Holiday Leftovers: Humble Pie and Yard Signs

I had a great post to write, all about the goody-goodness of love and the sugary-sweetness of compassion. But I had a bad day yesterday. Humility has been my theme this week – all about the reminders that I can be an asshole on occasion. Not even that, but someone who abandons her principles because she’s too damned tired to do the right thing.

It started with a bell ringer. I stopped donating to the Salvation Army years ago, when controversies arose around its hiring practices, as well as some of the money going towards anti-LGBTQ legislation. Fortunately, there are plenty of efficient secular organizations that do good.

canstockphoto2643653But there he was, outside of Walgreen’s, ringing his bell and saying “Merry Christmas!” The wind was the kind of cold that chills you from the inside out. I’ve never cared what holiday greeting people use. Obviously, if you’re Merry Christmas-ing me, you’re likely a Christian and I’m not, but I said Merry Christmas and dropped a couple bucks in. I really just wanted to give the money to him. It’s a shitty job.

I thought about that a lot. The thing with bell ringers outside of stores is that there is a shame factor. Yes, I just spent $12 on hair dye and chocolate, but I can’t spare a dollar for people who don’t have money for hair dye and chocolate? That’s how they get me. I have to avert my eyes from a real human being, clutch my little bag of luxuries and get to the car, where I shame-eat all my chocolate. On a good day, I look the person in the eye, say “have a good day” and keep on walking, recounting to myself all the inclusive organizations I do give to.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.

Nelson Mandela

On the whole, I consider myself an old-school feminist. It’s easy to get sidetracked by how other people define the term and sometimes I mumble when I say it. The harder side of feminism is learning to undo the lifelong toxic thoughts I have about other women. I find myself thinking, and sometimes saying, horrible things – things that intellectually I know are wrong.

Yesterday, while talking to a friend, I made a disparaging comment about another woman’s appearance. The friend called me on it. Shame swept over me. I don’t generally notice or talk about people’s outward appearances, mostly because I don’t want to be judged that way and again, intellectually, I know that our culture is sick and bloated with these kind of judgments. But I was cranky and not really in the mood to talk and I say awful things in those circumstances.

So, to write a post here today, about love and goodness and principles of compassion would be, to put it mildly, hypocritical. The short tale I would have told would have been this:

canstockphoto12873243I took one of my daily walks through a neighborhood just off my usual route. In one of the yards there was a sign: “We Choose Love”. I’d been wrestling in my mind about another Trump appointment and was feeling a lot of hatred. That sign made me stop in my tracks. My eyes welled up. So simple. So perfect. The reminder that I had to make a better choice and that love was an option.

There was another house displaying the sign, where a woman was raking up the last of autumn leaves. I said “Excuse me, but where did you get your sign?”

She laughed. “I ordered a bunch of them for our neighborhood and put them on the curb with a FREE, TAKE ONE sign.” And she gave me one.

I carried that sign, feeling a little foolish, the rest of the way home.

We don’t put signs in our yard, much like we try not to wear clothes with logos or put bumper stickers on the car. It’s just our thing – no advertising. So I asked my husband hesitantly, if he’d have an objection to me putting the sign in our yard. And I asked my daughter, whose school bus of feral middle schoolers drops off in front of our house. No objections.

I put the sign up and it felt awkward. Were we trying to look pious and self-righteous? Were we making a political statement? What was the point? The only other sign on the street was a Trump/Pence sign and I wondered if I was being passive aggressive. I started to think about semantics, why the we and why not just choose love. That sounds like a command, and not at all loving. Leave out the word choose and the empowerment is gone.

Then I reminded myself what it had done for me – a simple reminder that we have a choice about where we want to put our energies. It may do nothing for anyone else, but every time I leave and re-enter my home, I am reminded. Especially on those days when I let myself down.

canstockphoto6853838Since putting up the sign, we’ve started to notice them at other places – at schools and churches and in the occasional yard, like a quiet network connecting and nudging us towards our better selves.

51 Comments on “Holiday Leftovers: Humble Pie and Yard Signs

  1. I have been following you for a while. I have really enjoyed reading your heartfelt thoughts. This one, as you said, stopped me in my tracks and made me cry. I am love and I choose joy is my daily mantra. And some days I don’t feel it. Sometimes, I too am an asshole. Ugh. It’s part of my “human-ness”. So I forgive myself and forge forward. Every choice we make has a direct impact on our personal world.. my goal is to choose more times in the direction I want to see my life go than not. Some days Im successful, others not so much. But every day is a new day…

    Thank you for sharing. I appreciate you!!! Keep choosing love…you are making a difference!!!

    Love and hugs, Adventure Mel

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Mel. Part of writing out my awful bits, is the forgiveness process, but I always like to believe there is a lesson. I think, too, it can simply be exhausting to fend off our baser instincts all the time – it’s an impossible task. All we can do is hope that, most of the time, our choices are good ones.

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  2. At least you recognize (and publish) your own shortcomings, which is a boon to the rest of us, in more ways than one.

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  3. What a lovely message to greet me first thing this morning. Sometimes those reminders that we’re human and just doing our best come at the most inconvenient times.… And sometimes those reminders that we’re human!! and we’re doing our best!! come just when we need them. Thanks, Michelle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Donna. I’m glad you found the message in there. Sometimes I’m not always sure that’s what I end up with at the end of a post. I’m feeling very human these days, a patchwork person with emotions that I keep trying to work with – the message of choosing love came at the right moment, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a gift–to have neighbors sharing their love signs with you! To see them popping up in your community! Thanks for sharing your feelings with us Michelle. Timely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a point that I’ve been thinking about. What does it mean to choose love? For me, it means being motivated to do things for positive reasons, like I want to ensure people’s civil rights are not violated because I care about those people. I want to protect reproductive rights because I care about women. I want to protect the environment because I value this planet and the life that we should be shepherds for, not just exploiters.
      It does not mean supporting people who would destroy all of those things. Trump et al, seem only to know love of power and love of selves. So maybe it’s a very specific kind of love I’m choosing, one that seeks to broaden, rather than crush.
      I don’t know that I read your comment right, but those are the things it made me think of.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You read my comment right.

        I will be very selective on whom I choose to love. I’m going to give some of my love to Target , for example. It has set aside a facility for LGTB folks , especially our transgender sisters. I simply cannot show love to those who are hell-bent on destroying our environment and throwing everyone under the bus, or everyone for himself/herself. You can’t afford insurance ? then die.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think my version of love includes some blinders – I’m trying to not keep getting distracted by the political drama while learning to focus on what really matters. It’s tough, though. Maybe it’s easier to distinguish between what I have control over and what I don’t.

          Liked by 2 people

        • That’s true.

          But at least we have control on where we spend our money …. still difficult though. Like. there’s nowhere to go but Home Depot, whose CEO even did some fundraising for Trump.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I like this. I suspect there are so many people out there that just want us all to get along, to do the right thing, and to be kind to one another. I have been a daydreamer all my life, trying to see only the good in everything. I have been told numerous times that I need to focus, get my head out of the clouds, see that not everyone is good, and most people are out for themselves. I try not to read the news, because it makes me angry and worried. I am told I need to keep current with what is going on in the world, but that makes me angry and bad-tempered and then I start looking for the bad in everything. So, I have gone back to my old ways, of seeing the good. I figure if there is something really bad going on out in the world, my husband will tell me, because he does read the news.
    Maybe things are changing, and we will all choose to look for the good, instead of always looking for the bad in everything.
    Great post!!!!! Thank-you!!!!

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    • Balancing knowledge with good mental health is a challenge for me each and every day. Some days, I know I just have to look away, take a break, and let myself breathe.

      I’ve never been the person who just sees the good and it is unlikely that I ever will be. I’m the person who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whether it be my upbringing or my nature, it’s what I have to work with. The only thing I can do is recognize where my choices lie and make most of those choices for something and not just against. Or as the quote in the post says, out of hope and not fear.

      It is a helpful thought to understand that we are all doing the best we can with the resources we have, but that there are always opportunities to improve the path we’re on.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad to read about choosing love. I’m a fan of the Salvation Army. It considers itself a religion, and it chooses to make love practical, by providing shelter for the homeless, substance abuse rehabilitation, and thrift stores. It also picks up heavy furniture donations in my community, something Goodwill no longer does.

    I wish more religions acted this way. We may not have such a homeless problem if churches allowed the homeless to sleep on their (tax-free) pews at night, for instance. I didn’t know about the LGBT issue, but that doesn’t negate what good the Salvation Army does for others.

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    • My preference is to donate to charities that are not religion-based and there’s enough to choose from that do not have baggage. The Salvation Army combines religion, militarism, lobbyists and government funding. This is not to say it is not capable of good, but there are choices that don’t require me to compromise on other things that I care about.

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        • It’s always flattering to be asked for advice, but in my case, I’m not sure of being a good source. At this point, I just write a lot and cut just about as much. But if it’s about being a better writer, the advice I heed and believe is to write a lot and read even more. Reading is what makes me want to be a writer and it teaches me about the rhythm of language. Best wishes to you on your own journey.

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  7. I hear you about other women, I’m not your “normal” female and the “normals” drive me nuts! Men are much easier to deal with, no ulterior motives (other than the standard ones!)

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    • You may have misunderstood my sentiment. It was to say that I had to unlearn (and am still unlearning) toxic ideas about other women. I feel it’s a personal flaw and internalized misogyny, which I try not to feed and work hard to think through.
      Having worked in male-dominated environments, I would say that men are as equally complex and potentially annoying as other humans. “Normal” is a fallacy, a discovery I’ve made over the years by listening and observing. We’re all weirdos in our own special ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Awww! I’d like to think I’m a special kinda weird!! No really, I meant to put normal in quotes as I agree that it’s an illusion. I think I’m probably guilty of the same thing (you know, the misogyny problem.) And of course, men can be just as complex and annoying. Perhaps I feel more at ease with them because of the lack of direct competition (I tend to be a little too competitive.) There are some girls that are a little more straight forward than others (I myself tend to be blunt to a fault,) and they are the ones I get along with the best.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This made me smile, laugh and nod my head in recognition. (A typical response to one of your wonderful posts.) I especially appreciated your openness about being a butthole and the shame you feel over that. Me, too. I sometimes am so embarrassed over the nasty feelings I have, even toward people I love — more than overt behavior — that I want to divorce myself in horror. But me and me apparently have some sort of convoluted prenup that makes getting out tortured if not impossible, and staying in may be the overarching point. So I am left praying, in my Buddhist way, for myself and the many thousands of us who are stricken by who we sometimes are. Glad to be in your company, Sister.

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    • Thanks for this, Cate. Your comment reminds me of something Pema Chodron has said about leaning into the sharp edges. Most of those sharp edges tend to be ones of our own making, but it’s where personal growth happens. I think “staying in” and staying with it is very much the point. Not to say it’s a joyride. I amaze myself with the many ways I can be awful. I have to force myself to remember that I’m capable of great good. That’s the flip side of being “stricken by who we are” (love that phrase).

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  9. Thanks so much for this piece, Michelle. As others here have expressed, you make it easier for all of us to own our sh*t because you do it so well. You lead by example, no question.
    I had a thought when I read, “…I had to make a better choice…” What if it were phrased, “…I had a better choice to make?” Maybe that slight rearrangement of the same words could unburden you a little? Maybe balance the very high standards of integrity you hold for yourself with the self-compassion that you also know is key to your own health? Because, we know, we can only help others as long as we ourselves are healthy.
    Peace and hugs to you this season! 😊😘😁

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    • You make a good point, Cathy. Semantics make a big difference. I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to self-flagellation, but I do eventually try to reach higher ground. When I mentioned now seeing that sign in my yard when I come and go, it also serves as a reminder to my internal dialogue to be kinder to myself. Such a simple phrase “we choose love”, but so many applications! Take care and best wishes to you this season as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The beauty of this post is that we are all things human—tired and snarky, standing on our principles and falling off of them for the sake of a schlup in the cold, awakened by moments of mindfulness, then second-guessing them. We are all of it. Thank the Universe!

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  11. I was going to give you a hard time for beating yourself up, but that would be redundant… Everything you say here — from the guilt-giving to the self-consciousness of signs — I can relate to. You’re not a hypocrite; you’re human.

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  12. I’d like to thank you for your posts. I recognize myself in you or you in myself…er, uh…either way you’ve given me great peace at heart and I marvel at your ability to say exactly what I’ve been thinking and growing through only I’m a couple of years behind you. My Son is almost 10, you resonate with me on so many levels. Your hard-won dedication to vulnerability and your steadfast commitment to a standard of profound honesty in yourself shines through and attains the Universal. I’m grateful for your bravery. You are an inspiration to me.

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    • Thank you for your kind words. I’m in a bit of a slump, so this was nice to read. I joke that my honesty comes from sheer laziness – it takes too much work to be anything other than what I am. I don’t know who said it, but I’ve read a quote to the effect that we cannot know the world, if we do not know ourselves. It rings true to me. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment here.

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  13. I want one of those signs – even though I am conflicted about the message I am sending as you expressed. But in the end “I” need to speak, and I need to “choose” something, and I can think of nothing better than to choose love that is well thought out and makes the world a better place. I don’t love evil.

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    • While I write freely, I’ve always been a typical midwesterner, doing and saying nothing overt. This sign seemed like a big deal, even if, in the scheme of things, it’s not much. I still like it as a personal reminder, like a big post-it note in my yard.

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  14. Pingback: The Snowflake and the Fist | The Green Study

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