-I snapped at my wife the other day. I’m not usually a snapper, but every so often I get impatient. I want her to make a decision quicker than she’s making it, especially–or, maybe only–when that decision involves me. I’d made up my mind, why couldn’t she? So, I snapped, thinking it might work to criticize her into making up her mind. You can guess how that went.
While she was in the middle of snapping back at me, and I was forming my apology, it occurred to me that I was both sorry and not sorry. Not that she deserved to be snapped at, but that I had simply forgotten something I had learned recently. My wife is not the only one I’m impatient with. Since I was a boy, I have been impatient with life itself. I want what I want and I want it now. Why is it taking so long for me to get what I want when I know what that is? How can I shake the tree of life so its fruits will start dropping immediately?
The tree of life, like other people, is immune to such shaking. The fruit falls when it’s ready. The nice thing about a partner, unlike the tree, is the partner can speak unambiguously to let you know if what you’re doing isn’t working. Jen, my wife, is just such a partner. I always understood why she didn’t want to be shaken, but for years I feared that the only alternative to demanding what I wanted was not getting it at all. It wasn’t that I wanted to shake her or the tree, I just couldn’t come up with anything else to do.
For me, I found that the something else I could do was to get curious, to get interested. When I got interested in why Jen didn’t know if she wanted to buy the car or go out for dinner, she was no longer an obstacle to what I wanted but an unexpected part of the process. As soon as I’m interested in something, I’m learning about it, I’m working with it, and I no longer feel powerless to it.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned to get interested until recently, whereas I’d been getting impatient all my life. Which is to say, impatience was a habit. I used to say that I was an impatient guy. It wasn’t great, but that’s who I was. There was a little bragging there as if to say, “You poor people might be willing to sit around on your hands waiting for what you want, but not me!” Except it was never who I was, it was just something I’d been doing. There is a huge difference.
That’s why I was both sorry and not sorry. All that had happened was I had forgotten. It’s so much easier to apologize when I don’t feel guilty. I cannot feel guilty about forgetting. The apology, then, is just a way of remembering who I am and maybe reminding the other person who I am as well. It’s easy to forget who the other person really is when they’re rattling your cage. I know because Jen rattles my cage too. She, fortunately, is no more perfect than I. The easiest way to remember who she is at such moments is also to get curious. What’s really going on with her? Maybe I ask her, maybe I just sit back and wait and listen. Either way, the answer usually comes sooner than it seemed possible a minute before when I wasn’t curious and just wanting her to knock it off already.
One other benefit of getting curious rather than impatient is that it helps me see what I otherwise couldn’t. Often, what I see is what I actually want, the very thing I’d been shaking the tree life so it might give me. The fruit had already fallen but I likely kicked it out of the way so I could get to those branches. I suppose shaking made me feel like I was doing something, being proactive, rather than just picking up what was for me to plant and grow.
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