This is the part of my story I didn’t want to write. It’s the part the filmmaker sometimes leaves on the cutting floor, because the character does something to offend, like cracks her gum or runs over a cat with her car, and you think, “Can I finish this movie? Can I get past this and still like her? Can I root for her story long enough to see her through until the credits roll?”
And so, the small offense is edited out, because to like the movie, you have to like its protagonist, and if the texture of gum-cracking or cat-running-over doesn’t add enough to the story to compensate for its barrier to likeability, well then, chop-chop.
But I am not a movie character, and this is not a film, and I think every texture adds enough to the story because I find meaning in all of it. And so, I cannot edit out this small offense, this meaningful offense, because it is important:
Living slowly, saying no, surrendering expectations – all of it causes tension.
It is against the grain, and it shoots upward, like the prickle you feel when you rub your finger against the wrong side of the grass blade. It is offensive to nearly each and every fish swimming the other way, and often times, they will shout at you:
Slowing down is a privilege. It’s entitlement. It’s selfish. You are living in a bubble. You are justifying your laziness. Wake up, get out, get busy doing what you’re supposed to do like the rest of us.
And those fish are right, and they are wrong, and it matters even though it shouldn’t.
Or perhaps, it doesn’t matter even though it should.
Yesterday, I had a brief conversation with someone I ran into, and it was brief because the other person wanted it to be. You can feel those tensions really deep, like a melody, or a current, and we both knew the best thing to do was to blame the kids.
Great to see you; the baby’s getting grumpy. Nap time! Take care!
And I understood. It was understood, all of it. The week prior, I’d missed an event that was important to her but not important to me and it illuminated our differences like the noonday sun. Our priorities woke through the desert cracks and scampered about like lizards running in opposite directions, and we both knew that, when the dust settled, we’d shifted from friends to acquaintances.
When the world is in order, when you’re swimming with the rest of the fish, relationships move from acquaintance to friend.
When the world is not in order, when you change direction and begin to swim upstream, relationships sometimes go the other way. Your waves create whiplash. Friend to acquaintance. Acceptance to tolerance. Vulnerability to veneer.
And I suppose that’s what this small offense is. It’s precisely that – an offensive move, an intentional decision to begin changing the way you live. And moving on the offense can often bring the defense.
I have been taught, on many occasions, that our lives are to be lived in service. In sacrifice, in selflessness. And somewhere down the line, I confused service with “Yes.” I confused sacrifice with, “I’ll be there. I’ll do it. Count on me, I’m your girl.”
It’s a wildly popular thing to be everyone’s girl. It’s a surefire way to win adoration, and respect, and accolades.
And yet. When the “Yes” stops, when the waters still, when you change directions? The fish will shout. The current becomes strong. And you are left with a forced smile and an awkward hallway encounter.
So I am, simply, really, trying to tell the truth. I am trying to let my Yes be Yes and my No be No and am trying to own them both – the former without resentment, the latter without apology.
I am trying to tell the truth while offering kindness, trying to explain that I’m doing things differently now, and that I’m committed to something else, that I’m working toward peace and prioritizing rather than pursuit and perfection. And I’m getting it jumbled, I’m sure of that, and there are awkward silences while I’m trying to choose my words mindfully, but the truth is this: I am learning.
I am learning to accept the unpopular opinion, and I am building new muscles that make it a bit easier to swim upstream.
You want to know the coolest part, the best thing about swimming upstream? There are two ways to pass another fish in the hallway. We can run into each other, stop, and offer polite smiles and forced excuses.
Or we can simply keep swimming and offer a high five along the way. Fish to fish, fin to fin.