sunshine and rain, music, dance and art, bodies that allow us to see, hear, touch, taste, smell; beautiful places to be, flowers, rainbows, exercise, books, movies, puzzles, our faith, our supports, schools, medical care... the list goes on and on and on. The challenges are gifts too because they help us grow. And the things we don't like give us the opportunities to work for positive change. It helps me to start from gratitude to move forward in whatever I have to do.
2. Seeing the invisible. As my daughter and I were walking to church today we passed a man air blowing the leaves off the sidewalk. Even though he couldn't hear, my daughter said, "hello!" to him. I am grateful that my daughter sees even those people many of us forget to see. She sees homeless folk. She sees needy people. She sees workers. And she greets them all. She reminds me to see, too, and to do the same.
3. Kindness. Striving to find kind words to say and little random acts to give to all those I encounter. I am practicing being affirming because I see what a difference it can make.
4. Humility. It is easy for me to feel slighted. I'll admit this. I struggle with self-esteem and because of that, I can take things very personally and feel insulted, undervalued and unloved. Humility, or remembering that all of us are just people on the journey, imperfect, striving to be and do the best we can, helps me to stay centered and to not focus so much on how others treat or respond to me, but more, how I can treat and respond to others.
There are so many other ways of behaving that we need to practice. Choosing to react with love rather than fear. Choosing to react with compassion and understanding rather than anger or hate. Choosing to react with a strong but steady presence rather than running in uncomfortable situations. All of these take practice. But it's what we are called to do. And the more we practice, the more automatic and easier these things become. For me. For you. For all of us.