Lifetime Habit

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Do you know what you’re made of?

I don’t mean physically – like your composition. No, what I’m talking about are those experiences from your life that made you the way you are today. You know, like when someone says a certain thing to you – be that “get out of my hair”, or “what lovely eyes you have”.

What shapes the ways we respond to what others say to us?

Is it our original programming; that version of software that came pre-installed in our between-the-ears hard drive? Or is it the way we were conditioned by parents, teachers and life’s hard knocks?

A combination of both?

Here’s why I ask: There are things I’d like to change about myself. I can hear what you’re thinking now: “But John, you’re super great, at writing and probably many other things, so why change?” And trust me, I get your point – but there are still things about me I might want to modify a smidge.

Like how I argue.

Loretta: This ought to be interesting…

Okay let’s see if any of you out there identify with the following debate style: What starts out as a conversation can go on as such only as long as I don’t perceive any criticism. If I do, it’s no longer a conversation – it’s a dispute. At which point I sort of stop listening to the words said by the person whom I’m now in a dispute with in favor of thinking up the next zinger I’m going to lay on my (newly designated by me) opponent.

We were having a good conversation the other night about love and life and relationships, like we do so many times. It was going great. I had just spent three days with my daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. The youngest, Brenna is nine months old and so full of love and life you just want to absorb it all. We were lying on a blanket outside and she was laughing and enjoying every single thing she saw. What I felt in that moment is what I described to John as ‘pure love’. I was going on and on – and then noticed he had stopped responding.

Only problem is, I haven’t yet figured out a way to listen to what’s being said at the same time I’m thinking up the thing I’m going to say. Which usually leads to a “What?” sort of look on the face of the person I’ve just said it to.

When I finally stopped talking, he had this weird look on his face. All of a sudden I realized I was going on and on about ‘pure love’ like maybe it was something we didn’t have and that I was upset about that. Which is not what I intended at all.

Like there was this one time, quite a while back I think (or maybe last week) where my wife Loretta and I were having this pretty normal conversation about cars or maybe soccer, and out of nowhere she brings up her new granddaughter and how Loretta has this – wait now, how did she say it? Oh yeah, “Wholesome love” for her – or something like that – as though what she felt for little Brenna was something we had yet to achieve.

Dang, from my vantage point I thought things were going pretty peachy between us.

Sometimes it’s like I’m not being heard at all. I wasn’t complaining, I was expressing my feelings. You know, just plain old feelings.

And all of a sudden like, I felt the old defenses come up. You know the ones – where the person who’s talking to you, and who you count as a friend (or more) you’re starting to see as a competitor. And you don’t even know what the competition is.

It’s ok to express our deepest feelings, right? I mean, this isn’t a competition is it? Aren’t we in this together – and just trying to figure out what works for both of us? Why does he have to act like such a caveman sometimes?

So where does that tendency come from?

Does it stem from when we were gathered around the cave feeding on the saber tooth tiger carcass and if you didn’t elbow your way forward you didn’t get enough to survive? Or does it come from that time in the sixth grade my teacher told me to stop acting silly right in front of Tina Anderson (who I totally had a crush on!).

Either way, I think I need to figure this thing out.

I listen to him go on about cars or soccer or even some ex-girlfriend, but when something’s important to me he shuts down? I want to talk about babies and love and feelings. Maybe that’s not as interesting as what kind of engine we have in our ‘69 Bug, but it’s important to me. When I was holding Brenna and kissing her big beautiful cheeks and watching her look at me with love I was so full of joy.

So here’s a thought: Maybe when someone says they’re talking about themselves they are, in all actuality, talking about themselves.

I know it sounds crazy – but is it possible that during those times I shrewdly detected subtle digs meant for me in her voice I was actually injecting old hurts and fears into what was being said?

And is it possible that if I do that – maybe others do it too?

Sometimes I get so caught up in my own feelings, I forget how it can come across to the person I’m sharing them with. And I know what that feels like. We aren’t perfect little babies with no worries beyond who’s going to hold or feed us. Between us John and I are dragging 50 plus years of experiences and habits along with us – some of which have become the very fabric of our beings.

It’s what makes us who we are.

And I like who we are. This guy who sometimes gets that bewildered look on his face when I think I’m making perfect sense, and who can be hurt by what I’m saying, is also the caveman I rely on. He’s the strong shoulder for me, whenever I need it. And when I look into those amazing eyes that look at me with love, I feel joy. 

Okay, so maybe at our age it’s hard to have that innocent version of pure whatever-it-was. But maybe impure ain’t so bad either.

Hey Loretta – you wanna go play caveman?

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