25 July 2008

Perspective comes with Experience

Pulling out of a parking spot on Tuesday I saw a woman go down, and she went down hard.
I pulled back in to the car park and ran to assist. I held her umbrella over her as she cradled her right wrist. Between the slant of the pavement, the flow of rainwater and her very fashionable boots, she was a recipe for disaster as she approached her gym for a workout. She was to have competed in national rowing championships in September.

Yesterday I rain across the street, trying to dodge between the rain drops which probably caused me to collect more than my fair share. As I stepped up onto the curb, a parking slip flew past my legs, followed closely by a woman who had just paid for it, but who couldn't grab it from the machine before the wind did. I turned and joined the chase, doing pirouettes and crazy lunges; the ticket seemingly devious in its avoidance of us both. We eventually nailed it, but only after we had both seen the comedy in the situation.

Having settled into my seat at the university this morning and beginning a series of calls organising volunteers to tidy up the warehouse where we supply refugees when they first arrive, usually without anything but what they are wearing, the voice on the other end suggested I might need to go. Yes, as the fire alarm chased us all outside, I had to marvel at a series of events over the week, and to give thanks that, for the moment, it is not raining.

Stuff happens. Things happen. Conflicts arise and plans go astray. Perspective is vital to appreciate which things or events are worthy of our emotional energy and which ones are not.

I had another phone call this week, Tuesday evening before people were expected at my house for a meeting. Hearing the anxiety and tears, I suggested we meet in my favourite local restaurant for dinner. I'd planned to go there anyway, so for me, the company would be nice. For her, I might be of use in sorting out her thoughts and emotions. As she explained the conflict at work, something totally out of her control, I could see she was in a pickle. Tolerance often only flows one way. Respect too.

So I started asking big picture questions: How much is this job worth to you? Does this situation compare with having your kids swept away in a tsunami, being told you have a terminal illness or civil war disrupting everything you've ever know?

Ok, maybe I went a bit over the top, but we read the stories, even know the people to whom these things are realities. Many of us, on the other hand, then go on to complain about hang nails and paper cuts.

Uncle Tom used to compare any upset in my life to a paper cut. "Is it worse than a paper cut? They can be pretty painful!" and then he'd know what degree of attention or sympathy to point my way.

My friend was in a very awkward situation. It wasn't fair. She hadn't asked for it. The repercussions could affect her income, her social network and reputation. That's what you get for sitting at your work station and minding your own business! So while not wanting in any way to minimise her angst, I thought big picture might be of some help in gaining perspective.

With the woman who fell: at first I was thinking, "Ouch! fractured wrist and bruised ego to fall when being so fashionably heeled." The, when I heard that she was training for a major sporting event; that gave perspective to her loss.

The parking ticket lady: not knowing what else was going on in her life and whether losing her parking slip would be the straw that broke the camel's back, I'm just glad she had it in her to laugh, shake off her fluffy coat and get on with her errands.

My friend: the dust has settled. We do not yet know what bruised egos might yet do, or what this brief and unexpected skirmish might have taken out of her, or what new insights it might have given her.

I think I'd like to stay in tomorrow, not go out anywhere.

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