Be the Change

By Suzanne Wiggins

When I was in first grade we would get an hour of music class once a week with Miss Nott, the elementary school music teacher. I remember walking single file down to a third grade classroom where everyone sat cross legged on the hard asbestos tile floor. One week, Randy Sage was sitting to my left, and although we were told to be quiet, Randy kept leaning over to whisper “I’m going to suck your blood.” There could only be four explanations for this behavior, 1) it was close to Halloween, 2) his mother allowed him to watch Dark Shadows after school, 3) he ate Count Chocula cereal for breakfast, or 4) he was weird. As a side note, I ended up marrying Randy Sage on the playground during recess when we were in third grade. After enduring this harassment from Randy for some time, I finally leaned towards him and acted like I was going to bite his neck. In that millisecond I heard my name screamed from the front of the room and was told to stand up and return to my classroom.

Oh, the horror of it. Kicked out of class in first grade. I remember walking the empty hallway as slowly as I could, head down, tears streaming across my face. Keep in mind, I was the perfect kid. Always happy, always listened, did what I was told, raised my hand, best student ever. Obviously I was traumatized by the event to the extent it has been burned into my memory. By the next year, Miss Nott had become Mrs. Hall and turned out to be my second grade teacher. She had no recollection of the infamous incident with Randy Sage so I kept my mouth shut. Mrs. Hall turned out to be a pretty good teacher from my point of view. I remember making holiday ornaments by sticking cloves into an orange, singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, and on rare and special occasions getting to sit in the large rocking chair in the corner to read a favorite book aloud to the entire class. Definitely “joy of a child” type stuff.

After second grade Mrs. Hall began to teach music again. I remember standing on risers singing with a bunch of other kids while Mrs. Hall walked slowly around listening intently. I have never considered myself a good singer, but I must have done ok because I was selected to join the school’s choir. Now that I think of it, it was less like singing and more like shouting because Mrs. Hall prided herself on the volume produced by her choir. There was no hiding your light under a bushel in this group. The highlight of being a choir member was getting to go by bus to the mall 30 minutes away and performing in the center court atrium. The acoustics were really good. I stood there alongside my fellow choir members all of us in our white shirts and navy skirts for girls and pants for the boys shouting our little hearts out to the live piano music. I felt particularly good that afternoon because I wore my favorite navy knee socks which upon closer inspection had a bumble bee design. Despite my exceptionally great memory, I only remember one song from my choir days and really just the first line of the lyrics, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…”

I was reminded of this by a video that caught my attention on Facebook the other day. It was actually more like a PowerPoint presentation with text screens fading from one to the next. It told the story of a man who had grown unhappy in his marriage. He loved his wife, but it seemed that their relationship was broken and they were becoming the worst version of themselves. The man thought long and hard about this dilemma and came to the realization that if things were to change in the marriage it would have to start with a change in him.

The next morning when his wife woke up, he rolled over and asked, “What can I do to make your day easier?” As you can probably guess, the wife was very distrustful and suspicious of this changed attitude. So he asks again, “What can I do to make your day easier?” Sarcastically she says, “Clean the kitchen.” So without comment or complaint the husband gets out of bed, goes downstairs and cleans the kitchen.

The next morning the same dialogue plays out. The husband asks, “What can I do to make your day easier?” Again with a sarcastic tone the wife responds, “Straighten the garage.” And that is exactly what he does. After about a week of this new and unexpected behavior, the wife breaks down and confesses to her husband that she is horrible to live with and that she should be the one asking him the question. The husband smiles lovingly and tells his wife that he appreciates what she has said, but for now, HE needs to be the change. The story continues on to a happy, yet imperfect ending.

I started to think about how often I look to external conditions for change before considering how I might make improvements or alterations in my own behavior. And that would be a great big IF I even think about internal possibilities. How often do we decide the solution is a different job, a different partner, new friends or social hangout, or a general change in scenery? What if every time I became frustrated or unhappy I looked to myself first to make change? Could it be possible that whenever I have the thought ‘I wish he/she were…less cranky, more loving, less negative, more open minded, listened better, communicated more, had higher self-esteem’ that it was actually a clear sign of what I needed to do?

A very good friend gave me the book, The Five Love Languages – For Singles, a few years back. Somewhere in the first few chapters the author tells of a handsome young man that approached him while at a conference and asked for help. The man explained that he desired to find love, get married and have a family, but he just never seemed to be able to form lasting relationships with women as they tended to break things off after just a few month.

The author asked the man to tell him a bit more about his past. It turns out the man grew up with a critical father who drank too much and a mother who worked hard, but was often depressed. As the discussion went on it dawned on the young man that he was often critical with the women he dated, just like his parents had been with him growing up. At the end of the meeting the author suggested a course of action for the young man to follow for the next 6 months. Although he was apprehensive, the man was willing to make the effort since the author was confident that it would ultimately lead to finding a lasting, happy relationship.

About a week later when the young man made his routine call home, he ended the brief conversation with his Mom by saying “I love you” to which his Mother replied, “I love you, too.” The man couldn’t believe it. He had anticipated an awkwardness at the end of the call thinking it would take several months before his Mom might actually respond positively. Every call after, when he said I love you, his Mom replied, “I love you too”, so he accelerated the suggested timeline and after only a month he added, “I appreciate what you’ve done for me over the years.” His Mom tearfully apologized for not being able to do more, but the young man said, “I understand, but I want you to know that I love you and appreciate everything you did.” From that point forward his phone conversations and relationship with his Mother dramatically changed for the better. Things didn’t happen so quickly with his Dad. His Mom usually answered the phone so he only talked to his Dad about every three weeks. The first time he said, “I love you”, his Dad said, “What?” So he said it again and his Father mumbled, “oh, yeah.” The next call his Dad responded to “I love you” with “yeah, ok.” At the end of the third call, his Dad said, “I love you too.” Having never heard those words from his Father before, the young man cried as he hung up the phone. The process was slower, but the relationship with his father continued to improve.When the author bumped into the young man a year later at another conference, he had been dating a girl for five months and was optimistic about the future and what might unfold.

The story makes a great point. Love stimulates love or in Law of Attraction terms, energy attracts similar energy. If you want a better world, you have to start by being a better person. If you want peace, you have to be peaceful. If you want change, YOU have to be the change.

The Art of Appreciation

By Suzanne Wiggins

Many years ago, a close friend told me her husband had formed a habit of regularly bringing home flowers. She complained that it had started out as roses, followed by mixed bouquets, then on a whim while paying for gas, he grabbed a bouquet of carnations. Not surprisingly, her husband observed that the carnations stayed fresh a very long time and were very “economical”. From that point on, the flowers he brought home were always carnations. This was a serious problem for my friend because she preferred roses and in her mind they meant something deeper.

Like most men, I am certain my friend’s husband had no knowledge of women’s general feelings and beliefs about carnations…until that fateful holiday party. The group was playing one of those games where each person in turn gets a word and has to provide clues to help their team guess it within the allotted time. My niece was up and once the timer was started she excitedly shouted, ‘What do men buy when they are too cheap for roses?” In unison every woman in the room screamed, “carnations!!” Having secret knowledge of my friend’s story, I quickly looked over at her husband only to see what I interpreted as confusion followed by realization cross his face.

The carnation story has always stuck with me simply because I could never figure out why receiving the flowers irritated my friend more than they made her happy. But according to Pema Chodron, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” It’s important for me to point out that I have never been married, however, I do realize that relationships are extremely complicated. With that disclaimer noted, from my perspective I was impressed with how great it was that my friend’s husband even thought to bring her flowers. To me, it seemed like a simple gesture of love. I’m thinking now, however, that my friend’s response is not so uncommon. We often overlook meaningful gestures because the offering isn’t what we want (roses), or we deem it too convenient or easy so we devalue the effort (purchased at gas station), or we interconnect it with a million other issues so it gets lost in the frustration of the daily grind of life (kids, work, finances). Alas, my friend’s flower dilemma was resolved as her husband eventually stopped bringing them home.

Like a children’s Easter Egg hunt, I have found that valuable life lessons and nuggets of wisdom are hidden all around, just out of sight, waiting for us to come searching. Although finding love was not an original goal of my life-changing journey, it has become part of the plan. If you’ve read my past posts, you know that I was an overachieving, self-reliant, workaholic, who never made time for romantic endeavors. When I finally acknowledged that I would like to experience deep and extraordinary love, I realized that I hadn’t a clue about men or relationships. So I started reading books and blogs on the subject, but more importantly I began interviewing my many male friends, and on occasion some willing strangers. What I discovered, and believe at my core to be true, is that men are at their best when they feel respected and appreciated. So I continued the process of honestly and objectively assessing my behaviors, beliefs and habits, now as they applied to men.

It didn’t take long to understand that I had some serious work to do. I remembered back to when my nephew got married, and as it is with every single family occasion, my “plus one” was my mother. Like usual, I booked a hotel room for us, picked her up and drove her to the venue. At the hotel registration desk during check in, I was cheerfully informed that the reservation for our two-night stay had been taken care of by my brother-in-law. I am certain the clerk was not expecting my response. I was pissed. My mother, who is hard of hearing and was not paying attention, saw my face and asked what was wrong. In a venomous voice I told her the hotel bill had already been paid. Like a normal person, she thought nothing of it.

As we made our way to the room I was seething inside. I alternated between the thought that my brother-in-law either paid for the room because he worried that I couldn’t afford it (which insulted me) or it was guilt over the fact that yet again, I was the one taking responsibility for my mother (which irritated me even more.) So I plotted my revenge. I decided that I would take the money I would have spent on the room and I would give it to my niece and her fiance to pay for their stay, thus demonstrating that I could afford the hotel by using the money anyways. Yes, I agree, my reaction was even crazier than being upset over regularly receiving carnations over more expensive flowers.

During the wedding weekend, I eventually thanked my brother-in-law for paying for the hotel room, but I realize now that I did not truly appreciate the gesture. His intentions were nothing but generous and sincere, but I was wrapping them up in years of family history, my habit of unrelenting self-reliance, and my ignorance of men and why they do what they do.

Looking back, I feel so incredibly fortunate that I have accepted the challenge and adventure of re-making my life. The journey is far from over, but I acknowledge that I have aspired to do something that is extremely difficult and uncommon. I have chosen to re-think and re-evaluate every aspect of my life; my beliefs, my goals, my limitations, my behaviors and my self-concept. In just four short years, I’ve learned so much and I have definitely changed. Not so much for others to have noticed, but there is a deeper self-love growing inside. Lately, I have been working on being more grateful and appreciative, especially towards men. No matter how small the gesture, be it making me laugh, holding the door, thinking to ask questions, offering to help, remembering something I said, or any other gentlemanly gesture, I say thank you. If I ask for help (which is another struggle I’m working to overcome) I make an effort to let go and allow the person to fulfill the request in their own way and not the way “I would do it” or “want it done.” And most importantly, I have learned and accepted that when my brother-in-law pays for something, like most men he does it because he wants to. All I have to do is say thank you, which I do now from a genuine and sincere place in my heart.

Truly there is an art to appreciation. It requires having an open mind, attention to detail, noticing subtleties, and understanding that what is presented may not be what we expect. Sometimes we are not impressed by the works with the greatest value. Recently I saw something on Pinterest that said, “We attract what we are, not what we want. If you want great, be great.” I’m hoping to be a real masterpiece when I’m done.

P.S. Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time. 🙂