First, I'm sorry to my small group of readers/followers. Not only did I get hit with the regular holiday busy-ness but I have since started one of the more intense periods of grad school (the traditional pull-your-hair-out-and-howl-at-the-moon phase, aka: thesis writing). But this is a post I've been thinking about for awhile and I thought I would share here.
Winston Churchill tells us that criticism is necessary, that "it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." All the same, I don't know anyone who truly enjoys receiving criticism. We might put on a brave, smiling face in its onslaught, all the time seething inwardly and hating ourselves for being less than perfection. Or maybe that's just me. Abraham Lincoln says, "He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help." I don't know about any of you, but I've experienced plenty of criticism that didn't feel much like help. It mostly just felt like "ouch."
So put yourself in the defensive crouch that I work myself into at the start of every day as I wait for someone to inform me of what I am already, constantly, painfully aware: I am not perfect(I'm sure this comes as a quite a shock to all of you). It's the day after Christmas and post-presents, roast beast, and merriment, we're at home in our little apartment. Without rehashing the entire evening, I'll explain that my brother was elaborating on a video game that he really loves and I, in a bad mood for reasons that don't really matter, brushed off his conversation with something like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever." This went on for a few minutes during which I grew ruder and ruder until Kyle, the love of my life, my best friend IN the universe, says from over the breakfast bar, "Elizabeth...don't be a butthead."
Of course, my first reaction was to be angry, defensive, hurt even. I am a scolded child. I mean, I think, he's a butthead ALL THE TIME and I never say ANYTHING! I give my husband a dirty look from across the room. I slam the door. I don't speak to him for half an hour. And I ponder, was I a butthead? Of course, I was. I had been selfish and rude and unkind and generally focused on myself instead of my baby brother whom I see rarely. In short...a butthead. I am already sorry, of course, but I don't want to admit it. I don't want to say those horrible little words, "I was wrong." I stew. I pout. I frown. And then I suck it up and tell Kyle he was right.
And this, you guys, is a HUGE moment. Not because I'm so mature for admitting I was wrong or because my brother and I overcame some huge conflict or even because I recognize my buttheaded-ness (it's a word) but because I have a husband with "a heart to help" and I haven't ever seen it this clearly before...
So here are some things I've learned from Kyle in the time that I have been privileged to know him so far. The list grows every day but here's a few:
1. Always say 'I love you' when you have the chance. You don't know how many more opportunities you will get before they're gone. (Kyle lost his brother, Orion, at the age of 29.)
2. Don't be so afraid of getting hurt, being uncomfortable, or breaking your heart (or arms, legs, and toes) that you miss out on all the scary things worth doing (falling in love, moving across the country, skateboarding off a roof).
3. There is power in laughter. If you have a sense of humor about yourself, no one can use laughter against you. If your fight isn't about life, death, or taxes, it's okay to laugh (it's probably okay to laugh, anyway).
4. God is not afraid of our pain or our toughest questions.
5. Confidence is not an ethereal quality that is given to some and not to others. It demands practice. (This is what Kyle tries to explain every time I complain that I get lost when I drive by myself or tell him I'm not strong enough to do something.)
6. Beauty is not in the perfect notes or shapes or words or colors. It's in the mistakes and space and silences that come as we strive to find it. (punk music at our wedding ceremony, Sharpie doodles on utility bills and take-out containers, and the nose crooked from being broken so many times).
7. Popcorn is better with soy sauce. (I didn't believe this until I tried it).
So to anyone reading this, I'm thinking good New Year's thoughts for you. If you can't laugh at yourself, you can at least laugh at me!