My mom called last night and said that my dad would be dropping by to spend a night or two on his way to Texas. With a pounding headache and with my pager buzzing, I blurted out that I was completely sapped, moaned that this wasn’t a good time to have a house guest, and whined that I hadn’t received any advance notice of his trip. And yet I adore my dad. For the rest of the night, I felt flat-out foul. Yes, I was exhausted after a trying week while battling a cold, but how could I be so heartless? Where was the daughter who treasured her dad and would welcome him to stay, despite his Pig-Pen style, at any opportunity? Why couldn’t I grow up? Admittedly, this was an instance where I forgot to count to five.
You see, I believe in counting to five. Not the rapid-fire, in-a-single-breath counting to five, but rather the one-Mississippi, two Mississippi variety. As I careen through the day as though I were driving 80 miles per hour, taking even the briefest time-out in demanding situations decreases the number of times I have to shift into reverse. It is the weapon I wield against being reactionary which is, for me, the most gargantuan verbal sinkhole in the world.
In my perpetual haste, it’s not necessarily that I will say something inappropriate. It is that my mouth opens like a horse bursting out of the gate in a false start as I inadvertently convey a message arising from self-centered and self-serving instincts. It is that I won’t seize a moment reflect upon my reaction and thus I won’t replace my impulsive response with one that I myself would want to receive. It is that in stressful situations I can become irritable and that my unconsidered words and tone fail to express graciousness or warmth or level-headedness. Simply, it is that I will barrel forth and allow my frustration, tension, or resentment climb into the driver’s seat. Later I find that I cannot reconcile how I responded with how I truly wanted and needed to have responded, employing all of my faculties of rational thought, compassion, largesse, and patience.
I’ve heard that people don’t remember what you do or say but they do remember how you make them feel. If I remember to reflect on that truth, then each day holds innumerable opportunities to fulfill my aspiration to be a benevolent and honorable person. And I scurry past those opportunities when I rashly respond, whether it is in the middle of an argument or in the middle of the night when I am becoming frustrated trying to explain something to a parent. So the next time you note a very long pause on my end, please know that I haven’t fallen asleep. It’s just that I am counting to five as I am calling on the very best parts of me and trying to avoid the penalty of a false start.
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