Many years ago my sister gave me a Christmas gift.
I opened the box, and saw the ugliest shirt I think I had ever seen. It was a hideous shade of green with some sort of ugly orange amd yellow design. There was also a ruffle somewhere if I recall.
I was staying at my mother's house. As soon as we got inside my mother broke into tears. "How could she be so nasty? That shirt is so ugly, there is no way she didn't mean it to be mean." I felt the same way. I did not cry but I was angry. Just don't give me anything then but why be mean about it.?
I put the shirt on, just for the heck of it. I looked in the mirror. "I'll be darned. It's not that ugly once it is on."
It became my favorite shirt. I almost always got compliments when I wore it. And I wore it until it wore out.
I went to a doctor's office a few weeks ago. The nurse wanted to weigh me. I got on the scale, putting one hand on the wall and the other on the scale to balance myself.
"You have to take your hands off so I can get your weight." she said in a way that made me bristle.
"I have a balance problem so it will take me a minute or two before I can let go." I said in a snarky voice.
"I'm sorry. I have never seen you before and did not know."
I jumped to the conclusion that she was being aggressive, the 'you have to' a provocation.
As I waited for the doctor the incident with the nurse made me think about the shirt. She forced me to defend myself, to defend something that embarrasses me, something I hate.
The shirt may have had other meaning for my sister. The enmity was there. The reality of the shirt, the piece of fabric in front of me, able to be seen in a new way once it took a different form, was a lesson, the opposite of the cliche 'you only get one chance to make a first impression.' Yes, there is only the one chance but it is important to give some things a second, third, even forth, chance sometimes.
I have written about how I feel about the pain, the disabilities and problems that have ensued. My family taught me - keep your mouth shut, do not complain, if you do we will not believe you. I am a malingerer, hypochondriac, etc, words, definitions, that are the opposite of my reality but words that took hold, words that continue to be my M.O.
"You need to..." I heard it one way but it took a different form once she explained why she had said it.
Too often we hear the first words, "You have to, why don't you, why can't you, couldn't you just...." and take them as fighting words. We do not listen to the next sentence. We may not question the person, ask them to explain. We may not take the sentences out of the box and see if the form is different, or can be made different.
As hard as it is to do we need to take a step back, breathe in and listen to the words. Hear the way the person reacts to your response.
Maybe, just maybe, what we heard was not really what they said, was not what they meant.
Sometimes talk can be clumsy, words tumble without balance, we catch them in the wrong way. As they topple we juggle to make them fit what we think the form is, when between the two of us we can work to make them upright, and uplift both of us in the process.