There is No “Me” in You

Two of my running buddies posted times for a 5k they ran on Saturday. Really fast times. They are a married couple and they train like crazy people. They were both disappointed in their performance.

I could not approach their speed if I had wings. Or a car.

I asked a friend about his workout schedule, because I’m nosy. He said “something active everyday. Sitting equals spreading.”

At the time, I was snuggled under a blanket watching football. Chips and soda might have been involved. Who’s to say?

An old friend lost his father this week, and shared the eulogy he’d written for his dad. My friend had written a lovely sentiment to a parent who gave his best.

I wondered if I was cut out for parenting, plowing through my days, making one mistake after another. I have been blessed with three lovely, wild, funny, interesting children. Will they write, say or think similar thoughts about me at my passing?

Those thoughts are normal, reflexive thoughts. What else can a person do but internalize and personalize her world through her filter of experience?

But I’m a little embarrassed by them. They reveal a self-focus that, instead of validating the other’s experience, judges mine and finds it lacking. Perhaps this is a bit of hyperbole; I’m not in my hairshirt doing penance for my misguided thoughts, and I did refocus onto each one of them. But not without weighing myself first, and harshly.

As I read the running times, I saw myself, slow and plodding. As I read his fitness routine, I licked my MSG coated fingers. As I read the eulogy, I was drawn into his world as a child, while listening to my brood bicker about who drank the last of the milk.

Then I turned to my running friends’ posts to fully and completely congratulate both of them. I knew they were proud, and rightly so. I knew they would cheer me on if I was the last person to cross the line. I wanted to take ME out of the equation, to celebrate with them. To share in their personal disappointment. Because we all have goals, and it hurts when we don’t hit them.

I listened to the active man and said, “well done.” Doesn’t fit my schedule, nor my interests, but it’s good for him, and avoiding “spread” is important to him.

More importantly than race times or fitness, my mourning friend didn’t need to hear about my parenting foibles. He needed to talk about his dad, to know that he was heard, to be honored in his grief. I can think about my legacy another time.

What I’m saying is it’s okay, natural even, to assess ourselves, within certain parameters. I can’t judge myself against the Kenyans who win marathons. That’s just silly. And I can’t judge myself against other moms, any other mom. Because they are not me, and I’m not them. And while I want my children to say pretty words at my ultimate demise, I am concerned today with today, and who they are in this time. I can judge myself against what I know is true, right, and feasible for me (small t truth).

It’s important for me, too, to take a moment before replying to any of these statements. If I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, it will most likely be self-related. If I take two seconds to listen, to hear what my friends are saying, I’ll be able to take ME out of the story, and understand their disappointment, their hurt, their struggle, or their joy, their excitement, their pride. It’s not about me.

I know I’m not the only one. How do you refocus the conversation to ensure you’re really listening to others?