I am intolerant.
I could very easily stand up before a crowd of like-minded people and say, Hello. My name is Julia. And I am intolerant.
The funny thing is that for most people I am not intolerant.
Quite the opposite.
But there are a few people for which I seem to have no control over my complete lack of patience and understanding.
The list of these people isn’t that long, really. It’s a little longer than this, but these are the shining stars in my fury:
My former spouse.
My own daughter.
It has taken me all these years to just breathe out and admit to this last sin.
But I have had to just admit to myself that my daughter is, very sadly, in some critical ways, her father’s daughter.
The raging conflict that I have lived with all my life is that for people like this, and everyone else that is on the list, I want to be a good person. A good daughter. A good wife. A good mother.
Expressing my intolerance for certain behaviors was easiest with my husband because at least there we were on equal footing.
At least in theory.
But with my mother and most especially with my daughter, the need to keep the form of the relationship intact overrode my surging rage.
Most of the time.
There are two major things that form the traps for my inability to cope:
- An incoherent argument that exists in its incoherence for a reason, and that reason is usually to control the other person – to infuriate her, or make her throw up her hands and say, I give up.
- A wrongful accusation, that has absolutely no basis in reality.
An example of a wrongful accusation occurred one day when I was having trouble with the dryer. I asked my husband to help me. He did. And I thanked him, very relieved that the problem was now solved.
And then I had to live through three whole days of being screamed at for thanking my husband.
What exactly did you mean by that?
How could you speak to me like that?
Now, I’m basically a good person.
So if I offend someone and they inform me about it, for the most part, I’m happy to apologize and assure them that I mean no offense.
But to have to formulate an apology along the lines of, I am sorry, Randy, that I thanked you for helping me with the dryer, is so beyond my ability to function that being caught like that between reality and whatever-it-is-that-is-Randy causes steam to come out of my ears.
I just don’t like it when things in life push me off balance.
Balance is something I seem to be naturally good at.
But when I feel shoved up against a wall and pounded on, I really just want to pound back.
Not work on untying the knot.
Although I have done that.
Just the trying, not the accomplishing.
Not working on forgiveness afterward.
I think, basically, that might, for me, that is the definition of intolerance: a complete unwillingness to forgive certain actions.
There are times that I muse about Jesus and his very public intolerance.
The fig tree.
But if you look over his list, his intolerance is clearly justified. And, in the end, he forgives.
Well, all except for the poor fig tree.
Who was just being there, just being a fig tree. Then, all of a sudden, ZAP! and it’s blown to smithereens.
But I have no excuse for my intolerance, really. There is no divine reason for my need to push back against certain people. Ferociously.
At least that is how it feels.
But this is where silence comes in.
Take my mother. I repeatedly put effort into reaching out to her, trying to create a bond between us. But the depth of her repeated rejection of me was astounding. Even to me. Who knew her my whole life.
I would try to build and build and build.
Now I don’t remember what the incident was, but one day I just dropped the effort.
Why try running into a tsunami and expect to make headway?
And since we had no real relationship, I ceased to talk to her. Not as a purposeful thing, but if I didn’t do the talking, no talking took place.
So no talking took place.
There was just silence.
But, for me, it was a calm silence.
And, strangely enough, perhaps because of the silence, at times my mother even talked with me. About things. About life. Even about my life.
I had been working hard on a healing on my relationship with my father, and had found immense solace about it, and my mother actually noticed that I seemed different.
At least to me.
To be seen by my mother. Accurately.
One of the worst parts of being a mother is having to find a way to tip-toe through the behaviors that your child commits that cause a volcano to erupt inside of you.
Now I am a fierce believer in letting children just grow up. It’s one thing to create a support system for the plant to use for climbing, but it is another thing to force your plant to grow in the exact dimensions that you impose on her. This stunts growth, not encourages it. The plant may appear to be flourishing, but when we are dealing with children, a lot may reside under the surface that isn’t healthy.
Here’s my story about my daughter.
Having lived a life of singing in choirs and playing various instruments, playing field hockey, and ice hockey, and softball, and soccer, and basically spending time with her friends, at the end of her senior year in high school my daughter decided she was going to accept an invitation to one of those kinds of parties. Drugs might be there. Definitely there would be alcohol.
I advised her to change her mind about the party, oh, about three or four thousand times. I advised her not to go, this really wasn’t her world. I even hung out a window as she walked off to the waiting car and suggested that she reconsider.
I didn’t yell at her. I didn’t threaten her. I didn’t ground her. I didn’t take away her cell phone.
I just did my best to guide.
I was greatly relieved when her best friend, concerned about her decision, decided to accompany my daughter to the party.
And off they went. One girl giggling with anticipation. The other girl fuming at the prospect of a perfectly good Saturday night wasted.
Unfortunately, an unfortunate thing happened to my daughter at the party.
Her friend had left the party, begging my daughter to join her. But my daughter stayed.
And suffered for the staying.
Afterwards, getting her the help she needed, riding in the car, my daughter turns to me and asks, Why did you let me go to the party? Why didn’t you stop me?
And I said nothing.
I had tried to stop her. Her friend not only had tried to stop her, but went with her to make sure nothing untoward happened, and couldn’t even convince my daughter to leave.
And my daughter had insisted on making her own decision.
And had felt the consequences of that decision.
And I felt intolerant.
Intolerant for not being given credit for trying to convince her to think this matter over.
Intolerant of her not understanding that her decisions led to her own consequences. She was not five years old, where her poor judgment really is my responsibility.
She was almost 18.
She had been accepted into college. Her first choice.
In a few months, the whole world of deviant behavior would be hers to explore.
And yet here she was, hurt and pointing her finger at me and telling me what a bad mommy I was.
Hello. My name is Julia. And I am intolerant.
Ideally I would have liked to have resolved this “misunderstanding.”
But I had very little intention of doing that.
Over the years, now, as I look back, I see that silence was my means of finding my way.
Keeping me from making a bad situation worse for the expressing of my intolerance. My impatience. My arrogance.
In fact, I think it is because of my use of silence that I have been able to maintain relationships that, on occasion, I would just as soon see flung over the railing of a very high bridge.
I think in these circumstances, silence gives the other person a chance to just be.
Without judgment. At least the vocal kind.
In a way, silence is a form of waiting. Waiting for the plant to find the support you have given her. Waiting for the air between two people to settle.
Waiting for aggression and defensiveness to be put back in the cupboard.
Silence can be the way we soothe the stormy seas in our lives.