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Forgiveness is one of the main tenets of most religions, but for me, it’s a work-in-progress. Sometimes I’m able to forgive those who trespass against me instantly, and, at other times, only incrementally.

I realized the other day that I’m also guilty of “forgiveness head-fake;” that is to say, I start out full of compassion, intending to let go of an infraction, but then I get to mulling. Once I start really thinking about it, I start to smolder. Mulling and smoldering might be a good recipe for cider and fondue by the fire, but it’s not so good for the soul.

That Mull and Smolder Syndrome came into effect recently when I realized my mailbox had been run over, yet again. It really had me riled up, because the perpetrator was the grocery delivery driver. He’d brought my food into the house and never mentioned that he’d just demolished my mailbox.  I even gave him a tip and a granola bar! 

This irked me so much that I couldn’t let go of my anger, even after the grocery company paid to repair my mailbox. Then I came across the viral video about a young man who ran over a mailbox in icy conditions and apologized sincerely to the homeowner, even coming back a few days later with cookies. That’s how it should be done! I could forgive that young man in a heartbeat. If I could forgive him, I can find it in my heart to forgive the truck driver.

Sometimes, it’s important to forgive — even when the offender hasn’t apologized — to protect your own mental health. When you’ve done all you can do, let go, let God and leave the past behind you.

Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Early this morning, I opened the blinds and looked out at the yard. Hmm. Frost on the grass. Chilly today. The usual puddle at the end of my driveway is a frozen mini-lake, perfect for passing crows to do a bit of ice dancing and squawking. Oh, great. The mailbox was knocked out of place by wind again. Note to self: Buy sturdier mailbox. Find contractor to install it. 

As I was walking away from the window reviewing my mental to-do list, I saw the edge of a box in front of my porch near the bushes. It was in a secluded location, perfect for passing package-thieves.

I got the package into the house and opened it. Oh! Adorable. It’s a tiny cactus crafted by our own SueBE! Wonder how she made this? Add to mental to-do list: Must find out how it was made.

Cactus sitting outside in this freezing weather? Poor thing. She must be traumatized. I’ll put her right by the heat vent in the kitchen. That’s where my Plantie sits, so I introduced them and sat her down. Looks perfect. 

My to-do list continued in my head: I really should complain about the package being left outside like that. My new mailman, Bob, is great, but he’s on vacation. I know it’s a busy time of year, with all the gifts being sent through the mail, and hate to get the substitute person in trouble, but realized that sometimes feedback is necessary.  

That should be standard on everyone’s mental to-do list: speak the truth in a spirit of kindness. No need to poke at a person with a cactus spine. Feedback should be fair, because someday, the truth might just be fed back to you! Remember: The Golden Rule is the only gift that is one-size-fits-all.

Loot from the seminar.

At an MS seminar today, I sauntered jauntily (is there any other way to saunter? Not for this lady!) through tables of vendors giving away freebies in exchange for my listening to them talk about their wares. “We’re the only company in the state with (insert unintelligible acronym here) certification!” said a representative of one company. “Not everyone can say that!” I shook my head and offered my own acronym: “TTFN” (Ta Ta for Now!)

I did enjoy the candy in the shape of internal organs that the MS Center of a local hospital was giving out. I’m sure this goes without saying, but nothing says “noms” like chocolate brains!

After a zombie-like chocolate feeding frenzy, it’s official: I now only have half a brain.

As I was walking past the tables, I thought, Hmph. They’ve all got an agenda. They’re just trying to sell me something! Of course they were. That’s their job. Besides, I’ve got an agenda, too: I want free stuff. Specifically, I was looking for free bags for the ladies in my round-loom knitting group to carry their yarn and materials.

Eventually, I was able to unclench my attitude long enough to listen to the shpiels with an open mind. As it turns out, there were a couple of products that might benefit me. 

It’s only fitting that we should each get something out of our interactions. It’s not wrong to earn a living by selling things, nor is it wrong to be skeptical when something sounds too good to be true. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle, there’s a chance to be kind to each other and listen, whether it be to a sales rep or those of a different religion or political party. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye to hear each other from the heart.

“We have noticed unusual activity on your account,” the email said. “Someone has tried to log into your account from Bulgaria. Please press this link to log in and change your password.”

Hovering over the name of the sender, I could see that this wasn’t an official email. The scammer from Bulgaria had helpfully included a link for me to press so I could protect myself from scammers in Bulgaria!

Schemes such as this one are often diabolically effective. CNBC reported that the “Nigerian Prince” scam alone generated over $700,000 last year. 

It’s always better when a “scammer story” turns out to have a happy ending, like the one involving an email that began, “My name is Joel from Liberia, West Africa. I need some assistance from you.” The man in Ogden, Utah, to whom it was sent responded, “How can I help?” with the intention of distracting Joel from scamming others. These two videos tell the story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJZ-tI-OL6A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_W3mdCTvs 

What began as a scam turned into a gift for everyone involved. 

It’s wise to be skeptical, but dear God, please keep us from becoming cynical. Seeing beyond a bad first impression takes an open heart and a belief in second chances. 

What is it about dogs and cats that we find so cute? The fluffy face? The wild whiskers? The twirly tail? Some of the things my pets used to do would be annoying if done by people.

When my dog, Sheena, wanted attention, she’d fall onto her side on the carpet, tail thudding against the shag. It was my cue that she wanted me to pat her. Being part Border collie, when she wanted noshes, she’d herd us into the kitchen by gently nudging us behind the knees. “Leftover ham patrol,” her body language would say. “Let’s keep it moving.”

If Bill from accounting nudged us all into the break room so we could share our lunch with him (“Is this hummus for anyone?”), it wouldn’t be as sweet!

Now, my cat, KitKat, had been a stray, so he had to get used to our outrageous ways: staying inside the house all night; paying no attention to random dust bunnies he’d capture at 4 AM while running with abandon into our rooms; and not being aware that his bowl was only half-full, when ‘full” is the only acceptable state of a cat’s bowl.

If a person showed up at your house at 4 AM demanding food and running wildly (“Who’s up? Let’s jog!), that would be a job for the local constable!

Don’t we all speak without words in our own way? The lady behind you in line as you scan your groceries, tapping her foot, arms folded. You know she’s in a hurry. The man with a crying infant rushing through the store, looking for teething rings. He’s clearly under stress. 

If only we could be as patient with people as we are with our pets! It’s not always easy to be tolerant of others, but kindness is key.

CALLEJA (DIARIO DE NAVARRA)

Abel Mutai, an athlete on the verge of winning a race, misjudged where the finish line was and stopped running too early. Another runner, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, could have run past Mutai and won the race; instead, he helped Mutai cross the finish line and came in second.

“He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed.” said Fernandez Anaya. The photo of him helping Mutai across the finish line went viral, garnering praise from all over the world. When asked for a comment, however, his coach voiced his disappointment. “The gesture has made him a better person, but not a better athlete,” Martin Fiz told El Pais. “He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win.”

In another race, two Olympic runners collided, and, as the race went on, they helped each other carry on to the finish line. Neither runner won the official race, but later, both were given a special commendation for sportsmanship.

Some things are more important than a trophy. Maybe we should change the term, “human race” to “human family.” Life’s not a competition. Don’t listen to the naysayers, even if it’s your own coach. We’re all on the same team. 

person holding camera lensMy son knows when I happen across a spider in the house by the karate-sounding “ke-yai!” noise I emit. The spider is startled by me, too, but I’m sure its perspective is different.

Growing up, Mama Spider taught her son about humans: “Don’t stare honey. I know that’s a face only a mother could love, but God has a purpose for all creatures. Now let’s get out of here before that monstrosity squashes us!”

That seems to be how some religious groups see each other: If you’re not just like us, you’re a threat. The other day, my Lyft driver asked me if I was a Christian. When he went on to say something pejorative about Muslims, I knew we didn’t share the same perspective.

In photography, “perspective” is a term for a visual effect that causes objects to appear smaller as their distance from the viewer increases. In life, if you haven’t gone through a particular experience, it may seem far away and foreign to you.

Your perspective can change based on your status in society and net worth as well. Asked about how young comedians can get their big break, Jerry Seinfeld said, “The good thing about comedy is that anyone who’s talented usually makes it.” It must be spirit-crushing for struggling comics out there to hear their comedy idol make such a statement when they haven’t found success yet. 

The only way to keep your own karma clean is to assume there’s validity in the experience of others. So before you squash that spider — or another human being’s spirit — take a moment to adjust your lens. It might just broaden your perspective.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24 NIV

“Mouthwash Cancels Out Benefits of Exercise.” Even before reading the article, it was clear the headline was misleading. Sure enough, hours later, it was revised to: “Mouthwash Cancels Out Key Benefits of Exercise, One Study Finds.

These old newspaper headlines show the importance of word choice:

Amphibious pitcher makes debute funniest newspaper headlines

funniest newspaper headlines

funniest newspaper headlines

Of course, sometimes, the editor is just having fun with wordplay, as in the case of the psychic who couldn’t predict her own arrest.

Choosing just the right word is an editor’s job, but it’s just as important for you and I to give consideration to the impact of the things we say to one another.

With all the negativity in the news lately, it’s more important than ever to choose your words carefully. You never know what someone’s going through as you encounter them in the course of a day.

So if the cashier should have said, “Thank you, have a good day,” but didn’t, maybe she just can’t wish you what she doesn’t have herself. Maybe her baby wouldn’t sleep last night and the dog wouldn’t stop barking. Perhaps when she got to work two minutes late, the boss read her the riot act. It’s possible she can’t find the energy to have a bad day, and at the same time, wish someone else a good day.

If you’ve been there yourself, try to find it in your heart to forgive these minor infractions. Your kindness could be the catalyst that enables her to have a good day, and in turn, wish a good day to others.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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