How to Take Things Personal
By Z Zoccolante
Today I go to Trader Joe’s with the sole mission of picking up dog treats for my dog Vega. $48 dollars later I’m unpacking my groceries in the kitchen as Vega’s little face looks up at me and I realize I’ve got nothing for her. Are you kidding me self?
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, “I’m an asshole and the one thing I wanted to get for you I forgot. And I got all this other stuff instead.”
She looks up at me with her perpetually concerned little brow. I give her a piece of my expensive beef jerky. “I’ll go back to the store later, I promise,” I tell her.
This weekend I lost my car key and in looking for the spare that I couldn’t find I went through everything I owned, starting first with a box of things from my old life – important paperwork, photos, letters. There’s my old wedding album, the one where you write things about the day. As I open it up I realize the only writing in his is his and I remember him wanting us to fill it out and I said I’d do it later. The truth is that stuff like that was never important to me. But as I go down the list about what was most important for him about the day my eyes drift to the whole column of empty space where my answers should have been. And I think to myself, why was I such an asshole!
I’m not very traditional. I don’t like doing things the way everyone says they “should” be done. I had an addiction (an eating disorder). I was the avoidant type in the relationship and pushed away when I felt uncomfortable, even if it was emotional distance. Sometimes it probably felt like a shrug, like I didn’t care. But I did care. Those are all true but all excuses too. Everything’s a half story.
In the box there’s a rubber band around three inches of letters I wrote to him when we were both abroad – one letter every single day to total three inches tall of paper. I find thank you notes where I wrote encouraging words and bright shiny expressions of love and joy.
And I think, no, I’m not an asshole. We just all show up in ways that are important to us, in the ways we’re able to at that point in time. Maybe it’s about finding people who we can love differently but share enough of the connection inbetween our separate selves.
Freedom is one of the most important things to me. Hanging out with of my older male friends and laughing up a storm, I’m reminded of how fun I am when I feel connected with, important, chosen, but free. When he shows up as masculine, I can simply unfurl my wings and fly.
We’re all assholes in our own special little ways. We are all wonderful.
The older I get and the more I know the more I realize how little I know and understand. This week one of my friends recommended that I read The Four Agreements. The irony of this is that a week ago I bought this book for a client and thought, maybe I could also read this again because it’s been a long time.
Me, my book, and Vega go to the grassy knoll where she can play and I can sit in the green grass under the sun and read in peace interrupted every now and then to throw the ball again.
The Second Agreement is: Don’t take anything personally. The gist of it is that everything that people say has nothing to do with you but instead is about that person. The author says, “it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it’s that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said.” He says, “if you keep this agreement you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you.”
My friend calls and we talk about life and the things we’re reading. I tell her about feeling like an asshole in different capacities. She says, “Oh yeah, I can look back and see that every time I was angry it was because I was acting out of my own brokenness or hurt. And I can see that when people were assholes to me, they were also acting out of their own stuff.”
As we talk a lady approaches from behind me and walks across the grass with her cute brown puppy on a leash. My dog runs over to greet it and the lady says something like, “You should have your dog on a leash here” or “Your dog is supposed to be on a leash.”
I say, “Yeah ok,” and call my dog back to me, still distracted because I’m in the middle of a phone conversation.
And then here’s where it get’s interesting. I tell my friend what happened and tell her, “Yeah, what I really want to say is fuck you lady. Don’t tell me what to do. This is the grassy knoll, which is a known place in the neighborhood to take your dog off leash to play. I was here alone with my dog minding my own business and you’re the one who decided to walk your dog through the grass and say something to me. You could easily have walked your dog across the street instead. You can go fuck yourself.”
My friend laughs and says, “It so funny to watch you friend.”
I laugh back, “Yeah, I’ve noticed that I get pissed for like 30 seconds and then I’m like over it, like whatever.”
Then it hits me. “Oh man friend. I was all Zen reading my book and then completely took that personally. I was literally JUST reading about this! I just failed this round.” I laugh and pause. “Ok, I get it God. Thank you opportunity to grow!”
She reminds me of a classic moment years ago. “Remember that time at Trader Joe’s,” she says, “when that lady got in your face for having Vega in the car.”
Oh man, I remember this. Vega was freaking out in the car even though it had only been five minutes. The lady called the cops on my and when I went back to my car she got all up in my face and was yelling at me about what a bad dog owner I was, etc. During this time, my husband had just left our marriage, my whole life had just collapsed, and I was barely holding on.
While the lady was yelling at me I had visions of grabbing her by her hair at the back of her head and slamming her face down into the white paint of my trunk. I remember wanting desperately to touch me, shove me, do something that would give me permission to punch her in her face. Instead, I took a breath and through gritted teeth told her to step away from me.
On the phone my friend says, “I’d never seen that side of you before but I remember I was like woah.”
My friend says, “Yeah that’s what happens when we react. That lady had no idea what was happening in your life . . . she could be dead.”
I laugh harder than I have in weeks. She could be dead. Of course, I find this hilarious, because I have a morbid sense of humor, and because I know myself well enough to know that I have a tremendously high sense of empathy that would kick in.
We belly laugh until we can’t breathe about how we read all this self help stuff and two seconds later do the opposite.
“I’m working on this,” I tell her. Lesson 1 – Do not take things personally. It has nothing to do with me.
As I hang up, so thankful I can belly laugh with a best friend over life’s craziness, I think to myself how grateful I am for the important people in my life.
I don’t have a lot of people who make the most important people in my life list, but the ones that are on it are fantastic. They show up in all their beauty, wounds and scars, and I show up in mine. We get to grow together, learn, argue, explore, belly laugh. I’m allowed to see that I’m an asshole and I’m also wonderful. We get to PLAY in these bodies, to see and feel splendid things. We get to learn how to not take things so personal. We get to experience this weird little thing called life.
And for that, I’m so freakin grateful.