Lesson #2 - Why the Hell Should I!?
‘Lesson from the Road’ is a series on the discoveries I made about myself as a man and husband whilst walking almost 600 kms together with my wife Deborah.
Our journey followed The Way of St Francis, an ancient pilgrims’ route through central Italy. It was beautiful and uplifting for both of us. But along with the joy we also experienced tears. As we walked, issues came up I’d never before addressed and could no longer push away.
I’m glad to say by the end of the pilgrimage, my twenty-five year relationship with Deborah was stronger. These stories from the road recount what I learned on the way. I hope they entertain, illuminate and even help in your relationships with the people you love.
Here is Lesson two.
What is grace? I’ve heard it described as giving something valuable away freely with no expectation of a return. The cost to the giver is often sacrificial but, paradoxically, he or she doesn’t ask for anything in return. They’re not doing it for reciprocation or acknowledgement. Giving is joyful for its own sake.
In the accompanying video you heard the story of an opportunity I had to be gracious with my wife.
But my reaction was, ‘Why the hell should I?’. I blew it.
Later on, trudging in sullen silence, I wondered from whom I’d picked up this tough and unsympathetic way of behaving.
It certainly was not my father. He was a charming and sophisticated central European. He spoke English with a beguiling accent, and many other languages besides. He was a cultured man, a supporter of the arts and was graceful on the dance floor.
Most importantly, he loved women; my mother above all, but he was always kind and appreciative towards any woman he met, whether a waitress or prima ballerina. He did not expect it but they appreciated him in return. I can’t think of a lady who did not tell me how wonderful he was.
As a podgy, spotty thirteen-year old, however, desperately unhappy inside my ungainly body, I couldn’t imagine how to be like Dad. I was terrified of girls and a hopeless dancer. And he was so un-Canadian, not interested in drinking beer or analysing the previous night’s hockey game.
Around that time my mother became terminally ill with cancer. Instead of feeling empathy I was repelled by seeing her physically deteriorate. With limited time on her side she tried to shape me in the mould of a young English gentleman.
I resisted fiercely, choosing instead to model myself after the hockey-playing ‘jocks’ a year or two ahead of me in high school. They weren’t cultured but rowdy, confident and earthy young men, all physicality and no romance. Yet girls found them attractive, and that was enough for me. My father’s gentle ways seemed to be from a bygone age.
Males in groups strictly regulate each other’s behaviour. Even as adults we cannot deviate outside our particular group norm without being sanctioned or corrected in some way. Fear of getting pushed outside keeps us in line. It’s primal.
I craved acceptance from the jocks and quickly aligned with their behavioural norms. I suppressed the vulnerability and pain I felt inside (and so did the other guys, as I discovered years later). Our culture was about being cool and superior. We mocked those outside the group and jostled each other for position.
When Mum died I decided I could not show any weakness. The most important thing was to put on a brave face and be strong, no matter what was going on inside.
It had me pick on weaknesses I perceived in others: their mistakes, failings, and especially doing things the ‘wrong’ way (instead of my - the ‘right’ - way).
The problem was I never grew out of this way of thinking. Even on our pilgrimage, forty plus years later, I was getting sucked back into the teenage time warp, treating my wife like one of my brothers or a guy on the team.
I soon had another opportunity to be gracious. Up to that point Deborah had been asking me to slow down and match my pace to hers. But it hadn’t yet sunk in. I often found myself a long way ahead and have to wait impatiently for her to catch up.
Then we were walking through a dense forest in the mountains, miles from anywhere. At some point I realised she was a long way back and stopped. When she caught up I saw then how upset she was.
“What if I’d fallen over or twisted my ankle?” she asked. “The mobile doesn’t work. You wouldn’t even know.”
I finally got it. I promised to walk at her speed for all of the remaining 500 or so kilometres. And to do so cheerfully without comment or complaint.
Although I occasionally had to remind myself to slow down, it turned out to be a pleasure walking at Deb’s speed. We had great conversations. Sometimes we held hands. When we wanted silence we agreed not to talk. I was more aware of my surroundings.
I learned an act of grace blesses both giver and receiver.
Do you ever have arguments with your significant other about Directions? Look out for the solution in Lesson Three!
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