I remember sitting by the fire as a scrawny kid listening to it pop and crackle, watching the electric blue, yellowish orange and red hot flames burn. I would sit really close and my back would get hotter and hotter until I couldn’t take it. I had to stand up and walk away. I used to love twisting and wadding up pieces of newspaper, then I would ask my dad if I could throw them into the fire. Carefully, of course. There was something thrilling in that experiment. It never got old. Watching the flames jump higher after I threw my pieces of twisted paper in. Instantly the newspaper ads disappeared into glowing ashes.
Over the past few days, I’ve been throwing crinkled-up, nasty little self-defeating thoughts on the insecure fire that burns from time to time. In my head. Sometimes in my heart. I lost my husband’s passport. I’ve searched for hours upon hours for two days. I’ve found things I wasn’t even looking for. I’ve organized areas. I’ve sifted through all of our drawers, mail piles, shredded papers, our recycling can and through all of our disgusting trash. Because we eat food and we have guinea pigs. And a dog that wears a diaper.
The entire time, despite my efforts to distract myself with positive thoughts or praying to the saint who helps find lost things, I should know his name. He probably knows mine. Or searching while listening to music or drinking tea, I’ve beat myself up. Over and over. Hard enough that I know if it were someone else’s head, and I held the power, I would step in and pull that person out of the ring, doctor their wounds and encourage them with some truths. Unfortunately, in these times, I don’t offer myself this same grace. And the fire burns on.
With a little hindsight, I recognize that I can be a real irrational jerk. To myself. And I don’t like that mean, self-defeating person inside of me.
When other people are jerks or say something rude, hurtful or offensive to us, we can walk away. Or fight back. When we do it to ourselves, we have to let somebody in. Somebody who will take away the stack of newspaper that we were planning on crinkling up. Because well, we tend to know ourselves best. We possess an arsenal of imperfections. We can crinkle up a lot of nasty, devaluing, hurtful pitiful little thoughts. And we can hide more newspapers. For a later time.
I sat at the table silently big tear crying as I filled out the paperwork for my husband to receive a new passport. Not because he made me cry or made me fill out the paperwork. On the contrary, he has been completely forgiving and kind. Saying, “it’s okay.” I cried because I was exhausted. I had failed and I was so sorry. I said the words, they pushed desperately against the inside of my jaws, trying to stay in. I needed to say them. Admit my mistake. The thing is that I think he knows I’ve been up too close, throwing those crinkled up newspapers in, watching the flames temporarily grow in my head. I think he would go buy all of the newspapers from the local good-for-nothing thought store. If he could. Isn’t that what we should do for the people we love? Offer each other forgiveness, understanding, mercy and love. At the times that we need it the very most. The times when we mess up, lose stuff or fail. And then it’s amazing. And completely humbling. We see a tiny, tiny glimpse of God’s love for us. And it’s a beautifully painful feeling to know that we are accepted. Just the way we are.
On top of losing my husband’s passport, I recently turned one of my boys school library books into the county library. He worries too. And he can’t check out as many books as he would like, because of my mistake. He keeps asking me, in a sweet, innocent and kind way, if I could go try and get it back from the library. I also had a doctor’s appointment yesterday that made me worry like some doctor’s appointments do. While I was at it, I have a sensitive son that I decided to extra worry about today too. I’m worried and sad about my Grandma. And I forgot that my windshield is cracked too. When writing, I know I sound a little bit like a pitiful adult version of Peggy Ann McKay. Since I was already throwing shriveled up, twisted little papers into that fire, I decided to just keep on going. Because that’s what we do to ourselves. It’s really awful. That’s why we desperately need people. Kind, loving people who know we stink at some things but who also know that we’re pretty good at some things too. So they remind us of those really good things. They hold our hand. Hug us. Accept us, flaws and all.
My husband showed me this morning and in so many words told me that I needed to just walk away. Stop. Forgive myself. And move on. Afterall, the fire will eventually die out. Especially if we stop adding crinkled up newspaper to it.
I love this idea of two wolves inside of us. It was first introduced to me through hearing Richard Rohr speak.
An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me…It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.” They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied… “The one I feed.