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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Mabel Way

I have written a lot about my lovely grandmother, Mabel, who manages to seep into my daily life and thoughts despite having passed 20 years ago! She's the gal who taught me to collect 4-leaf clovers and would give me a "penny for your thoughts," so that every time I see a penny, I feel her participating in my life and remember how she would very actively engage me as a young girl. Through that simple act of asking and exchanging, she encouraged me to communicate my ideas to other people and so, these days, I don't let those pennies remain on the ground. I like to pick them up and spread them around, because to me, a penny isn't just a cent. It's a thought, a feeling, an idea, an experience.

So, I have been thinking a lot lately about what she taught my mother and therefore what my mother taught me, which is that you don't have to LIKE every person, but you do get to be KIND to every person. True love doesn't enable bad behavior, but it does love them.

During my last trip home to see my parents, my mother recounted a conversation she had with Grandma during Grandma's last days. Mom said something along the lines of... oh, I don't know exactly of course, but something like, thanks for being such a wonderful grandmother to all the little ones. And Grandma said, "I worked at it."

That was a big surprise to my mother when she heard it, and me when I heard it, because we all thought Grandma was just, well, Grandma!

Now, maybe it was her clever and blithe spirit teaching all of us (me and my mother) a little lesson or maybe it was true, but I see that the more I practice- work at it- the more fun it is to love everyone. Yes! Fun! Even the tough ones.

I remember a story about Grandma and a heavy breathing phone caller back when my mom and her sisters and brother were little kids. My mom and her siblings were kids in the 60s, and so the house had one phone and no caller ID back then, of course. Someone would call.... SOMEONE..... but who? This person would call on the reg, and start breathing heavily into the phone. Of course, this person only did that if one of the girls answered- it was a house of four daughters! They would never do that when it was my grandfather answering the phone. In those moments, the caller simply hung up.

Now, since we don't know, and never did find out, who knows if the caller was a pimply neighbor kid down the street pranking them (I did tons of that as a kid!) or some creepy pervert or somewhere in between or worse. But I do know, those phone calls TERRORIZED my aunts and mom! They would freak out when the call would come.

Finally, one day, the call came, one of the girls answered, the breathing started, her eyes got big and she pointed the phone. "It's him! It's him!" she whispered loud enough for the house to hear.

My grandmother got on the phone.

"Hello?" she answered?

(I can just imagine her sweet voice, instantly engaging the person across those lines....)

Heavy breathing.

"Hello?" she answered again. She paused, then said, "You know, you must be a very sad and lonely person. I feel so bad for you, having to call people this way and behave this way just for some attention. If you're bored, there are libraries just full of books. I really hope you find some way to make some real friends, and not have to bother other people like...."


I can just see her beaming smile as she replaced the receiver...

So, we've all had some version of the phone prank, or the heavy breather. And it isn't always as relatively... dare I say innocent? At least... NOT dangerous... as this situation.

But what I love about this example is that my grandmother not only refused to be intimidated, she responded lovingly and somewhat passively and sarcastically but without losing her temper and without getting upset. In other words, she owned the phone, baby! She took the power back, and was lovingly forgiving while still letting that heavy breather know he (presumably) was pathetic and should find a better hobby.

That heavy breather never called back.

I think about that because of life in Los Angeles in 2014.

I watch people losing their $%^& (I can't say temper, as my wonderfully couth Grandmother would approve, because here, it is $%^& they are losing!) on the roads simply because someone else doesn't drive as fast as they prefer, or because someone lingers two seconds at a stop light. I watch myself engage in that activity and catch myself. Not only does me getting mad in my car do NOTHING to improve traffic, it worsens my mood (not to mention my blood pressure levels.) It is one of the LAST arenas in which I catch myself being a brat, even if only I notice.

But traffic is an easy example. I think about how temperamental people get in public places, with their spouses, with themselves!

And the temper tantrum occurs and the rage feels justified and it seems like it gets it all out but really, doesn't it just more deeply justify the next instance of unhealthy behavior in your pattern?

And then I think of the Mabel Way. She just owned that heavy breather. She didn't have a temper tantrum on the phone even though she was angry at the caller for terrorizing her children and wasting her time. She didn't give HIM that power, nor HER that level of stress. She just said, "I feel bad for you."

Lovely, loving, and strong.

Maybe worth trying on a grand scale!?

      Penny for your thoughts?