“Pretty cowardly of you.”
I received these words in a Facebook email. The email was written in October. I didn’t see it until last week. The reason for the delay was because I had unfriended the person before it was sent, so it landed in my “other” inbox which I never check.
When a difference of opinion with an acquaintance over Facebook started to go sideways, unfriending was my solution for disengagement and taking the high road. I didn’t trust myself or some of my friends who agreed with me to advance the discussion productively. And, truthfully, this person wasn’t looking for common ground; she was looking for a fight. She is smart, well educated, and I’m sure a very nice person but I was an easy target because we didn’t have a relationship that needed to be protected. I thought I had put to bed the sourness of that October exchange, but reading those four words, four months later was like getting stung a second time.
My initial reaction was to lash out and reply with some snarky comment. My President won after all. But I KNEW that would not be taking the high road. Anger feels good sometimes, but only for a fleeting moment. Being in another country with people coming from all walks of life and world views only dramatizes how insular we can be in our belief that our way is the best way. And I’m not just talking politics. My second thought was to send something productive, but I couldn’t figure out what that might be. I don't really know her. My final thought was to stick to where I started – stay disengaged – but with a twist. Maybe I needed to look at those four words and ask myself where maybe I have been a coward.
I still don’t believe it’s cowardly to step away from a heated discussion about issues that our outside our control, but I’m sure I’ve been cowardly in other ways. In trying new things that I’m not got at, in doing things that scare me, in truth telling with people who I’m in a relationship with, and mostly in trusting that there’s a God who loves me enough that I don’t have to carry the weight of future worries. The big ones and the even the ridiculous ones. We all know we can’t control our futures, but it takes daily courage to believe that our futures are being taken care of for us. Saddling up to live fully in the present moment is not easy for most of us.
A few days ago I had an unexpected glass of wine with a neighbor. A very new acquaintance (as everyone still is here.) I had the courage to ask her a bold question, which lead to her bravely sharing the tumultuous story of her life for a few hours. A story that was about to take a big turn. My role wasn’t to be an adviser, or counselor, but simply a listener. It is in our nature to want to change people’s minds or solve their problems, but when someone is sharing their story with their whole heart – our job is to actively listen and know that the God who loves me is already in deep love with that storyteller. And as Brene Brown said in her TED talk, “What makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful. And it’s the birthplace of joy.” So in that moment, this coward’s job was merely to be a stepping stone. I can only hope that I was a gentle landing.