How people can surprise us!
Sometimes they aren’t good surprises: the family member who could be counted on to make a good time of every get-together becomes a born-again Christian; that quiet, pleasant next-door neighbour is arrested for child molesting; or the man in your life tells you his love for you has become more of a situation than a sentiment.
Mostly, though, the surprise is a treat, changing and enhancing your view of someone.
I am compelled to share the following story with you knowing you’ll appreciate it as I did.
There is a woman living here who epitomizes sweetness and light.
Not only is she pretty, with a mouthful of perfect teeth, but she does a lot of volunteer work as well as holds down a fulltime job dealing with the public in a situation where the clients are rarely at their best.
No matter what is going on she is always calm, radiating gentleness and acceptance.
I had occasion to ask her how she manages to be so relentlessly winsome, so constantly sunny and compassionate.
She told me she was a devotee of yoga.
Aha! Was she from Campbell River? I asked.
No, she was from Edmonton, she replied, looking puzzled, but non-judgmental.
Her husband was from Vancouver Island, she added, trying to be helpful.
Making assumptions, as the best of us are prone to do, I later mentioned to my longtimer friend how wonderful it was that these two had found each other.
My friend looked puzzled, too, but she was clearly judging me.
I explained about the yoga and how the folks I’d met in Campbell River were akin to this paragon of a woman and wasn’t it nice that she and her husband shared the qualities of yoga-induced dearness.
Uh uh, I was told; her husband was nothing like her. He was a lout and a creep, to use just two of the words my friend used to describe him.
Apparently our saintess worshiped the ground he slithered on much to the continuing amazement of all who knew the couple.
The next time I had occasion to talk to Ms. Brightness, I steered the conversation, in my subtle way, and at the appropriate juncture was able to ask her if her nature was natural or was it yoga alone that made her especially nice.
This time she stared at me in amazement before bursting into laughter.
Her laughter, naturally, was like the tinkling of little fairy bells.
When she had resumed her usual placid prettiness, she told me the following story. I use my words, but the story is entirely hers.
“I am fairly new to the practice of yoga, having started just two years ago,” she began. “The basic premise of striving for a feeling of peace and harmony was appealing to me; I was having a difficult time with my life — it was full of trauma, violence, and secrecy.
“I knew something had to change if I was to survive, and the only thing I knew I could change was me.
“It was hard work learning the discipline and the practice of yoga, but I persevered. The rewards were quick in coming; I gained self-control and a way of being in the world with love and clemency.
“As you can imagine, this made an enormous difference in my life; I became physically stronger as well, contributing to a growing feeling of being in control of myself and my life.
“When I had to go to Edmonton for medical reasons, I was eager to show my family and friends my newfound way of being; I’d been known as someone with a fast temper, a thirst for vengeance, and a frenetic energy and I was looking forward to their amazement and awe at the new me.
“On the airplane, I had a window seat, and beside me was a young couple utterly involved with each other. Good, I thought, they won’t want to chat. I am afraid of flying and wanted to do yogic breathing to calm myself.
“The breathing was more of a challenge than usual; I have ear trouble and I had to chew gum to combat the pressure change being felt in my ears.
“The only gum I’d found in the house when I left was an enormous piece of gaudy-coloured bubblegum with, I discovered, an equally gaudy flavour.
“Before the plane took off I noticed the seat ahead of me was occupied by a young woman who was demonstrating herself to be one of those over-animated chatty types who cannot sit still.
“All I could see of her was a mass of dark curly hair piled on top of her head, which was in constant movement, along with the rest of her body.
“The result was the back of her seat was shaking and nudging my knees. I felt a wave of irritation, but quickly changed it to a smooth sea of love and compassion, taking deep breaths and feeling proud of my ability to turn off the anger.
“By the time our snacks and coffee arrived, the deep breaths were coming faster and were requiring more concentration.
“Reading my magazine was impossible. I had ask the young fellow next to me if I could set my coffee cup on his tray as mine was too jumpy from the exertions of the bush-headed woman ahead of me.
“He could see my problem, giving me a sympathetic smile as he cleared a space for my cup. I could tell he was impressed with my calm demeanor, and I felt my efforts were appreciated.
“When the plane landed I waited for most of the other passengers to disembark, as did the human jumping bean.
“I swear what happened next was not premeditated; it was like an out-of-body experience. As I stood to get my backpack down from the overhead compartment I took the chewing gum from my mouth, smoothly, secretly, and pinched it securely into the hair of Ms. Busy Body. I then sat down and waited for the aisle to clear.
“She left just ahead of me, the large blob of bright blue gum riding the crest of curls.
“I was numb with horror at my behaviour, truly shocked. But when the accompanying shame and guilt tried to get in on the self-loathing act, it wasn’t allowed.
“My old, bitchy, quick-to-anger-and-revenge self was doing a wild and joyous dance, the noise of celebration drowning out the calm soft voice of the loving and compassionate self. It was a great moment.”
By the time she’d finished this anecdote and was laughing again, I was charmed.
Why is it that when someone reveals a less pleasant aspect of themselves we are so often warmed?
Writing this has reminded me of when we first met, Uma, many, many years ago at the ashram; I thought you were the ultimate in pious and lofty behaviour and the most boring person I’d ever met.
Then we ended up in the same group doing kitchen duties.
You were the one who decided we should play poker to see who had to do food prep and then again to see who would do cleanup.
Oddly, you never lost.
There was no game to see who would cook — you loved cooking, and even back then your skill with food was impressive.
We all suspected the bright green rice was your doing. Your denial, though, was adamant, and convincing enough to get that sweet young man blamed. Cruelly, you were unmoved, confessing only when he began to cry.
I still remember almost word for word your rant to me about how you felt about men crying.
In those days it was almost mandatory for men to weep; it showed they were sensitive and in touch with their female selves — desirable traits in a man in that era.
You, however, declared yourself disgusted by it.
If men needed to cry, you said, then they ought to do it by themselves or with each other and not involve women.
We don’t need the tracks of their tears, you went on; we deal with babies, kids and each other’s weeping. Women need someone in their lives who doesn’t leak.
It’s OK for men to hug, pat, and handle one another on playing fields — why can’t they cry there, too?
I didn’t agree with you on this particular matter, but I liked your style.
After hearing the bubblegum story, I felt the same sort of liking for my new friend. It didn’t make me want to emulate her, but I liked her style.
She’s invited me to her home for tea, and I’ll be there.
You have realized, we’ll be together in Seattle for our birthdays? I just noticed that the other day. Hurrah!
Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.