Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who put the Ass in Asset?

During a conversation last night, I was reminded of something a wise woman once told me: A quality is not always an asset. All of us possess admirable qualities that can be turned around to become a detriment to us, as well as to others.

When I was in second grade, my mother went to the parent-teacher conference to meet with my teacher. Mrs. Schmidt (one of the finest teachers ever) told her, "Barbara is a very stubborn young lady." (To which, no doubt, my mother nodded.) "But," she continued. "Don't squelch that in her; it will be one of her finest assets in this life." She couldn't have spoken truer words... brilliant woman, that one. (Adelaide Schmidt just passed away on September 17th, R.I.P.)

That stubbornness has gotten me through so much. When it shines brightest are the times when someone tells me, "You can't do that." Oh yeah? Watch me. It shines when the whole world is falling apart and everything in me wants to run, but that little second grade Barby stands firm, hands on her hips, and says, "You can't scare me."

During the first weeks that John and I were together, he said, "Women don't seem able to hang with me. I can be an asshole. I won't be surprised if you end up leaving." I kid you not, my first internal response was, "Oh yeah? Watch me." My actual response was much more demure, "I'm not going anywhere."

It turned out that both of us were right. John was not an easy person to live with; the tenaciousness that I so admired in him came out in everything he did. Everything. I used to tease him that he was a badger in another life. He could, indeed, be a real S.O.B. - I absolutely hated the times we'd fight. (I don't like fighting with people anyway, but fights with him felt horrible.) He was fiercely direct with his feelings, and his anger was quick to surface. He could think so fast on his feet, and say exactly what he was thinking, using just the right words. Not me, I'm a far better writer than I am a talker - I tend to blurt first, think later. I was no match whatsoever in a verbal spar with John. Arguments with him would usually end with me dissolving into speechless tears, and him throwing his hands in the air, saying, "Fuck you," and heading off to another room. It wouldn't be long though before he'd come back, much calmer, and say, "Yeah, I'm pissed, but I love you, and I don't want to be at odds with you." His ability and willingness to do that never failed to astound me.

So, I hung with him. I saw the qualities in him that made him the fine, admirable person he was and I recognized that those same qualities were not always a good thing to possess. Stubbornness made me hang; love allowed me to stay. Yes, there's a difference. Stubbornness permitted me to keep John at home when he was dying, rather than send him to the hospice center. The hospice workers would counsel me and say, "This is an awful lot for one person to take on, you can't..." Oh yeah? Watch me. Stubbornness gave me the wherewithal to do anything and everything that was needed for his care. Love let him die at home, holding my hand - right where we both wanted him to be.

That same stubbornness - and I do have other qualities, but this is one I've dissected many times in my life, so it's easy to use as an example - that same stubbornness has gotten me into trouble. I've dug in when I should have walked away (the last three years of my ex-marriage comes to mind), I've said hurtful things in my defense when I should have acquiesced, I've tilted windmills when I should have been enjoying the view of the countryside. "Oh yeah? Watch me..." should often have been, "I'm sorry." Or even - horror or horrors - the unthinkable, "I just can't."

Balance. It's one of the greatest gifts we, as free-thinking humans, have been given. More often than not, our qualities are our assets. John is fondly remembered by everyone who knew him as being a determined, unyielding individual - qualities that got him through life as a paraplegic with impressive grace. My second grade teacher saw something in me 40 years ago that she knew would beam light into the darkest times. I'll never stop being stubborn. I do (sometimes) try to recognize the times when it may not be the best choice for me in a given situation.

Just don't tell me I can't... unless you really wanna be staring at my stubborn asset.

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