Back in my youth, I remember an older, wiser friend taking a rather bemused stance over my ranting and raving on some Topic of Incredible Importance.
Righteous indignation, he said, is the province of the young.
Of course, that only had me railing all the more. Good GOD, I thought, and said, because I was something like 24, and decades from developing my internal editor, if everyone felt like you, what then? If no one got their panties in a bundle about the myriad injustices of the world, how would wrongs ever get righted? How would the stuck become unstuck? How, I demanded to know, would anything happen!?
My mother, while given to prolonged assaults on my character, attitude, or whatever else peeved her in the moment when in her cups, never did suffer much from righteous indignation. Like my older, wiser friend, she preferred the bemused stance, seasoned with heavy doses of acerbic wit. I’m not sure if it’s something she developed over time or was baked into her character, but while she was certainly capable of a freakout if she caught me setting something on fire or other insalubrious activities, she tended to meet my childish need for justice justice justice (and engagement) with a shrug and a lazy, detached “They’re your feet” or “Because I’m the mother” or her favorite, “Who ever told you life would be fair?”
I’m pretty sure it’s Dad who had the issues with fairness doctrines. Early on, he instilled in me a love of Clint Eastwood films, with their simplistic credo of right over wrong, and to hell with the rest of it; toward the end of his life, he, my sister and I discovered we were all members of the Law & Order/Judge Judy fan club: nothing more satisfying than someone Getting Theirs in a predictable episodic or half-hour format.
I’ve always been simultaneously confounded and fascinated by you oddballs who can maintain a level of detachment. I was easy to rile (and easy to surprise, since I was always in reactive mode), and viewed the sanguine like they were another species. My first serious education in the art (and rewards) of detachment was during my marriage to The Chief Atheist, whose nickname could just have easily been The Chief Ball-buster. He was a black-belt in flipping people’s fury back onto themselves, and he looked at the whole thing like a science project. He had a look and way about him that was very blue-collar, although he was born into a nice, middle-class family from suburban Chicago. Instead of seeing his look as an obstacle, he used it to his advantage, playing dumb because (stupid) people expected him to, watching them blow stacks and hit roofs while he most decidedly had the last laugh.
Of course, there were things that got under his skin, too, including, from time to time, the idiotic assumptions people made about him because of the way he looked. But mostly, he accepted the cards he’d been dealt and learned to play a much, much higher-level game. He certainly never had much use for jumbrage, something I indulged in regularly.
“Jumbrage” is my recently (and accidentally) coined portmanteau word for “judging” and “umbrage,” things I do and take too often, respectively. And I’ve cut back a bit, a lot of bits, really, from my youth. It’s still easy for me to go there, but I’ve realized how lousy it feels to live there, so now I just visit, take note of when I’m doing so, and hightail it back to friendlier, calmer climes.
The more I do, the easier it is to see how many people enjoy indulging. I mean, they must, right? To do it so often, and with such fervor?
And now that I don’t join in every time someone starts a round, it’s kind of startling to note how far off they are on the judging thing. The other night, for example, I was waiting in line to purchase a copy of a friend of a friend’s new (and pretty interesting-looking) book: a line of two, to be precise, with me comprising the rear part of the line. The party of the first part was engaged in some very complex transaction involving the return of something and the crediting of something else, which complexity she compounded with, among many other things, her insistence to the junior cashier-type person that she need only give up her first initial, not her entire name. Me, I was hanging out, trying to keep Monkey Brain’s mitts off the gigantic, fluffy, homemade marshmallows (a half-pound for $7.99!), which was very difficult as Monkey Brain likes pure sugar even more than she does sugar in other things. Also, the marshmallows were so dense and heavy in their cello-wrapping (four marshmallows! an eighth of a pound each! two bucks a throw!) as to be almost pornographic in their appeal.
I happened to look up from the marshmallows; oh, hell, I was able to tear my lustful gaze from them for a quarter-second, the precise quarter-second the first half of the line looked up and back, nervously, angrily?, and found me in the way.
“She’ll be WITH YOU in a MOMENT!!!!” she said loudly, whipping back to face the cashier.
I blinked. Huh?
She whirled to face me again. “I SAID, ‘She’ll be WITH YOU in JUST ONE MOMENT!!!'”
A mere six months ago, I’d have jumped on the Jumbrage Express without hesitation: “Fine!!” I would have answered, my tone and physicality (probably a “WTF?” look) inferring that not only were things not fine, they were the furthest thing from it, and in case she didn’t get it, it was all HER FAULT.
Or, “Oooookay!” with that kind of a “cuckoo! cuckoo!” look that very clearly established where each of us were on the sanity and cluesomeness hierarchy.
That night, though, I did nothing. As in, nothing. Except look surprised, which I was, and probably a little foolish, which, let’s face it, ain’t far off the mark. Not only did I have no idea I was in her space, riling her up, down and sideways with my angry, impatient behavior as #2 in the line; I was consumed with homemade marshmallows.
In that second of realizing the miscommunication, the rampant projection going down, a whole playlet that had gone down without me realizing I was onstage, I got the futility of being reactive. That thing about the meditation, and all the self-grounding I have to do? No kidding. Like the man said, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.“
There are a lot of changes happening really fast right now. For me, the first step to getting a handle on most of them is slowing down to take a good, hard look at them.
Photo of coconut TOTALLY looking like it’s taking umbrage by certified su via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. I mean, seriously: that coconut is taking umbrage!