We thought we were just taking a road trip. We thought we were just going to a couple garden nurseries--for inspiration along with plants for the garden at our new home --a garden in need of renovation after neglect and lack of interest on the part of the previous owners. Well, along with a trunkful of plants, we brought a heartful of lessons home with us.
The First Story. While browsing through a garden store chockful of unnecessary, but lovely embellishments for home and garden, we heard a woman say how burying a statue of St Joseph is supposed to help you sell your home. We both chuckled and said at the same time, "It doesn't work," and we engaged in a conversation with a couple about our age who have two properties to sell, both of which have been on the market for a year plus. In the meantime they have moved into their new home. We shared our similar situation, except they had just received their first offer ---$150,000 below the asking price. I asked the woman if they countered $10,000 less than the asking price just to get the ball rolling and see if the interest was real. She cut me off and said how insulting the offer was and how they told their realtor they were not interested. Etc. Her anger and bitterness was tangible. However, at the same time I found myself engaging in the usual distressing conversation about the economy and the state of the world and our poor timing.
As we spoke, I realized that I have worked through some of the issues she talked about, especially the awareness that our unsold home is not a personal statement against me. Our farm in Ohio no longer belongs to us even though we still pay its mortgage and make sure it is receiving ongoing, basic care. I welcome the idea of someone coming in and making changes and making it their own just as we did. This woman was not at that place yet, and I felt her sense of entitlement. Someone owes her, it seems, for her love of her former home.
Only later did I think about how I was so easily sucked into the "poor me, poor us" conversation. I entered into the anger and bitterness with my own force. I reinforced what she was saying. I chose casual interaction over my own integrity. At least I didn't offer the well-meaning platitudes, "It only takes one,"or "It will happen." I wish I had a quarter for every time I have heard those statements!
What I failed to do was to be a presence for her. What I failed to do was to step back and receive her pain. What I failed to do was be empathic only, saying "I am sorry," and wishing them luck.
What I failed to do was breathe gently from my heart. Guess I haven't progressed as much as I thought. More work to do.
The Second Story. At the next stop, a nursery where the plants were so neat and clean you could eat off them, we conversed with another woman who has been caught in the difficulties of these economic times. Her husband lost his construction business, letting go 30 employees, and now their house is in foreclosure. This all after their house had been flooded the year before. She told us this without bitterness, and I commented on her "good attitude." Her response was how the winter had been dark, but she knew she had to work through those feelings in order to come out on the other side. She also said that even though right now they were beginning to feel excited about future plans and to see this time as an adventure, she knows there will be more dark days, down days ahead, but that it is crucial to keep doing the work. Her husband says, "Life is a workshop."
My first inner response was to feel how much worse her situation was than ours and in that way to dismiss my own feelings of sadness and even occasional despair, but I reminded myself about conversations with participants in cancer groups I facilitated over the years. Each person's situation is her own. Each person's feelings are his own and need to be understood and confronted and responded to regardless of what anyone else is experiencing. That is not to say it is ok to wallow in what we each experience, and there is often just as much temptation to do that as there is to dismiss it. It is always important to be empathic and be with someone in their specific pain, but that doesn't deny one's own pain, except for a minute or two.
My other major lesson of the day was the reminder that we each need to do our own work-often over and over again. One of my core beliefs is that we have each been given certain work to do; work that may come through a variety of prompts during our lifetime. Sometimes I feel I have done the work and then another opportunity to do more work comes marching down the street. A drum beats, "Do it better, harder, deeper." If we don't do the work in this lifetime, it will be waiting for us in the next. Most days I choose to do it now.
How nice it would be to end this post by saying that on our way home we got a call from our realtor saying there was a good offer on our home and we can live happily ever after, but that did not happen--yet. Today I will write mortgage checks for both our homes and as I do that, I will offer a prayer of gratitude for the ability to do that, and I will also offer light blessings to each woman who delivered such powerful lessons.