doubt, benefit of the

When I was in college I was a part of this amazing group of students (aren’t college students always amazing?) Well no, we were authentically amazing and we had gathered for the summer to serve our university by ushering/greeting/welcoming/helping/teaching/confusing and congratulating the upcoming class of freshmen, and their parents.

I had signed up for this.
I had interviewed for this.
I was excited for this!
I had no idea this would involve waking up so early.

But I did, we did. There were probably twenty-ish of us. And we had spent the preceding semester preparing for this summer of service. We took our Myers-Briggs tests, we did our trust falls, we did the travel on a bus to an out of town conference for workshops and skits, we literally sat in a circle and sang kum ba yah (or a Dave Matthews song, it was probably a Dave Matthews song as I’m certain someone had a guitar), we memorized the university handbook and course codes and pre-recs, and what to tell parents when their kid chooses a liberal arts major, and for the only one in our group that managed to be in this group without already knowing the school fight song, we practiced the school fight song and the ten other chants/songs/dances that you would need to know to make it through a school football game without getting kicked out.

Then it got real.

6 am every day for six days a week for 12 weeks is hard for a seasoned adult let alone a college kid. But we were committed. Well, I think we made it to day three and then someone was late. For this, he received angry eyes from our bosses, but nothing more. The next day, three more of us were late. And all the sudden we had ourselves a problem.

It was quickly explained that each time someone was late, the entire group, all twenty-ish of us would have to come in five minutes earlier the next day. But five minutes for every minute that person or people were late.

Wait, that’s not right. (right?)

The group of three was three minutes late, so we had all just lost fifteen additional minutes of sleep for the next day.

We didn’t say this sort of thing back then, but if we did it would be: efffffffff.

So we did what all college kids are good for– we gave it the ol’ college try and somehow each of us managed to get there the next morning just.in.time.

The morning after that I was early. The, I could sit down and eat a leisurely breakfast and still be early kind of early. Probably because we were meeting in my favorite part of campus and I knew we would be near the restaurant with the tator tots, ahem, I mean hashbrowns.

But instead of a warm breakfast of hashbrowns and diet coke I went to run an errand for my boss. She had forgotten something extremely important in her office and asked if I wouldn’t mind running to the opposite end of campus pleaseandthankyou to retrieve it. In the summer. In Florida. In this humidity. (yes, even at 530ish in the morning.)

(internal sigh) “Ohsure, notaproblem” I said, and off I went.

By the time I had returned I was about 15 minutes past the scheduled meet time.
OH if lookscouldkill.
No one noticed me hand our boss her papers (I would later wonder if she really even needed those papers). Everyone was focusing on doing the math of 15 x 5: Carry the two and oh yeah, that’s 75 additional minutes!!! Oh noo.

Even though I knew I was actually early, even I got anxious because our boss was not addressing this very dire situation, she just continued on with the morning meeting.

Wait for it. Wait for it.
Finally.

Her speech went something like this:

So you may have noticed that one of your team members was late this morning. (One of your team members? Seriously, they all focused their dagger eyes on me when I came in, just say my name.) Well, what you didn’t realize is that your team member was actually here early, early enough to run an errand for me. You see (in what I would now call her Don Draper voice), I sent your team member on an errand, but you didn’t realize this. Instead, when she came back, all you did was judge her. You judged her and started blaming her for something when what you really should have been doing was waiting, waiting to hear why she was so incredibly late to our meeting. What you should have been doing was giving her the benefit of the doubt.

And there it was: benefit of the doubt.
Such beautiful, freeing words.

I felt proud, honest. I did in fact feel like a team player. It felt amazing to have more benefit than doubt.

Benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt.

These words would continue their echo into my life, for the rest of my life.

I think it is easy to use this idea both poorly and appropriately. I remember dating a guy once and he suddenly stopped returning calls and not being home. I also seem to remember a hushed phone call the last time we hung out. I offered this relationship so much benefit and so little doubt because I wanted him to be interested; I wanted to be wanted, I wanted no doubt.

Then once in my first teaching position I had a student not turn in an essay assignment. I was prepared to be strong in my refusal of late work. I had plenty of cause with this particular student to have a whole bowl full of doubt, and I had the spoon to dish it out. But at the last moment I had the idea to just talk to him after class. When we spoke I learned his family had been kicked out of their apartment three days before and his father was back in jail, again. No apartment, no computer, certainly no ability to concentrate on the literary devices of our Zora Neale Hurston novel. I think ZNH would offer plenty benefit of the doubt in this situation, and I exhaled a silent prayer that I had been given enough grace in the moment to offer what little benefit I was carrying around.

Benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt.

I hear it whispered in so many occasions. I find it (sometimes) easier to offer to my friends, and then I hoard benefit of the doubt from my family, especially my husband.

A friend forgets a lunch date, fine no problem: Benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt. My husband in his after-work-mandated-shopping-trip forgets my bananas and brings only milk: he must not love me and wants me to fail.

Whaaat?

Yes, this is for serious.

I struggle with the effort it takes to offer this benefit, when I have needed this benefit on too many occasions. The idea that someone may not have been intentionally trying to push me down, keep me out, stifle my creativity, smash my hopes and dreams, let me down, or forget my bananas takes a physical strength that I often am unable to summon.

Certainly there are people not willing or interested in being my champion. Sure. But the rest, the other 98.9% of those in my life, are generally in my corner. Can I be the champion to others that I so earnestly seek?

I struggle to give more benefit with my doubt. I get stuck on the math, sorting out how much time it’s gonna cost me, how many minutes of sleep I will lose, how many bananas I won’t get to eat, and so forth. I am fighting to keep my doubt and offer instead some: benefit of the

—————————————————————————–

I submit this post in honor and memory of the boss I mentioned. She was an amazing light that left us too soon, and I credit her with instilling in me the wisdom behind offering those around us some benefit with our doubt, and some pause with our judgment. I fight for the strength to live this lesson more completely.

May your legacy continue, Rest in Peace.

bottles. (part one)

I wish I wasn’t forced to walk away. I wish my legs would somehow moor me to the spot where he said good-bye, so that I could stay in this one place without trying to go back and live my life – a life that endures his absence while his presence is all around.

Since the world was too cruel to allow me this sort of favor I headed back to my car, turned up my Cranberries CD, and made my way down 9A. I pulled in to the all too familiar parking lot of Total Wine. I left twenty minutes later with eleven bottles of wine. In my own defense, there was a buy one get one free event and an impulse purchase as I headed up to the counter. But if I were living in reality, I would know that a trip of this kind happened all too frequently and that eleven was on the lower end of my average.

I settled back in the car and took care to drive slowly home. Not because I was worried about damaging my eleven precious bottles (I made sure they wrapped them well in the store), but because I dreaded pulling into my driveway, seeing his truck, knowing it probably still smelled of his morning cologne and held his coffee cup, where the marks from his lips were still visible. I dreaded even more opening the door and having to get on with the business of getting on for the next six months without him.

When I opened the door to our house the aroma of flowers– an enormous bouquet full of yellows, pinks, and fuchsias, surprised me. My heart sung as I wondered how he was able to sneak these in, but the handwriting on the card stopped me. They weren’t from him. They were from her.

She was always so thoughtful. The best thing I had ever done was to give her a key to my house. I loved coming home and finding that she picked up the mail and set my favorite magazine on top. Or to see my dog playing with a new chew tow, beside a bowl of clean, fresh water. Sometimes she even put her leftovers in my fridge, an odd yet welcome in gift my world. She even once had my new ceiling fan installed so I didn’t have to waste an evening on it and could instead watch something really important on T.V. like, Desperate Housewives.

The flowers were a nice touch, and only slightly stinging that they weren’t from him. That he would have the foresight for a romantic notion such as flowers on this day was a hope that I would eventually release six years down the road. But flowers are flowers, no matter whose intent and these were beautiful. I picked up the phone to call her and say thank you, but all that came out was an unintelligible mess. She said, “I’ll be over in ten minutes.” And I knew she would be over in five.

With such an amazing friend, it seems like I wouldn’t need so many bottles of wine. But you’d be wrong. Friends, family, everyone, no matter how awesome they are, they eventually go home. In the space between the door closing behind them and the morning sun, that is when I need my wine. Or it needs me. Because at this point, now that it’s in my house, I decide that it needs me to drink it, to fulfill its purpose as wine.

Again, living outside of reality.

One day when I was standing in Total Wine trying to find the cheapest bottle of red so I could buy the one that was a dollar more, a guy told me not to take it all so seriously. (I of course wondered if he meant Life or the buying of the wine.) I had actually been standing in the ‘Pinot Noir’ section. At the time I hadn’t realized this was any different from a Cabernet or Merlot section, I just thought it was all red wine. So this angel of a man told me, “You can’t go wrong with a Pinot. $5 Pinot tastes just a good as $30 Pinot, so find a label you like and enjoy.” I noticed he grabbed a $3 bottle and walked away. What did I tell you about weakness finding weakness? It just happens. So I followed suit with the $3 Pinot and made my way to the ‘Chardonnay’ section, and I say ‘Chardonnay’ because I distinguished between white wines the same way I distinguished between reds. I grabbed a couple $5 bottles thinking I’ll see if this ‘all wine is essentially the same’ theory works out here too.

I’m fairly certain this was my addiction in its infancy.

I’m also fairly certain that I didn’t notice there was any sort of issue, daresay, problem until recycle day and the clank of bottle upon bottle sent up a flare of repulsion down my street and my throat. I was grateful for, at the time, a short driveway and an early start to my day and not having to pretend to ignore the sound of my sins around another human being. Praying also that no one walked a dog or child past my house until the recycle guy came to wipe my slate clean.

Days passed. Weeks passed. Nothing changed. He was still gone. My friend still came by leaving leftover chicken parm in my fridge and her copy of PEOPLE on my counter.
I still bought my bottles.
Why couldn’t I be the person he loved while he was under the sea, serving his country, providing for our family, that I was when he was in port and in my arms?

I had tethered my identity so closely to his that when he was absent, so was I.

I did what any reasonable person might: went out with friends, got a hobby, threw myself into my work, scrubbed my house from top to bottom, cried for hours into the neck of the world’s most steadfast and trusty chocolate lab that ever existed, I went to church.

I prayed. I know I prayed for all the wrong things. Praying for another two-for-one sale at your favorite liquor store probably didn’t count towards actually wanting to change one’s life and probably increased my chances for being struck by lightning, but I’m hoping I got points in the ‘hey, it’s a start’ category.

It was a bad start. I kept buying and I kept drinking.

In my emails to him, everything was fine. Letters to him were, ‘miss you baby,’ and ‘holding down the fort.’ I had no idea what he was doing out there and he had no idea what I was doing back here.

When it comes to drinking, there are many categories: social drinking, weekend drinking, party drinking, binge drinking, those who only drink beer, or only drink wine, or only drink schnapps, or only drink when they smoke (I’m certain this is the other way around), or during the ball game, or with out-of-town guests, or if it’s been a bad day, or if it’s been a good day or if it’s a Friday, or never alone or always alone and always to excess.

I fit into all and none of these categories at the same time. The difference being, that when he was home, those glorious weeks or days he was at home, I didn’t need to drink.

So because I can reason down any situation where I might be culpable into zero degrees of separation of him being culpable, I reasoned out this situation to being, yeah you guessed it:
his fault.

weakness.

Every person has a weakness. I think if we’re lucky, we recognize our weakness and we stay away. But that’s why it’s called weakness, mostly because when we know we need to not do something, when everything in our skull tells us to not do something, we go and we do that thing we know will only make us weaker.

I think what I’ve noticed about weakness is that it is always hanging around. I once thought that weakness just preyed on the weak, like sniffing out a dying animal. But weakness is sneaky. Weakness looks for fissures in the strong. Weakness likes to sit around and wait. Weakness is the most patient son of a B* I’ve ever known. Weakness has certainly been patient with me; I think taking notes on how it can be even more weakness-y. Stalking me with its footnotes and endnotes and running bibliography, to just remind me, I don’t stand a chance.

The worst thing to do if you have a weakness is to find other people with that weakness. But sometimes, you don’t even have to find them, they find you. It’s as if your weakness and theirs have met already, and you are the third parties being introduced to each other. The best thing to do at this point is to run.
RUNasfastasyoucan.
But as you know, this is often impossible. That’s why weakness is tricky. Weakness likes to hang out in those spaces you can’t avoid, with those people you can’t avoid. Creating opportunities you must avoid.

I’m fairly certain that we are given opportunities in life to continue to make the same mistakes again and again and again. I don’t think Life wants us to continue to make these mistakes. I think Life is generally on our team. I just think Life is patiently waiting for us to realize a) that was a mistake. And, b) the next time I have the opportunity I will not make that same choice, i.e., mistake.

It’s simple, really.

And yet, every time, I know I want to choose: mistake.

Mistakes feel good. Mistakes make great stories. Mistakes are fun.

The only issue really with mistakes, is at some point, you know it’s a mistake. That teeny tiny voice in the back of your head makes just one little ‘peep’ and ruins a perfectly well reasoned and justified mistake.

The space in between the making of a mistake and the not making of a mistake is what eats away at your core. You have the guilt of even thinking about making the mistake, but the clean slate of having not carried through with it. Here, usually guilt wins out, followed by disgust.

You could spend weeks in this space. Months. Years, really.

I was told once to make decisions outside of situations. Then, when you’re in the situation, the choice will be easy. The choice will be definite. The choice will have been based on reason. The choice will not be a mistake. The problem with this, is that situational projection is a much stronger force. Situational projection being peer pressure, desire, excitement, confusion, emotion, second thoughts, and everyone’s favorite of “oh, what the heck,” or as kids these days say, YOLO.

YOLO, but you’ll have to live with that choice/mistake/regret/weakness always. Maybe I’m being pessimistic. Maybe I should do a little more YOLOing and a little less confounding on all these choices that seem like weaknesses, but maybe are just not so important. What defines me? My weakness or what I am as a result of or in spite of my weakness? Do I get the gold star for effort or the gold star for preservation? Is character developed without having given in to a weakness or is it developed in spite of that weakness, the overcoming of that weakness? Do I get one free weakness fail or if I’m kinda-pretty-certain-I’m-in-weakness-territory-and-keep-going-anyway, is that worse than not realizing I’m in the weakness zone at all?

My weakness is currently laughing at me from the corner.

Laughing at my sophomoric attempt to unpack its abilities and secrets, laughing at my attempt to evade and avoid by setting up a continued dialogue with it, a small effort in the enormous task of keeping it in sight but out of reach.

And yet suddenly it’s quiet.

Weakness: 419, Me: 1.

the hat.

I think whenever your kid is sick, the instinct is to run. away. No I’m kidding, of course I’m kidding. If you’ve ever had a sick kid, you know your instinct is to get a trash can, and fast. So that’s what I did. Four days he held that trash can. It went everywhere he went. And in four  days, he threw up six times. Not once in that trash can. Once on my feet. Once in my hands. Once in the middle of the kitchen. Once on the dog (so much fun to also give the dog a bath). Once in bed (sorry twinkle turtle). And then once on the car ride home after his first day back to preschool, after we had achieved those critical 24 hours of no puke. In the car he had been holding his second favorite blanket, his Chuggington lunch box, and the Boston Red Sox hat his daddy bought him at his first Boston Red Sox game, and he was sitting in the car seat that I had bought him only two weeks before and had been vacuuming out every. single. night.

This particular throw up event was serious stuff. I think all parents know there are varying levels of puke: mostly liquid, some unidentifiable chunks, chunks, and food that still looks like food, only it has that slimy “this has been in your small intestine” coating on it.

We were in the slimy intestine coating range. He had just had lunch. Fantastic.

As a point of interest, we live in Maine. We had just experienced the longest winter. My kids were wearing long sleeves, coats, mittens, the whole deal all the way through May. Then like magic it was warm-ish. We had those beautiful days where wind seemed to compliment the trees and the sun took turns with the clouds — simply gorgeous.

Well today was not one of those days. Today the sun was being a jerk. The sun was shining and shining and shining. It was actually the hottest day of the whole year. The best day, really, to get sick and puke over all of your most prized possessions (if you don’t think a Chuggington lunch box is priceless you obviously don’t have a 3 year old).

The silver lining, because there always is one, is that we had an outside shower. I plucked two wipes out of my handydandy mom wipe bin that I always keep in my car (because I am super prepared and have never, not once, left the house without everyone wearing shoes) and carefully unbuckled my child from this mess of a seat. I carried him at arms length from our driveway, up a hill around the back of our house, and in front of the shower.

It might be useful to mention that no one in my family had ever used this shower. We were renting this house and just never felt the need to shower, outside. It suddenly occurred to me, my child has never showered either, like ever. BIG SIGH.

So here I am, in the brightest sun Maine has ever seen, trying to peel pukey clothes off my child while explaining to him what a shower is and why this is ok. He let me know this wasn’t ok. yadda yadda yadda. he got clean.

So now I have a clean naked kid, outside, who needs to be inside. The closest door, the deck door, is locked. My keys are in the ignition of the car, where I left it turned on with the a/c blasting, because of the baby. (I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t forget the baby!) So I koala carry my naked boy, back around the house, down the hill, peek into the car at the baby, baby hisses at me, I tip toe around all the puke paraphernalia that is now baking in the hottest sun ever and up two flights of stairs for new clothes.

done.

I went back, got the baby. (wait, did I wash my hands?!!) washed my hands. got the baby in a nap. attended to 18 action items as requested by the toddler. washed my hands again. found gloves.

I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I went back down to deal with the puke mess. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say this. It was bad. It was really bad. I am extremely thankful for the yard hose, even though it was in the shed, under a mess of cardboard boxes that we had piled on top of it just a day before, and apparently new home to mr. hornet and his hornet family.

I had a lot of laundry to do that day. Included, of course, was the Sox hat that got puked on. I almost threw it away, but it was such a special hat, so I thought better of it. I decided to give it a spin in the washer just to see. I was lucky, it washed great and I hung it to dry.

Fast forward- weekend of sickness, crackers, whining, and a never ending Thomas the Tank song, and finally I make it to Monday and a new chance at preschool for the toddler.

It’s when I walk into his classroom and put his bag into his cubby that I realize something horrible. The Boston Red Sox hat. OUR Boston Red Sox hat had been in his cubby at school this whole time. I gasp internally.

The Boston Red Sox hat in my hand, the one that had been puked on, it’s some other kid’s hat.

Well, I’m sure you know what I did next. And if you’re thinking– nothing at all — you’d be absolutely right.