Biking to work is a mixed bag. I am not cocooned from the mess of the world – the smells, the sounds, the intrusions. And most days I am okay with that. I like the smell of jasmine this time of year. I like the friendliness of the other bikers. I like propelling myself places rather than just pushing buttons. Some days, though, I am privy to conflicts that highlight how complicated it is to be in relationship with another human.
About half a block away I heard the man yell, “You don’t need that blanket at school!”. The culprit was maybe 2 or 3 years old, standing next to the house, holding tightly to a ragged piece of cloth, tears in her eyes. The man (her father?) had his hands on his hips facing her and clearly he was going to win this battle. In fact, he was so intent on winning he could not pause to see his daughter.
If he stopped and looked and listened he would understand that she does need the blanket. She needs it to help her transition from home to school. She needs it to help her face her father’s anger. She needs it because, frankly, the world is a pretty scary place and there is very little we can count on – but this small person has learned that she can count on her blanket’s warmth and scratchy solidity, the way it feels next to her cheek.
I wonder what that father was really experiencing but not saying — most likely something like I wish you didn’t need that blanket. Or the world is going to eat you alive unless I teach you to stop crying. Or what kind of parent do I look like if my kid goes to school with that rag. Or I feel inadequate because you seem to love that blanket more than you love me. Or I am a lousy parent if I can’t teach you how to navigate the world without holding on to a stinky piece of cloth. Sadly, at least while I was biking by, this man was not tuned in to his inner conflicts. He just kept yelling.
As adults, we spend a lot of time trying to yank each other’s blankets away. When we tell our partner they don’t really feel that way or they shouldn’t be so needy we are really saying something like – I’m afraid you love that thing/experience (your career, the kids, soccer, your job, your friends, the internet) more than you love me. I’m afraid you will leave me, forget me, not listen to me. I’m afraid you can’t see me. I worry that I don’t matter.
Next time you feel the urge to put your hands on your hips and take away your person’s blanket, try something else instead. Ask them what it feels like – that metaphorical blanket. Ask them about the texture, the smell, the experience. Ask them what it means to them. Ask them questions while you sit with your own discomfort. Keep asking until you can hear their words through your own fears and worries. Remember that you have chosen this person so instead of telling them they should be someone else just pause and listen to who they are today.
In the scene I witnessed you would be creating a new ending! You would become the father who scoops up his kid, careful not to disturb her worn, well-loved blanket and kisses her all the way to the car.
That is what I want to see as I bike away.