Free pass

Many years ago I was in a group of friends who lived in Atlanta. One girl kept making snarky comments to me one day. She would say something rude or condescending about everything I said or did. Either she didn’t usually speak to me or I didn’t notice her comments, but that day I did.

I finally worked up the courage to speak up. I said this to her with our friends present. Bullies have a hard time when there are witnesses. “Are you a bitch all the time, or is today just a special day?” She was silent. I continued. “Because all you have done all day is cut me down and I can’t think of any reason for it. If I’ve done something wrong, let me know.” She never answered, and she has never spoken to me again.

It was very hard for me to do this, but I had to. I was shaking inside, but I knew I had to say something. Verbal abuse is exactly the same as physical abuse, and must be stopped as soon as it is noticed or it will get worse. If you ignore it, you are allowing it to happen.

I once had a coworker who thought it was acceptable to walk up behind me and hit the back of my head several times a day.

I have relatives – blood and in-laws – who think it is acceptable to slander me, steal from me, and lie to me.

I am here to tell you that nobody is ever allowed a free pass to abuse you. Nobody. This includes but is not limited to managers, bosses, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, ministers, and strangers on the street.

Nobody has permission to harm you in any way.

First, let them know how their actions make you feel. They may not realize that they are being a bully. If they sincerely apologize and never do it again, then let it go. If they do it one more time, walk away. You do not need people like this in your life. It does not matter who they are. Nobody gets a free pass at harming you.

You are valuable. You are a child of God. You are unique and precious. If they cannot recognize that, then that is their loss. You cannot make blind people see.

Rumi says in “The Way That Moves as You Move” (rendered by Coleman Barks)
“You have read about the inspired spring. Drink from there. Be companions with those whose lips are wet without water. Others, even though they may be your father or your mother, they are your enemies. Leave, before they kill you.”

Jesus says:
“You assume that I have come to bring peace on earth, and you are mistaken. I have come to set fire to the world, and how I wish it was already burning! I have a mission that I am called to, and it will overwhelm me until I have completed it. I’m not here to join people together but to divide them. Families will turn against each other in their households. I’ve come to bring a sword, cutting old family ties. I’ve come to turn sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be members of your household. Anyone who loves their family more than me cannot be my disciple.” (MT 10:34-37, LK 14:25-26, LK 12:49-53 – Condensed Gospel version)

We must follow the Truth,
regardless of others around us,
regardless of their authority
or connection to us.
If they are harmful to us,
we must walk away and cut all ties.

Only God is above us, not them.

It is better to be lonely than with someone who abuses you.

The dentist

My parents took me to a dentist when I was very young and the experience traumatized me. The effects of that are still with me today.

I believe that he didn’t knowingly traumatize me. He thought he was a very good dentist. It turns out he wasn’t as good as he thought and in many ways he wasn’t a very good person. If he’d really thought about what he was doing then none of this would have happened.

He caused me immeasurable pain and terror because he didn’t use anesthesia when he worked on my teeth. He thought he could be very gentle and delicate and that he didn’t have to give me anything. He also thought that simply seeing the needle (needles for dentists are very large) would frighten me.

Ideally, he would have given me a shot anyway and explained the benefits of it. Ignorance leads to fear which leads to pain. Seeing the needle could be frightening sure, but that is when you explain why it is long (to reach inside your mouth) and how it will help (to make sure you don’t feel any pain).

Without a shot, I was in fact in pain. But also, I was in terror, because I knew that if I moved I could be very hurt. One wrong slip with that drill and he’d be drilling my cheek and not my tooth.

Strangely, he didn’t even have an assistant. So there was no one else in the room to look in my eyes and see the terror and suffering, both physical and mental.

Because my parents took me to him, I thought this was normal. I thought this was part of going to the dentist. I thought surely they wouldn’t make me go through this terror and pain for no reason.

People don’t really understand how traumatizing this is, that this authority figure caused me pain and my parents, other authority figures, took me to him. This means that what he’s doing to me is accepted and okay and normal and in fact, they’re paying him to do it.

No one warned me what was going to happen. That just adds to the pain. Any time something new is going to happen to anyone – but especially a child, explaining it beforehand is a kindness. It is all about thinking about the other person and their emotional needs. They don’t know what is going to happen. They don’t even know what to ask. It is the medical professional’s duty to remember that even though s/he has performed that procedure a thousand times, this is the first time for this patient. Not only is “informed consent” important, it is also simply kind and humane and compassionate to make sure they know what to expect.

I’m so grateful that I’m realizing all of this. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have the strength at the time to stand up and say “No you can’t do this to me.” or “You have to tell me what you are going to do to me before you do it.” But at least now I’ve noticed it and I can start to make changes. If I didn’t notice it then it would mean that I would continue to suffer and say nothing.

Hopefully by my writing about this, you will gain strength too and learn to ask for what is going to happen before it does if your doctor doesn’t think to tell you. Hopefully you might start to understand the root of some of your distress as well. Uncovering this root has really helped me in understanding some of my behavior and attitudes. This early experience badly affected how I related to and experienced the world. Now that I’ve uncovered it, I can heal myself from that point onwards.

Verbal aikido – not engaging in the fight means you win

Nothing drives an angry person more up the wall than refusing to fight or be indignant with them.

I remember a time when I saw two homeless guys sitting on a bench. I was walking back from getting lunch at a barbecue place when I worked at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. One of the guys was black and one was white. They were doing fine, and then they started arguing, and one hit the other. I told them that they needed to make peace. I pointed out that they were friends (or at least friends enough to sit together in the first place) and they didn’t need to fight. They agreed, but then a little later the white guy got up, sidled up to me and started saying something racist. I didn’t agree with him – I’m on the side of peace. It has nothing to do with race.

He thought I was going to agree with him because I am white. He thought I’d be on his side. He was very frustrated that I wasn’t on his team.

A lady came into the library recently and complained about the lack of parking there that day. I told her there was a job fair going on next door. She said – so they have to park here? I said that lot is now full, and they are parking here now. She was still upset. I pointed out that this number of people going to a job fair just shows how desperate people are for jobs.

I was trying to get her to have some compassion, but it didn’t work.

She said that there are a lot of other places that have more unemployment.

This means nothing. Pain is pain, no matter where it is, or the amount of it. Just because another city has more unemployment doesn’t mean that the need isn’t great here. Her comment makes no sense. Really, she was just saying that she was inconvenienced.

Her inconvenience is nothing in relation to their need.

I could tell that she wanted me to get upset right along with her, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t freaking out at all. It isn’t “our” parking lot that “they” are taking.

I’ve also learned that one of the most amazing things you can do to someone who is angry at you personally (not at a situation) is to ask them to pray for you.

A lady came in once and asked me if we had a vending machine. I pointed out that we don’t have a vending machine because we are a library and you can’t eat or drink in here. She got very upset with me and started cursing at me. She finished by saying that she was a Christian.

I’m so glad that she told me because I would never have known based on her actions.

So I asked her to pray for me, and she immediately calmed down. It was like taking the wind out of her sails. How can you get angry at someone you are praying for?

I refused to get to where she wanted me to be.

This is all like verbal aikido.

Remember the phrase – if you wrestle with a pig, you’ll both get dirty, but the pig will have more fun.

A punch to the head woke me up.

If you have told someone that something they do makes you uncomfortable, and they keep on doing it, then it is up to you to terminate the relationship.

That may sound harsh.

But it is as if you’ve put up your feelings for a vote. Who wins? Their needs or yours? Ideally, you’d both win. Ideally, everybody would be happy.

But if they feel they need to continue doing something that you have said is distressing or harmful to you, then they have voted. Their needs are more important than yours.

I went to a gathering once and I brought a jewelry project to work on. It is like a security blanket to me. I like having projects because it makes me feel more comfortable. I feel more exposed when I have nothing to work on.

A lady there wasn’t comfortable with me working on a project. I wasn’t right next to her. The project wasn’t loud or big. It wasn’t like I was taking notes. But she felt that in order for her to share her thoughts she needed me to not be doing anything and to look right at her.

She didn’t ask me directly. She mentioned casually, to the air it seemed, that she would rather each person pay full attention and not work on anything. It took me a little bit to understand that she meant me, she was so vague.

So I had a choice. Make her feel comfortable, and me feel uncomfortable, and stop working on my project. Or, pretend I didn’t hear her and keep on working. I’d feel a little comfortable because I’d have my project, but a little less than before she spoke because I would know that I was making someone else feel uncomfortable.

But really, I wasn’t making her feel uncomfortable. That was her choice.

I put my project up. And I developed a small amount of resentment to her, and a little bit to myself. I was upset that I didn’t stand up for myself. I was upset with her that she confronted me at all, and that she did it in such a passive-aggressive kind of way. It was my choice not to tell her how I felt. It was my choice to let her needs be more important than mine.

I had a coworker who thought it was funny to hit me on the back of my head when she walked by. She wouldn’t hit hard – she would often just catch my hair. That is an invasion of my personal space. That is a violation of social rules – we don’t touch each other unless it is mutual.

Now, I hate having people walk behind me anyway, but there is nothing I can do about it at work because of the arrangement of the desks. I don’t have an office. I don’t really even have a desk. I have a space that I usually work at when nobody else is around. It is a little discomforting to work in a place for many years and not really have a “place” to be, but that is for another post.

I first thought she was getting a rise out of it, out of getting in my personal space. So I dealt with her like I dealt with my big brother – pretend that I liked it. I figured that she’d stop because that works with big brothers. Don’t let them get the satisfaction of seeing you upset. Pretend it doesn’t bother you. It didn’t work. I had to tell her to quit, and in telling her I learned something very telling about my boss.

She laughed at me for telling this lady to quit hitting me. I should have seen that as the sign that it is. Hindsight is 20/20 they say. I learned this lesson later – don’t trust her with anything real. She isn’t really human.

I knew a guy in college named Carson who hurt me badly. He and I were sitting in a friend’s dorm room. I was sitting on the bed and he was sitting in a chair facing me. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but at some point in the conversation he reached over and pushed me sideways. My back was against the wall, and being pushed sideways meant that my head caught the part of the doorjamb where the doorknob was. It hurt a lot. I pulled forward, turned around, and saw what had caused the pain in my head. I told Carson to be careful – I’d gotten hurt from his shove. I figured it was an accident.

The second push wasn’t an accident. He took my shoulder, pulled me back to see where the doorjamb was, and then shoved my head sideways into the doorjamb.

Without thinking, I hit him as hard as I could right between the eyes. Every bit of energy and force I had in me was directed into that punch. I’m grateful that I didn’t hit him anywhere where it could have caused actual damage. I could have bloodied his nose, broken his teeth, bruised his eye. I could have killed him if I’d hit the right spot with that much force. It was an instinctive punch, and it did the job.

We stared at each other for what seemed like ten minutes. I’m sure it was only a minute, but time had slowed down. It does that when crazy things happen.

He broke the silence. “Don’t ever do that again.” He glowered at me.

“Don’t ever do that again.” I responded, indignant. He’d hurt me intentionally. There was no reason for it. I’d never done anything to him to deserve that. I’d never done anything to anybody to deserve that.

The first time is free. The first time is an accident. Once you’ve been told that you’ve harmed me, and you do it again, everything is over.

If they hurt you and you don’t tell them, then it is on you. If you tell them and they continue to hurt you, then they have made their choice. It is on you if you stay after that.

Tree pose without doing tree pose.

I know a lady who dislikes going to the grocery store. I understand. I feel the same way. It isn’t all the food. It is all the people and color and noise and choice. It is all too much and it is overwhelming.

She does yoga, so I suggested this – do tree pose, without doing tree pose.

There is a certain deliberate calmness you have to adopt to do tree pose. You have to pull all of your energy into yourself. When you are there, you can balance. You can breathe better. You can stand strong, even though it is only on one foot. You aren’t holding on to anything, yet you don’t need to.

You are strong. You are centered. You are whole.

Do that. But without doing tree pose. The pose is just a reminder. The point of the pose has little to do with the physical balance you gain and the strength you develop in your ankles.

That’s nice too. Not getting hurt from twisting your ankles anymore is a nice side benefit of yoga. But it is only part of it.

The real part is what happens inside. The real part is what happens deep down. The real part is the balance and the centeredness and the calm that you are able to call on when life is too much and too crazy and too full and too much.

The real part is that you don’t even need to stand on one foot to get there once you’ve done it enough.

Disagree – words and food

I’m OK with people disagreeing with me, just not all the time. I certainly don’t want people around who only agree with me. That isn’t healthy. It is important to have friends who can help keep you from doing something stupid.

But it also isn’t healthy to have people around who constantly disagree, even if they try to soften the disagreement by saying they “respectfully” disagree. This is like saying I’m going to hit you, so brace for it. It is for your own good.

People who constantly disagree are like food that disagrees with you. If you know that eating pepperoni always gives you heartburn, you will (hopefully) stop eating pepperoni. The pain and discomfort just isn’t worth it. If you go over to your aunt’s house and she always serves you pepperoni, then do you eat it, out of respect to her? What if eating pepperoni was part of her childhood and serving it is how she shows love?

Yet eating it makes you sick. Do you tell her, and break her heart, or do you eat it, and get heartburn? Somebody is going to get hurt either way.

Does it matter who serves you? Are you more likely to take something disagreeable from a relative, or from a long-term friend?

The same is true with words. If you have someone who constantly disagrees with you, you don’t have to take it. Balance is good. If all that person does is disagree with you, you are not obliged to “eat” it, no matter who they are.

Ideally, it would be great if people were thoughtful enough and considerate enough to not “feed” you anything that makes you sick. Ideally, people would be mindful and look out for each other. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to tell people to stop hurting us.

Sometimes they don’t know they are being harmful. Then it is on us to tell them. Then it is up to them.

Sadly, there are people in this world who know what our triggers are and they ignore them. There are people who just don’t care what our needs are and they do their own thing anyway. There are people who feel that our boundaries are suggestions rather than rules. They are the same kind of people who if you tell them you are allergic to a particular food, they will serve it to you anyway.

Whether they do it intentionally or accidentally makes no difference. They are harming you. They are either being malicious or mindless. The result is the same. You are harmed.

Then it is up to you to decide – continue the relationship, or terminate it? Is it worth getting sick to be around this person? You may love them, but by their actions they are proving that they don’t love you. Is it worth that sick feeling you have in your stomach every time you are around them?

Poem – kin/kind

Just because someone is kin to you
doesn’t mean anything.

Kinship without kindness
requires no fealty.

If your brother, mother, father
show you “love” couched in
threats, shame, or guilt
then walk away.

Love that hurts isn’t love.

There is nothing
about the accident of birth
that guarantees

There is nothing about
being a sister
that fosters

If kin are not kind
then “family” is an empty word.

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

If they treat you
as an accident,
an embarrassment

then that is their loss.
It is not a reflection
of your worth
but of their blindness.

Set a high price for yourself.
even if your “family”
says you are worthless.

Or perhaps even because of it.

If the family you were born into
does not treat you as a friend
but ignores, belittles, embarrasses you

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

Bullies can be brothers.
Rapists can be relatives.
Murderers can be mothers.

There is no “normal”.
There is no “average”.

There is only you, right now.
If your “normal”
feels wrong
feels unhealthy
feels strange

Walk away.

You can create
a new family
from friends
who know how
to love
the beautiful person
that you are.

Dysfunctional as the new normal.

(This was started several months ago, maybe June. I couldn’t post it then – I was still too close to it. I’ve added more today, on the occasion of a second called meeting. I’m sitting this one out.)

We are going to a called meeting. I’m writing this in the car on the way to a meeting that my parents in law have requested. My husband’s mother is dying slowly of pancreatic cancer. She is in her 70’s. She’s already lived longer with this disease than the doctors expected. She has already lived longer than my Mom, who died at 53.

I feel like we are going to a discussion about putting down the family pet.

It has been months since the last family meeting. There hasn’t been a lot of communication since Christmas, when we found out. That Christmas was more strained and fake than normal. We all pretended like everything was fine. It reminded me a lot of how my birth family acted at every holiday.

Pancreatic cancer takes a toll on you. It is debilitating. It has an over 90% death rate, mostly because it isn’t caught until it is very advanced. We don’t know. Perhaps there was a healing. Or perhaps they have finally woken up to the reality of the situation and realized they need to go into assisted living.

At Easter, my mother in law did all the cooking. My father in law sat. He directed traffic. This is a role reversal from when I met them ten years ago. She had to take on more of the chores since he got Parkinson’s. He seems to see getting Parkinson’s as an excuse to sit all the time. Sure, Parkinson’s is a degenerative nerve disease. But if you don’t exercise, Parkinson’s or no, you’ll deteriorate.

None of us have the time or patience or time off at work to go over there all the time and cook and clean and bathe them. Nor do we want to.

I sure wish I knew about all the mental and physical abuse that happened in this family before I suggested they move up here. I wouldn’t have suggested that they move closer. It seemed logical at the time. They were getting older. They kept taking turns needing help, what with cancer twice for him and a hip replacement for her. She freaked out when the water heater broke when her husband was out of town. One son had to drive 5 hours one way to deal with it. This is not the hallmark of adult behavior on her part.

They need help, certainly, but we aren’t the ones to give it. We don’t have the resources – mental, physical, emotional.

I didn’t know them before. Perhaps they have gotten more feeble with age. Perhaps they have always been dependent. Perhaps they have always been needy. Perhaps they have always been weak.

I want this to go well. I don’t know what to do. I want to be helpful. I want to be compassionate.

But I also want to say “I told you so.” I want to say “if only you had listened to me and gotten an apartment instead of a house, rented rather than bought, this would be easier.” I’m angry that they want our help but they don’t want to listen to what we are willing and able to provide. They want our help but they want it their way.

I want to say if you’d been nicer to your children, they wouldn’t be reluctant to help you. You reap what you sow.

This isn’t Christ-like at all. I don’t pretend it is. It is very human. Is it compassionate to enable someone in their stupidity?

This could go well. It could go terribly. Bracing for it usually makes it go worse. I’m trying to plan ahead and be realistic. I’m trying to be honest with myself.

Nothing digs up old family wounds like new family trauma. It is so easy to forget there is a problem until it comes back up again. Yep. That bone is still broken. Time to get it looked at by a professional, or amputate that limb. Time to get professional counseling or decide to walk away from it all.

Just because I married the son doesn’t mean I have to take care of his parents. There is nothing in the wedding vows about them. I’m not legally bound to them.

I’m angry at them because of all the damage they did to him. Sure, they were probably abused themselves. Dysfunctional is the new normal after all. Does this get them off the hook? Does this mean I have to take time off from work to take care of them? I spend enough time as it is picking up the pieces of their son’s shattered self esteem.

I’m angry that my father in law still thinks it is OK to talk badly about his son. He has never apologized for abusing his family. He has never changed, really. He’s just sneakier about his abuse.

I’m angry that my mother in law is dying and the only thing she wants to do is decorate her house. Scraping wallpaper, painting, and remodeling is the order of the day. From what I understand this is how she has always done things. Knowing she is terminally ill has not changed her, has not focused her. She has not done anything for her community or the world. I cannot imagine wasting life so wantonly. I’m frustrated that she has had more life than my Mom and still hasn’t done anything with it.

I’m angry that both of them have lived this long and they are still not grown up.

I’m not a counselor. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a minister. I know I can’t fix other people’s problems. I can only work on myself. I know that looking away from problems doesn’t make them go away. I know also that it is the better part of valor to know when you can’t do anything. Sometimes you have to admit defeat. I’ve tried to help them and they are still stuck, so I’m not what they need. They think I am, but the evidence proves otherwise.

I have chosen to walk away from this insanity. I can’t let someone else’s madness pull me into the water where I’ll drown. Codependency is deadly.

I’ve walked away for the same reason I no longer read the news. I’ve walked away from same reason I no longer watch television or eat junk food or drink sodas. I can’t allow this poison into me. I know what it does.

Now, a mark of a Christian is that they are supposed to be able to be bitten by a snake and not get sick. To me, it makes more sense to not even pick up that snake to start off with.

“The Prodigal Son”

There is nothing like a will to bring out the true side of people. My brother was left out of our Dad’s will because he tried to kill Dad when he was 17. They never reconciled. There was nothing but mistrust and animosity after that.

It wasn’t great before that. They’d never had a good relationship. Ian blamed Dad for the fact that he didn’t have money to go to college. Dad’s story was that Ian begged him for the money so he could buy a car. Because of Ian’s lifelong habit of lying to benefit himself, I believe Dad’s side of the story.

Ian felt slighted most of his life. He probably feels this way now, but I no longer talk to him. He felt that everything bad happened to him, that everyone, (especially me) conspired against him. He felt that I was the wanted child and he was the accident. He didn’t realize that we both had a pretty unhealthy childhood, so neither one of us got the silver spoon. We both got the shaft instead.

He blamed me for his fourth wife leaving him. He blamed me for him getting a quarter of a million dollars in debt. He was always a victim, a bystander, a passive observer. Perhaps that is the reason for all of his failures – he never took the blame for anything.

We were still talking when our parents died. He’d been very abusive to me during that time, but I still wanted to have some sort of relationship with him. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Christian guilt, saying that I was supposed to love my brother. I didn’t understand yet that there has to be a measure of reciprocity. Love has to go both ways. It can’t all be take-take-take.

During that time he managed to guilt-trip me out of a Rembrandt etching we had of “The Prodigal Son” saying that it symbolized the relationship that he and Dad had. The irony did not escape me. They didn’t have a relationship.

Our grandmother had given the etching to the family. It sat over the mantle. The story was that Rembrandt created the etching, printed a limited number of prints, and then destroyed the plate with acid. So it was worth a lot of money. It wasn’t listed in the will, specifically, so I could do with it whatever I wanted. I was the executrix of the estate because I was the only person named in the will who was still alive. I was 25, handling a will on my own, getting pressured by my brother. He wanted me to sell the house (my home at that point) and give him half the money. He wanted me to give him half the insurance money too. He’d done nothing to earn it. He hadn’t visited and he hadn’t helped Mom and I while we were struggling with bills when she was sick. He hadn’t done anything at all except harass me to tell me that I wasn’t doing enough. Meanwhile he was doing nothing. So how did he think he was entitled to any of the estate, especially an etching of “The Prodigal Son”?

I gave the etching to him anyway, out of spite. I figured that eventually he’d wake up to the fact that the son has to return for the story to work, and he never returned. It was easier to give him that picture once I realized that. If I’d kept it I would be constantly reminded of him. If he had it, he would be constantly reminded of himself. That specific etching just bolsters his lies. It is right up there with the certificates he has framed of the classes he took when he was in the Air Force. He was only in for one year, then he got kicked out. But he still proudly displays those certificates. There is something deeply wrong going on with him, where his reality doesn’t mesh up with actual reality.

I wanted my brother to become a real human being. I still want him to. I finally realized that I couldn’t be part of that process though. It was like he wanted me to be an accessory to his insanity. I couldn’t participate in it. Talking to him was making me crazy because he was crazy. Getting into conversations with him was like getting in the car with a drunk behind the wheel. Everywhere we went in our conversations was wrong. I knew I had to get out for my own safety.

There aren’t any easy instructions on how to deal with an abusive family. All the Hallmark movies make us think that families are loving and brothers look out for their little sisters. All the mythology of family in American society tells us that everything is wonderful and everybody is happy. This is great when it is true, and it is harmful when it isn’t. All too often our reality doesn’t mesh up with what we are told we should be experiencing, and we feel pain. We feel like we are wrong, and not that the prepackaged image of “happy family” is wrong.

The Black Hole of Crazy

Sometimes I feel the best thing I can do is just to not get drawn into other people’s black holes of crazy. Crazy/angry/upset people have an energy about them that is like its own gravity. It is easy to get swept up and swept away. It is easy to get lost.

I remember a time when a manager was arguing with me over the best way to handle a bad situation. The program that we used at work had gone down and there was a way to check people out in the meantime. It was the way I’d been trained, and it worked, and I’d used it for over a decade. It turns out there was another way to do it that had been policy for years. She wanted me to learn it right then. Right in the middle of a bad situation is not the time to learn a new procedure. It is a great time to stick with a known good.

She got very upset with me that I refused to try the new procedure right then. Part of her anger came from the fact that my boss should have taught us this, and she can’t stand my boss. Part of her anger came from the fact that she is supposed to be in charge and she really isn’t. You can be a manager in name only.

I was getting drawn into her anger and her argument. I was feeling that anger, that tension. This used to be common for me. I’d get that deer in the headlights look when someone would argue or yell, and lose myself in the mix.

I hate feeling like that. I’ve prayed about it, I’ve read books on nonviolent conflict resolution, and I’ve studied yoga. But it is hard to be objective about what is going on when you are sucked into it.

Until I did.

Somehow at that moment I was able to step outside of my feelings and observe them. I didn’t like how I felt. I didn’t like having an argument about something that didn’t need to be argued about right then. Or ever, really. There is very little in life that needs to be yelled. Building on fire? Yell. Policy change? Don’t yell. Easy.

In the middle of that getting-worse situation, I looked at her and said “we aren’t arguing about this right now.”

And somehow, we weren’t. It stopped. The black hole of crazy lost all of its power. It stopped sucking, in more ways than one. The situation got handled and it was OK.

I was stunned. I was surprised that I was able to be objective in that crazy moment. I was surprised that simply saying that we weren’t going to argue meant that we didn’t.

And I’m thankful for this new learning, that it takes two to argue. By my intentional action, peace happened. By my presence and calm, the issue was fixed.

Peace can start within, with one person.

It took a long time for me to get to the space where I could be objective about my feelings and then act accordingly. It took a long time to get where my feelings weren’t driving the bus. It took a long time to get where my “monkey mind” wasn’t winning. I’m glad to know it is possible. It takes a lot of practice to keep this awareness going, but I see the results. Calm me means calm people around me. My awareness is healing.

I want more of this. I want more people to be aware of this. If we are all aware of the tricks our minds and bodies play on us, then we are all going to do a lot better. We don’t have to get drawn into the black hole of crazy that comes from other people, or from within.

By staying calm, we keep the peace.