Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Logic of Goodness

I've been having a good week.

I know that it seems every week should be good on this extended summer vacation that I'm having but the truth is, when I spend too much time by myself, I get morose and find the nearest pool of self-pity in which to wallow.

Saturday was another one of those days. I was just puttering around the house, getting only little things done, feeling sorry for myself and rehearsing over and over in my head different ways of telling off this guy who keeps expressing interest in me but doesn't necessarily follow up on his propositions even though I've now given him permission to formally pursue me. Also, I couldn't stop eating. It was like having the literal munchies. I would put the last bite of toast into my mouth, swallow the last bit of orange juice and stand up from the couch while still chewing to go to the kitchen to find myself something else. (Wow, I just typed someONE else. Mr. Freud? Care to chime in?) It wasn't a binge. I was legitimately hungry. But I tried to call my any of my girlfriends that I call in times like these and none were available. I ate every Fourth of July leftover in the house. Ultimately, I took a two and a half hour nap. When I woke up to go to a movie, I wasn't hungry anymore. I did go see Iron Man, which was fantastic. Goodness. Has any movie ever cut to credits better?

However, after dropping my friend off, my car died on Lincoln Avenue in the heart of a yuppie club scene. The group of nearby guys that I asked to help me push it into the loading zone turned out to be drunk, which affected their ability to speak English, as well as their ability to be funny. Then, they were overzealous in their pushing so I couldn't get straight against the curb. Since I was in the loading zone, the valet parking guy came over to tell me i couldn't park there, shaking his head and waving his hands horizontal to the ground to indicate that I couldn't park there even as I was explaining that my car was dead. I finally looked at his and said, "you can gesture like that all night but the car's not going anywhere." Then the bouncer came over and told me that the police were going to hassle me and tow the car to the pound if I didn't get a tow truck there first.

Great. The last two times that I've tried to use Progressive's Roadside Assist, no tow truck ever showed up and I had to resort to alternative help. Plus, it's 1:00 in the morning by this time. So, when I finally got a tow truck, I was so insistent that they come quickly before the police towed me, I forgot to get him to quote a price. The tow truck driver was nice and we had a pleasant conversation for the hour and a half it took to get out to the suburbs and I helped him out by stopping at the ATM to get cash but then he cheated me on the mileage we'd gone and I didn't have the energy to fight with him.

Sunday morning, a friend who had made a date with me to have brunch called to tell me that she had decided to help some friends stain their porch instead, which was the second friend blow-off I've received lately. It doesn't actually bother me all that much but it does baffle me: I have spent a lifetime being a good friend in order to get friends. I would never cancel established plans unless there were an emergency. I certainly wouldn't risk making one friend feel like she was less important to me than another friend. In my psyche, I would worry that the dissed friend wouldn't be my friend anymore because of the slight.

Add this to my bewilderment that even though I try to be the best person I can be to other people (the tow truck driver), I do not necessarily get the favor returned. In my Geez Magazine this month, one of the writers used the phrase "the logic of goodness" in an off-handed way and it perfectly encapsulates my dilemma. What is this impulse in us to be good, when there is no guarantee that the return on the investment will be positive and, if fact, often seems negative.

So, Sunday was kind of a wash, too. Not the pits because I just hung out at my folks' house enjoying the beautiful day on their screen porch and reading a book. Church was good and tasted a little bit like family. Now that I look back on those balms, I think they must have led up to my seemingly impulsive decision to just call Mr. Man to say HI rather than waiting for him to pick up our sporadic email conversation so that I had an opening to sever the relationship. (Since it's informal and friendly, a regular old break-up would be inappropriate and awkward.) We ended up having a great 2-hour conversation that led somewhat naturally into a conversation about this gradual, hesitant inching toward each other that we're doing.

And when I woke up on Monday morning, everything was OK. I mean, it was like the world had more color and someone had greased the gears that had been squealing dully in the background every time I tried to move.

When I went swimming that morning, the 82-year-old ladies ogled my naked body and exclaimed that I must work out every day because I looked so good. (BTW, I'm totally telling everyone every day how old I am once I'm older than 80, too.) Then, the cute check-out guy at Whole Foods liked my t-shirt and flirted with me, talking about zombie movies and Elizabethan theatre. At the Trader Joe's, a toddler came tearing around a corner screeching and the woman next to me said simply, "Oh. A pterodactyl." I laughed and when we heard him again from the next aisle after his mother had corralled him, she explained, "My two have pterodactyls, too." It's good to share non-judgement of mothers with a stranger.

On another day, I would have beaten myself up for forgetting the peanut butter, not getting cash from the check-out and forgetting to mail the Netflix. But I just shrugged my mental shoulders and adjusted.

At church last night, we discussed how we might get folks to transition from greeting each other to beginning the service. In the end, we decided that instead of attempting to manipulate them in some way with music, changing the formal start time or by starting before everyone was quiet, we would just lay the different issues out in front of the larger group and try to do better. Rob said, "That's very much in the nature of Wicker Park Grace."

I love it that the "nature" of my church is one that values relationships more than regulations or hierarchies. Got a problem? Let's talk about it. It is a nature I am trying to cultivate. Practicing it led directly to the unfettered lens through which I engage the world this week. I am free of my self-pity and righteous indignation and can feast on the eccentricities and community that are offered up to me.

Tuesday, I went out for a couple of drinks with a friend I was close to while I was married but have only seen sporadically since the divorce. He's grown in so many ways since when we were close, including falling in love and buying a house. It's amazing to see. It was really nice to just hear him laugh again and to see the world through his perspective for a little while. At one point, he was interpreting something that I said and told me, "Well, you look pretty different than you did when you were married." I thanked him and agreed, "I've lost a lot of weight."

"No," he corrected me. "You have a vibrancy about you now that you didn't have before."

You see, the reward for being the best person you can be is not that other people will treat you well in return. The reward for being the best person you can be is that you get to go through your life as the best person you can be, rather than something less than that.

Pretty good logic, isn't it?

1 comment:

duckbill said...

...hopefully you stuck around until after the "Iron Man" credits...
--#14, the not-quite-geeky-enough, former comic book store manager