I’m back at school, pulling a steroid induced all nighter as I write this. Yesterday was my fourth infusion after a three month break that had felt like summer vacation. It has been good to see familiar faces, meet new folks and wonder about those I have yet to see that I used to see weekly last fall. Yesterday was a light day, meaning I was going to be done around 1:30, which was exciting as I anticipated how I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon! What I wasn’t expecting was the pop quiz at the end of the day, given by a teacher whose name I will never know, in the parking lot of the clinic, as Wes and I were about to leave. I failed the test miserably.
It actually started a bit before that.
When the nurse unplugs the drip line from my port upon completion of the infusion, I waste no time packing up to make my exit. Psychologically, the minute I leave the building my week off between infusions starts. Physically, I feel drugged and I prefer to be home for the wearing off process. Yesterday I was done at 1:40, but Wes wanted to wait to see if we could connect with some good friends who were still in their appointment with Dr. Chue. I was fine to wait - until about 2:05 when I said, “Wes, I have about 5 minutes left in me before I’m going to want to leave. I feel drugged and want to go home.” He was accommodating, and we made our way down to the parking lot at 2:10 only to find that a white Audi Q7 SUV was parked illegally and blocking our car. There was no way we could get out. Not content to wait, and with Wes’s help, I decided to go into every office of the three floor building to find out who owned that car. Never mind the parking attendant had attempted this already. We narrowed it down to two possibilities; both were therapist’s offices who, under no circumstances, were going to allow their clients to be disturbed. At the end of our canvassing, it was 2:30 and none of these clients were going to be done until 3:00. I was not a happy camper.
Back down in the parking lot, we looked through the windows of the white Audi SUV to see if we could get any clues as to who owned this vehicle. Why this was important I don't know other than it allowed me to begin forming a judgement on the clueless moron who was blocking us in. Perhaps we expected to see a name tag on the seat. “Hi, my name is Joan and I’m in #302 upstairs.” There were two tennis rackets in the backseat, two partially drunk bottles of Evian water in the front, with two head bands hanging from the rear view mirror. I decided she was blond and had a french manicure...which means absolutely nothing. To my surprise there was an incredibly well behaved dog in the back of the SUV and the owner was thoughtful enough to have the sun roof open so the dog could get some air. This pissed me off because it was ruining my preconceived judgement of her.
We had at least a half hour to wait. I ran through a number of scenarios of how I was going to handle this. Every spiritual teacher I have ever followed would say none of them were in my highest interest. With the angel on one shoulder shrunk to the size of a firefly and the devil on my other shoulder grown to the size of Jaba the Hutt, it was a safe bet my highest interest wasn’t going to be part of the equation. I said to Wes, “You know that saying ‘when they go low, we go high’? Well, for me, today, when they go low, I’m going lower.”
I decided I wanted her to feel bad. In fact, I was going to sit on her bumper until she came out, and when she did, I was going so low I was going to guilt her with the “Cancer Card.” The firefly tried to reason with me, “Remember Renee, you wrote a whole post on how wonderful it was to be in Ireland where no one knew you had cancer and how liberating that was!” Jaba the Hutt spoke for me, “So?” While Wes was on the phone helping the parking attendant get the ok to get this car towed, I waited.
At 3:10 she showed up. Tall, very thin, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, baseball cap perfectly situated on her head, a vest zipped all the way up and a scarf around her neck. She walked quickly, erectly and rigidly, perhaps because she had been told she was blocking in some cars. I did what I said I was going to do, “After having been in chemotherapy ALL day I come down here and have to wait another hour because you have blocked our car!” She was visibly uncomfortable, but without slowing down or making eye contact, she sort of shrugged her shoulders and said, “I thought it was a parking spot, I apologize.” And in her car she dove. “Well defended” I thought as she started up her car. Unsatisfied with the encounter, I found myself lifting my chin so the trajectory of my next words would easily flow up and over the side of the car, into the open sun roof and land perfectly in her ears, “How about some awareness when you park the car. Look up and notice the three cars you’re blocking!!’ Followed by, “Your apology lacked empathy!” I doubt the last lame comment made it through the sun roof as I was about 25 feet from her back bumper watching her pull away. I actually felt stupid yelling ridiculous comments at a car with windows rolled up that was speeding away.
On the way home Wes and I debriefed. Wes, giving her the benefit of the doubt, said, “You know, I noticed she was looking down towards her steering wheel as if maybe she was trying to compose herself.” Without missing a beat I said “She was probably checking her emails.” Not ready to forgive her yet I said, “She ought to ask for a refund from her therapist if that is how she is going to act immediately following the appointment.” Never mind what my behavior might indicate.
As we got farther away from the clinic my energy started to shift. I said, “You never know what she’s going through. Maybe she is stressed because she found out her husband is cheating on her, or she just got fired from her job.” Who knows why she would have been so distracted that she didn’t realize where she parked. I thought about all the times I was distracted when I was in the height of fear dealing with cancer. The time I left my purse in a Home Depot cart after unloading it, driving away and not realizing it until I got home. I never saw the purse again. Or the time I got our mail but left the mailbox wide open with the key still in it. Had a nice neighbor not delivered the key to my house I would still be wondering what happened to it seven years later.
We talked about how "well defended" she was in appearance, demeanor, and with her choice of words. I knew that feeling well. How many times was I like that in my relationships, particularly with Wes? Being vulnerable felt risky. Being at fault, at the mercy of the other felt scary. Well defended felt like the lesser of two evils. And yet I now find defensiveness intolerable because the nature of being defensive says the other, usually Wes, is my enemy. I’m defending, which precludes vulnerability and intimacy; good for battles, sports, and court rooms, not so good in relationships, which depend on intimacy for their health. I thought about how it felt to be on the receiving end of the well defended Audi SUV driver. No empathy, not being heard, she couldn’t even make eye contact. I didn’t like it...at all. I thought about Wes being on the receiving end when I was well defended.
We pulled into a gas station about then and I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry for all those times you had to deal with me when I have been “well-defended”. He smiled, kissed me, got out of the car and filled the tank. We finally arrived home at 4:00.
Thank you to the woman/teacher in the white Audi Q7 SUV. I'm sorry for my lack of compassion. I’ll never know your name but you were a perfect mirror for me yesterday reminding me there is no difference between the two of us - I’ve been stressed, distracted to a fault, and most of all well-defended. May you be blessed with peace, love, and vulnerability. I wish you well.
Maybe I didn’t flunk the quiz after all!