“To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and judgmentalism. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!”
These words of Richard Rohr’s offer me a lesson I have opportunity to learn each day.
Recently, an incident reminded me that regardless of the job that I do, there is always so much more to alter in my own actions.
There is a guy who comes in to the pantry and hot lunch. He has no concern for anyone but himself. He pushes to the front of the line, demands attention regardless of whatever else is going on. He has no idea whatsoever that there are other people in the world with needs. His are his only concern. If I give him one pair of socks, he wants two. He always lifts his pants leg to show me he has no socks on, to prove his need. He doesn’t like the individual size toothpastes or deodorants. Nor the small hotel size soaps. He wants full size. And t-shirts. Always t-shirts. No matter how many belts I have given him over the past year, he always has a request for another. These requests come at least two days per week. He is pushy and demanding, cajoling and pleading, dependent upon how receptive I am to his requests. He tries to be charming by complimenting me in hopes that he can sway me. It is like dealing with a difficult child.
When he comes into the pantry, he leaves behind a mess.... dirty dishes, food crumbs/spills. He is a mess.
One Sunday, he came to the Hot Lunch...35 minutes after the official closing.
If we run out of food prior to that official closing, I open the pantry and retrieve Vienna sausages and any fruit or crackers we might have. It is not a fit meal but it fills the stomach for a while. However, when food is gone after the closing time, it is gone.
It is easy to understand that people who do not have watches or phones do not always know what time it is. It is just as easy to realize that bus schedules do not always fit into our timelines conveniently. I understand that some people are going to be late. It isn’t on purpose or because they are lazy or doing something more interesting. It just happens. Also, from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. is not a very large window of time.
So, when he came in so late this day, he was already irritated. Who knows why he was late. It didn’t matter. There was no prepared food left. As a result, I had to tell him he was too late. He knows that we have a full pantry and there is plenty of food in the building. He wanted me to get something for him. By that time, he was on my last nerve because he was demanding and rude. Actually, there are several people who can get on my last nerve rather quickly.
The thing is, regardless of how much he asks for, I always give him something. I try to err on the side of good. Maybe he sells the stuff; maybe he just likes what he likes. Who knows? I give if I have it to give with only an occasional exception.
However, when he is rude, demanding, and acting like a super spoiled brat, the mom in me comes out and I send him out of the room. So, this day he left angry. As he left, his bag caught on the door handle and that really ticked him off. He turned around and kicked the door. With all his irritation and his blustery bravado, he knew that he was past getting anything. He left, angry, frustrated, cold, and hungry.
It made me feel the same as when a situation sort of spun out of control for my kids or grand kids. I would be irritated and angry as they would escalate but later I would begin to think about how that particular child was feeling or what might have been the source of the outburst. The situation we witness is rarely the cause of the escalation.
I could have made one more exception for him. I could have opened the pantry and given him a couple of cans of ravioli. I could have, but I didn’t. I stood on my principle that he knows the routine, he was late, and I wasn’t budging. I am not looking for kudos for my “tough love.” I am exploring how I might have done this better, how I may have missed an opportunity to seek the divine. Rather, I judged harshly and most likely cast out a hungry person. I feel a bit of humiliation at understanding this.
Rohr finishes his meditation by writing that the “way to any universal idea is to proceed through a concrete encounter.” I am always seeking universal ideas. Rohr continues with “The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always, the here is the way to everywhere; the material is the way to the spiritual; the visible is the way to the invisible.”
I appeased my conscious a little bit the next time he came in by simply giving him a little more than he asked. It had been almost a week since he had tossed his tantrum and I pulled the mom card. I had what he requested so I gave. He, in turn, was appreciative.
But here is the rub. Do I, as manager of the Food Ministry, have a right to let my “mom” come out in me? How does that offer respect or dignity to an adult (or child, for that matter) if I pull a superior tone and/or condescending or give and take action?
I would rather be judged for giving too much than too little. What is given to the ministry is given with the idea that it will be available to those who need it. Is it mine to determine need? I know the answer to that is basically that all who come in are in need. So, yes, I do determine that there is need.
However, should the concern of having someone taking advantage of me weigh into the equation when a person is obviously in need. ‘In need of what’ is a question that I am not sure I have a right to ask. I cannot spend my time wondering if someone is trying to rip off the pantry. If someone does choose to sell the food they get, then perhaps that little bit of money was what he needed. It is not mine to determine what a person needs most.
What I seek is to make certain that my ego does not get in the way or try to be in control, mainly, that the moment does not control me. None of this is about me, should not be about me. It is about offering sustenance to those who come seeking nourishment. While limits must always be in place to ensure that there is enough for others also, when there is abundance, a portion of that abundance should be share.
Life is too short and hard to live out of our fears of scarcity.
It is important to see our habits and how these cause us to act in each moment. These concrete moments, the one, the specific, the now, the here, the material, the visible, offer insight into something so much larger than the me, the ego, the knee-jerk reaction. It offers an opportunity to open ourselves up to what Rohr calls “a fully sacramental universe where everything is an epiphany.”
I cannot live with the idea of being dismissive, judgmental, cynical, defensive, or fearful. These things make us mistrust the idea that Love is supreme and the only way to respond. These actions give us cause to justify our own reactions.
I want love to be my first response, and then every response following that. If someone takes advantage of my love, well, then, so be it. Love has the power to win over all else.
Quotes from “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation” Contemplative Consciousness, Awe and Surrender, January 12, 2018.