You might have to read that twice. She is turning 90. We will be with her for about five days, and yes, she’ll keep up just fine.
Earlier in July, Mary was hospitalized for eight days. We, and she, and all of her family and friends were incredibly worried. She was very sick and it took a diligent team to get her back on the mend. Now, a few weeks later, she has gained a lot of strength and is really looking forward to the upcoming festivities. She and I like to talk on the phone a couple of times each week. If I’m lucky, I have as many things to tell her about my life as she does about hers!
Last week, I had tried to call her Tuesday with no answer, then Wednesday evening with the same result and by the time the phone was going unanswered yet again on Thursday evening, Jim and I were trying to figure out whether we should be worrying. I had the feeling she was out and about enjoying summer so we decided to give it one more day before we called her sister, Joyce, who lives nearby. Sure enough, that night at about 8:15pm my time, which is after ten o’clock for her, she called me back. And, sure enough, she had just come in from having supper with another one of her sisters, Leila.
As we chatted, she filled me in on the past couple of days. On Tuesday evening she had gone to Niagara-on-the-Lake, to the Shaw Festival to see Brigadoon, which she had loved. On Wednesday, she went to church in the morning, to choir practice in the afternoon and then in the evening (after a late afternoon medical appointment) she drove herself to see a concert at the Sunset Music Series in Charles Daley Park. She often takes her sister Leila, but on this day, Leila couldn’t go so Mary decided to go on her own. Their sister Joyce was playing in a band as part of the entertainment and she did not want to miss it.
She always loves the Sunset Music Series. As the name suggests it is an evening outdoor concert, each week featuring a number of lively bands. The park, overlooking the beautiful Lake Ontario, is filled with hundreds of spectators, and sitting, listening to music is a perfect way to spend a summer evening.
Mary described her wonderful evening to me. She told me that after not being able to secure a handicapped parking spot, she made her way, with her walker, her chair and her sun hat, down the slope toward the stage hoping to find a place to sit. Part way down she noticed a bench with two people on it, but with still some room left for others. She asked if anyone was sitting there and they replied that one of the spots was spoken for, but she was welcome to use the other.
As they waited for the music to begin, she started to visit with the young man beside her. It turned out he had just returned from Hong Kong where he teaches. He was home for a month to be with his parents (the other two people on the bench). She questioned him about the political climate in Hong Kong, wondering if the news was giving us an accurate picture. He showed her pictures on his phone of the rioting – he had taken these from the balcony of his apartment. She told him she had been praying for the people of Hong Kong and that it would be easier to pray since she now knew someone directly affected. My mother-in-law, Mary, is an Anglican priest and I’ve always maintained she has a pretty direct line to ‘The Big Guy’.
As the evening progressed the young man headed to the snack bar and asked if she would like anything. She replied that she had been hoping for some back-bacon on a bun, but had given up thinking about it since she didn’t think she could make it all the way down and back. He happily brought her the desired bun and refused to let her pay for it. He said it was his pleasure. Later, his parents headed off for some cookies and asked if she would like some. She told them that the ginger cookies were delicious and she would love some. Although those ended up being sold out, they returned with some treats to share, again, at no expense to her. She said it was a most wonderful evening.
I began to think about how I might have acted in that situation. It did not take me long to realize that while I might have gone to the concert alone, especially if my sister was performing, I would very likely, when the young man asked if I had wanted anything to eat, have said no thank you, that I was fine. I could have waited until I got home to eat. I often find it easier to do for others than I do to allow others to do unto me. I don’t think I am unique in this.
And I don’t think I am necessarily right.
Many of us were raised on a steady diet of ideas like, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. While I believe this, and while I do love to find ways to do, I have also come to understand that when we refuse to allow others to help us, or do to us, we deny them the opportunity to receive the satisfying feeling we have when we ‘do unto them’. I know I have, on more than one occasion, caused frustration to others when I make myself so efficient that there is no room for anyone else to help lighten my load. It is as if I only fully learned the first part of this statement.
In Mathematics we have things called Corollaries. These are statements that follow with little or no proof required from already proven statements. If the ‘Do unto others…’ statement is proven, as most of us accept it is, I wish we had all also learned its corollary: Allow others to do unto you what you so enjoy doing unto them.
I was thinking about my mother-in-law and the young teacher after the concert and I was wondering which of them went home happier; the one who joyfully did unto another or the other who accepted with joy, what was done unto her.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How can I become the other?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to access your invisible pockets.