Dealing with Agnes

Dear Friends,

These are interesting times—no doubt about it… lots of drama and darkness in high places, and it’s so easy to get all swept up.  Whether it’s Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, Blitzer or Colbert, discussions in the media are often about what went wrong on any given day and who is to blame. Much less fashionable are talking points on what actually might work to support the greater good, regardless of political persuasion. And speaking of what might work to support the greater good, I’ve been thinking about that topic for a while now. I even wrote a book about starting a new love story on planet earth. A pretty lofty goal, I know. But, even so, what’s stopping us?

Today, I had an unfortunate encounter with a woman (we’ll call her Agnes) who manages the apartment next door to me. My neighbor, her client, is rarely here and so between the two of us, we look after the place. Being familiar with Agnes’s disagreeable temperament I try to steer clear of her, but sometimes contact is unavoidable. That was the case this morning. There was a minor incident that occurred in the unit a few days ago, and Agnes was hell bent on projecting the blame my way. Her communication came in a stream of text messages that accelerated with all of my attempts to reason with her. The more attached I was to wanting her to ‘get it,’ the more committed she was to making me guilty. I allowed this bantering to take up the better part of my morning until I finally realized I was participating in a no-win drama. As with the pundits and talking heads, my conversation with Agnes was all about what had gone wrong and who was to blame.

It took me a while, but eventually I saw that we both needed a solution-based approach, meaning I had to let go of any need to make Agnes wrong. Could I set my boundaries while mustering up some compassion for this seemingly lost soul? What would an appropriate strategy look like? It had been a bonus to have access to my neighbor’s unit. With his permission, I could use his digs occasionally—or even just borrow an item or two. Now, the cost of that liberty seemed to be outweighing its benefits.

Suddenly the solution was a no-brainer. I contacted the owner and advised him that I felt like there were “too many cooks in the kitchen,” so I would be returning my key to his place. Agnes could be in charge. When delivering the news to Agnes I apologized for any inconvenience that I had caused, wished her the very best in all phases of her life—and meant it. I flagged that text as the final message between us so we could change the channel and stop the negativity. Finally, I  blocked her number from my phone. Done. There would be no more toxic messages from Agnes and I felt so utterly free. Why hadn’t I done it sooner?

I once wrote an article titled Will Love Win? It went live on Huffington Post just after the 2016 election, an event which seemed to provoke lots of ‘not loving’ behavior. Look. I know this ‘creating-a-new-love-story-on-planet-earth’ business is tricky at best, and woo woo at worst. Even so. What is our alternative—to keep bickering with Agnes? Instead, how can we open our hearts to her without letting her flatten us with her high-heeled-shoes? How can we “let love win?” 

In my latest book, Self-Belonging (to be published in the spring, 2019) I include a poem written by David Whyte, internationally revered poet and philosopher. In Sweet Darkness, he states “Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” Of course, you can’t blame the person (or the thing) for not bringing you alive, s/he’s just doing what s/he does. And something may jolt you into realizing that you don’t have to be there while s/he’s doing it (or tune into the news broadcasting the story about what s/he’s doing or not doing).

And so, while living amidst the salty storms on the political seas for the second time (I was a young adult during the Watergate fiasco in the early seventies), I repeatedly ask myself the same question: With all of the chaos and corruption happening on the planet (including episodes like the one I had with Agnes), is it possible for me to participate in a sweeping shift in consciousness, where all of the forces of good will eclipse the evil that repeatedly threatens to overrule humanity’s chances for expansion? And in the process can I avoid devoting any attention to those people, places, situations, and circumstances that “do not bring me alive?”

It might be interesting to note that just after writing a draft of this blog, which I’d intended to publish before the weekend, my computer crashed. For a writer, who hasn’t been without a keyboard for over 25 years, it was an interesting few days. I live in a pretty remote area and buying a new computer over Labor Day weekend was a nearly impossible task. So instead I cleaned closets, went hiking, watched sunsets, and contemplated my ‘adventures with Agnes,’ while sending a little compassion her way. Guess what appeared on my threshold yesterday morning? I opened the door to a gorgeous bouquet of white flowers (my favorite)— hydrangeas, tulips, and roses. They were from Agnes.

A number of years ago I was given a directive by a much-admired professor. She said, “Have as many conscious conversations as you can. Avoid being sanctimonious and self-righteous. Talk about things that matter and avoid things that don’t. Use discernment. You know what to do. Now go do it.” I’ve been attempting to have those conversations ever since, and am looking forward to having many more--with you.