The older I get, the more I look back on my young adulthood and feel entirely humbled by the grace I must have received – unknowingly – from my older friends who were patient with me and knew I just didn’t “get it” yet. I must have been unbearable at times. I made mistakes all the time. I said the wrong things, I acted poorly, I overstepped boundaries…and sometimes I cost myself friendships with people I loved dearly simply because I couldn’t get out of my own way. I often had no idea how to be a good friend. I did things that now take my breath away when I realize how callous or unkind they were. In many relationships, I think I took far more than I gave. I made excuses for myself that I hadn’t learned how to see through yet – it hadn’t yet occurred to me that it was possible to BS oneself and buy into it. I made everything about me for years and years before I ever heard the phrase, “this is not about you,” and then for years more until I was able to fully grasp what that phrase meant, and then for even longer before I learned how to spot me-centricness in my own words and actions and thoughts. Those friends I have whom I see as models of right thinking and right behavior mystify me with their apparent ability to avoid cloddish behavior without effort…how come it seems to come so much easier to them than it does to me? What did I miss? When did they learn how to be so good, and where was I when those lessons were on the agenda?
And these afflictions were not limited to my young adulthood. I commit many of the same transgressions today, and the number I turn today is far too high to excuse such behavior as that of someone who just doesn’t “get it” yet. I’m 36. I should have it figured out by now. At this age, my mother had an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old. Most of my friends are spouses and parents, and we’re the age that, in my early 20s, I thought was “real” adulthood. The point at which you were a “good person” or a “bad person.” And I don’t feel like enough of me is good to make me a “good person.” There are people in this world I’ve loved with all my heart who ultimately decided I was a “bad person,” and made the call that life would be better without me around. And I have no idea how to reconcile those lost connections…or to reconcile myself to the losses themselves if the connections cannot be reclaimed.
So I’m learning that the patience that comes with age comes from a phenomenon I never grasped till now. It comes from watching people make mistakes…and realizing that I made them, too…or worse…despite having a heart that always longed for connection, for friendship, for relationships I could count on NOT to fail when I needed to lean on them. I have loved dearly people whom my words or my actions drove away. And if i could commit such egregious errors despite having a heart that wanted desperately to love and be loved, to do the right thing, to sustain the friendship…well, then maybe whoever is committing an egregious error towards me has a heart full of love and hope and longing, too. They just don’t “get it.” They don’t know how to act. They’re erring in spite of themselves. And the relationship is dependent upon my grace and faith and loyalty…upon my willingness to see them through the same kinds of awkwardness and error that I have known so well. And if that’s true, my job is to cultivate as bottomless a well of grace and kindness as I possibly can. Because I’ve drawn heavily upon such wells myself. Sometimes I drained them dry. I didn’t mean to. But I did.
I wish there were a way to right all the wrongs I’ve committed. There isn’t. I’m at the grace and mercy of others. We all are. Maybe everyone else screws up as much as I do, and all our friendships are thrown on altars of mercy and grace. if I could pray for one thing, it would be that the grace of my friends would outweigh my ability to test that grace. And I figure the only hope I have of receiving the answer to the prayer is to develop a grace that outweighs another’s missteps, too…to spot a good heart through the errors, and see myself…my own helplessness…my own struggles. I am deeply flawed. I can’t be the only one. So I guess that’s what it means to treat others as you would be treated. I’d pray to be treated with grace. So grace I must give.
That’s where I stand tonight…as I turn 36.