Last weekend, F. came over on Friday night and at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday said that he was angry about something that seemed so over the top to me that we went our separate ways for the weekend right then.
Two or three fights before that one, he’d mentioned on the phone some things he was resentful about. After we hung up, I listed them: 14 items. That’s just too much, so earlier this week, I proposed that we do some sort of forgiveness ritual—that we think about what we’d like to be forgiven for, and, as best we could, forgive each other and let some of that baggage recede into the past. I further suggested that, from now on, we stick to the matter at hand, with one person saying what he or she is perturbed about, but not adding, “And you did the same thing last month and the month before that, and another thing I don’t like is … ” Likewise, the listening party can refrain from saying, “Really? Well, what about last week when you did such-and-such?” I said our primary goal in such conversations should be to understand each other.
F. said that doing a forgiveness practice sounded like a constructive idea, and suggested that we not do it at my place, but on neutral ground. Late Friday afternoon, on an extremely warm day, we met at the top of Dolores Park and sat side by side on a bench. The expanse of green grass, all the people enjoying the park, and the lovely breeze were idyllic. We sat for a while, and then F. spoke his piece, and I spoke mine, and the mood was peaceful. I really appreciate that he so sincerely engaged with the concept of forgiveness. He mentioned it several times during the week and it was obvious he was really thinking about it. Once he even said of some small thing that arose, “I forgive you for such-and-such,” just skipping the getting angry part entirely. The first I knew of his unhappiness was when he announced he had forgiven me! I was going to tell him that he’s not obligated to skip the getting mad part, but then I decided not to mess with his process.
We stayed at the park Friday afternoon for another half hour or so, and then he went to pick up something for dinner and I went home to start cooking mine. F. hates to eat alone and really likes it when we eat together, an activity I find stressful. When I was a kid, adults ate in one room and children in another. When I was 17, I moved out and lived with various roommates, none of whom I sat down to dinner with, and for the past 33 years, I’ve lived alone, which is to say that my experience of family dining is nonexistent. In addition, when I was a child, my mother would cook dinner after coming home from work (as a research associate in the naval architecture department at the university) and quite often would be quite cross while she was doing it. She didn’t raise her voice, but it was obvious that she was angry, and there could be colorful language. One might wisely choose to leave the kitchen.
After a while, my father took over the cooking and discovered that he enjoyed experimenting with recipes. And it wasn’t terrible, by any means, eating with my two younger sisters. I believe we had many moments of levity. But I think I did inherit, or get a direct transmission of, my mother’s displeasure with having to do tasks for others at the end of a whole day of activities. And let the record reflect that we aren’t talking about just putting TV dinners in an oven or boiling pasta and pouring sauce from a jar over it. She made everything from scratch and it was wonderful food: lasagna, chop suey, brown butter and kniffles. Wow—I never knew how the latter was spelled until this moment! It’s pronounced, or at least we said, “NIFF-luh.” It’s German, as was my mother’s father’s family. My mother also baked bread from scratch and grew wonderful vegetables in her garden out back.
And I am sympathetic because I feel the exact same way when F. and I dine together: irritated. I don’t want to eat his food and he doesn’t want to eat mine, so for one thing, we have to prepare or otherwise obtain two completely separate meals. When I eat alone, it takes 45 minutes or an hour. When we eat together, the whole thing can be two hours from start to finish, which drives me crazy. As my mother sometimes muses when we’re on the phone—this makes me laugh—“I’ll never get these minutes back.” Finally, because I, in my view, do a much more thorough job of cleaning up, I do all of that part, except for drying flatware. I’ve suggested that I could train him in my cleaning-up methods—for instance, how to wash the bottom as well as the top of a plate—but that offer was felt to be insulting.
In sum, it’s a perfect setup for tension to arise, and it often has, but that’s what we did right after our forgiveness exercise, and I noticed how stressed out I felt, and he was unhappy because our timing was off, so when we sat down his pepper beef from Heung Yuen wasn’t hot enough, but somehow, things remained placid. The dissatisfactions were there, but heated offense wasn’t taken, and the whole weekend had that flavor—just a bit more tolerance, a bit more willingness to cut the other person some slack. Therefore, we had a much more pleasant time overall.
I was remembering that when F. cooks us breakfast, it’s quite nice to eat together. His breakfasts are delicious, so I am happy to allocate the time, and since he does every bit of the cooking, I can feel fine about doing every bit of the washing up. We’re also eating the exact same food. I mentioned that on Friday after dinner and he agreed that our breakfasts together are enjoyable.
Saturday morning, my walking friend and I met at the Atlas Café for 90 minutes or so. I know there will be few Saturdays when we can spend hours walking around, so I asked if we could get together more often for shorter periods, and he said that would be fine. Then F. and I met for lunch at Esperpento.
Clinical pastoral education begins tomorrow! Frightening and exciting.