Well, I never learned to speak French, but some things recently have caused me to ponder how my personality has changed over the years, like learning a new emotional language.
At Easter, my son Josh told a couple of stories about how erratic and touchy I was when he was small--like pulling the whole family out of a restaurant at some perceived slight by the wait-staff and yelling at people for reasons he could not understand.
My bishop, Robert Atkinson, when I was a priest in West Virginia, called me 'my young Turk' because I was so contrary and argumentative and would take offense at the slightest provocation. I started considering all that and began to wonder when I changed.
I was telling someone today about what a rabble-rouser and malcontent I was in my younger years and she was astonished. "But you seem so laid back," she told me, "how could you have changed that much?"
I really don't know when it happened, but it happened. At some point, probably gradually or maybe at some pivotal moment, I simply stopped taking Everything personally. It's about impossible to get a rise out of me these days. There's even a member of one of the three churches in the Cluster I serve who has an 'impeach Obama' sticker on his car. I joked with him about it rather than attacking him with all my previous high-test self-righteousness. So he wants to impeach the president I love...he's still a nice guy and I like him. Lord, how far I've evolved!
I can tell you this, being detached while still engaged and involved is a lot less stressful than the tension convention I was when I was younger.
I met up with one of the Wardens of St. John's, Waterbury about a year after I retired. It was in a store somewhere. He asked me how I was liking retirement. "I'm a lot more relaxed," I told him.
He looked at me like I was a crazy person. "A lot more relaxed!" he exclaimed, "you were so relaxed when you were the Rector of St. John's that I thought we needed to check your vital signs! You must be unconscious most of the time now...."
Well, there you go: from 'young Turk looking to pick a fight at the drop of a hat' to comatose. I ponder the transformation, the learning of a new language of being. I haven't walked out of a restaurant because of the service since Josh was a pup. Nothing much bothers me. I have learned not to say "I don't care" when I'm asked something that I really don't care one way or another about because people tend to hear that as 'I'm not involved or interested'. Now, I've learned to say, 'why don't you decide?" I am involved and interested in my life--every moment of it--but I have a kind of detachment I never practiced or worked on that has simple evolved from my annoying younger self that makes me happier and, I believe, makes people around me happier since they don't have to worry about what's going to set me off next....
I used to, as I look back, sort of careen through life from one fight to the next. Now I glide or sidle (which most people don't know what it means) or drift through life from one moment to the next, enjoying each moment enormously but not expending a lot of wasted psychic negative energy.
When people ask me about my spirituality--an annoying question I've learned to simply lean into and answer--I tell them I'm a contemplative left-wing nut. Which, perhaps I am, given that in my aging I've learned to speak French without knowing a word of the language....
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