I was feeling frustrated…again. I had just asked a friend if she would be joining us at church. I had asked it in a casual way that one might say “see you next week?” You know…those casual things we’re all apt to say: ‘Have a good day’ or ‘See you later’ or any other number of sayings that people share in social situations.
But my friend wasn’t one that casually commented on anything. No, having a conversation with my friend took work…and a lot of it. At times I was patient and took time to dedicate myself to our conversations…patiently and thoughtfully plowing through the ‘landmines’ of our discussions. Carefully articulating my words and my intentions…deeply inquiring of her and her life. Other times, I would “roll my eyes”, expel a loud sigh and try to say something funny but pointed about how she seemed to need to pick everything to death. In the beginning, she didn’t appreciate my humorous (but pointed) observations and could react negatively to my sense of humor.
But I started to notice that the more I endeavored to understand and appreciate her point of view, the more she could take my light-hearted comments with her own laughing humor. Though it seemed to me that it was our serious conversations that nourished her and allowed her to be fully present and open with me, I believed it was my willingness to come back time and again, even though she referred to herself as a “prickly person” and tough to get to know.
I began to find it easier to spend longer periods of times talking with her. Being who I am, however, I absolutely crave interjections of humor after long periods of serious considerations…in other words, I have to crack a joke and be able to laugh. If I am unable to laugh with a person, long conversation can be tiresome and hard to endure. And eventually, I’ll find a reason not to visit anymore…leaving the other person absolutely sure of either one or two things: a.) that there is something wrong with them, or b.) that there was something wrong with me.
But this wasn’t the case with her. It got easier and easier for her to enjoy some shared laughter between us…and that was just fine with me. No, the problem I was currently experiencing with my friend was this ‘Virgo’ trait of nit-picking some casual thing to the nnth degree. In Native traditions, this trait is often referred to as ‘Mouse Medicine’ People with this medicine are often able to see the most minute details of any situation but are unable to see the bigger picture. With my medicine following the Hawk, I could see the entire scope of an issue but details irritated me.
Being aware of our different perceptions helped me most of the time to be patient…but not always. And right now was one of those ‘not always’ times. I was irritated with her “I can…but I don’t want to.” I couldn’t explain why her words came off as a bit arrogant to me but it ticked me off. I started to open my mouth to make a quick-witted smart-alecky remark and my eyes started to travel ‘north’ into an exaggerated ‘eye-roll’ when something hit me and I stopped to think about what she had just said.
Of course, she continued on with the conversation, leaving me behind. But that was okay as I was busy contemplating that sentence “I can…but I don’t want to”. What was it that was irritating me about that phrase? And then the light went on and suddenly I knew: It was a statement of Will. It acknowledged that she could do it but that she didn’t feel like it. So what was it I was feeling? Maybe a sense of envy for the freedom of choosing NOT to do something that socially others might expect of me. Human beings, being social in nature, seem to require regular contact with their friends. And I was no different. Why else had I been drawn to a group of like-minded and compassionate souls that kept me wanting to come back…even on those days when I didn’t feel like it.
Even as a Pipe Carrier in the Lakota tradition, I serve The People. When a Canunpa (Pipe) Carrier receives a pipe in ceremony, that person commits to what is essentially ‘vows’. So when I am asked, my will must be to serve The People. And trust me, there have been times when I wished I could have said just what my friend did…”I can…but I don’t want to.”
I shook myself out of my reverie to realize that I didn’t really begrudge her statement of defiance for I knew she needed to speak of having a will and freedom because at one time, someone took that freedom from her. Where as in my case, I chose to give up that Will…that freedom…to serve, what amounted for me, was a Higher Cause. And in that moment, I let go of my irritation and inwardly applauded her courage for taking a stand…albeit a small one…against the peer pressure of a group of people that she enjoyed being with. When I came back to our current conversation, she was still talking on…obviously without me.
I could have made a smart aleck remark…but I just didn’t want to.