Last Saturday, F. made us one of his wonderful breakfasts featuring potatoes, eggs and tortillas; he has several variations. We had a horrible fight the weekend prior and I was considering telling him that I’d like us to have a little vacation from each other last weekend. While I was thinking that over, a friend of his happened to send me a photo of him when he was in high school. He didn’t look at all as I would have imagined. I think he’s quite handsome, and I assumed he was really cute in high school, but in the photo he looks kind of dorky and hapless. It’s a photo of his cross country team, and he is slender and even taller than the coach, with a frizzy head of hair.
Before last weekend, I was also mentally listing and relisting his bad qualities. There was another flare-up on the phone Thursday evening. He misunderstood something I said and got upset, and at first, I was planning to clarify, but at some point on Friday, I realized: What’s the point? Why would that be important to do? I decided just to let it go and forge ahead. There’s not a law saying you have to revisit every fight or that everyone has to be forced to understand every little thing.
Part of the trouble here is certain not-so-helpful characteristics that we have in common. We both are quick to perceive undesirable occurrences and to react immediately, sometimes vigorously. Most people I’ve dated in the past have been easygoing—people in the helping professions make particularly good partners—but I myself am not easygoing, and he isn’t, either. (Some of my friends are and some are not.)
More and more these days, I find myself seeing things as if I were working as a chaplain: What if he were a patient on the cancer ward or a parent whose child had just died? Would we get in fights then? Of course not! I would be patient and understanding and kind. If I happened to know what might push this patient’s or family member’s buttons, I would refrain from doing so. And of course, I know very well by now what pushes F.’s buttons, and I often push them on purpose, or, more precisely, get swept up in the sequence of events and don’t take care not to push them.
Now, why is that? I think it boils down to an inability to sit with my own difficult feelings and/or to experience my own vulnerability. I am again appreciating this excellent practice opportunity, this wonderful teacher (also very handsome!) who shows me over and over what in myself needs to be seen and addressed. Last Friday afternoon, he was equally willing to let the past go and move on. That is a thing that, of necessity, we’re very good at: just going on, and trying to do better. And suddenly all I could see were his good qualities: how hard he tries to please me, how devoted and attentive he is, how much he loves me (and how often he says so), how reliable and considerate he is, how much he makes me laugh. Also, he virtually never criticizes me, whereas I criticize him rather freely. He also rarely complains about anything, unlike myself.
I think one of the key things we need to learn to do in this lifetime is something Paul Haller said in the Sati Center chaplaincy class:
“Learn how to be disturbed without causing harm.” Very challenging at times.
After breakfast last weekend, F. and I walked over to 16th and Mission to a dollar store with a dazzling array of items, not one bearing a brand name I recognized. I saw a long shelf full of colorful boxes of breakfast cereals and at first it looked just like Safeway. Looking closer, I realized I’d never seen a single one of them before.
The guy at the front door checking bags was a little bit rude to me, but I’m getting used to that. A couple of times lately, someone has spat as I’ve walked by, and signs have gone up on posts in the Mission lately saying mean things about white people, joining the signs saying mean things about tech workers: “brogrammers.” Nearly every time I walk anywhere in the neighborhood, I see yet another place that has closed, or some fabulous new spot for rich people. On a recent walk, I saw about eight of one or the other. The neighborhood is reconfiguring with dizzying speed, and I can’t blame the lower-income residents, many of whom are Latino, for feeling enmity toward white people, which is the color of the developers, the color of most of the tech workers, and the color of most of the European tourists.
I’ve been right here for more than 30 years, but they don’t know that. I have many judgments about the newcomers, myself, and I think am at the point where I’m just going to have to avoid Valencia St. It’s too full of people who provoke kneejerk reactions, and metta practice doesn’t seem to be helping. For a while, it seemed as if it was sufficient at least to neutralize ill feelings, but lately, that doesn’t seem to be working. One internal voice is saying, “May you be happy,” but a much louder voice is saying, “I hate you. Go away.”
After the dollar store, we made our way to Foods Co, a huge discount grocery store one block from Rainbow, so F. could pick a few things up.
On the way, we passed this building:
And this one, with a garden covering its front surface:
(Click photos to enlarge.)