My First and Very Best Friend

My Papa was my best friend. Maybe it’s strange for a little girl to have a grown man for a best friend, but my earliest memories of unconditional love almost all involve him. He was a chronic smoker for most of his life and wore beige coveralls every single day by choice. On special occasions, he would trade in those coveralls for something fancier, something like denim overalls.

My grandparents were never wealthy people, they never even really made it to the middle class. My grandfather was a blue collar worker, scraping together what he could until he was injured on the job and was no longer able to work. They lived in a trailer in small rural town for the early years of my childhood and drove old beat up cars. They didn’t take me on vacations or buy me the latest toys. But I never minded. I had everything I needed from them. That’s the thing about may temporarily win them over with “stuff”, but the pieces of yourself that you generously give them will be the thing that endears you to them forever. In twenty years they won’t be talking about how grandpa bought them a Lego set, they’ll be remembering the myriad small ways grandpa revealed who he was.

When I was about a year old, we visited my grandparents. I was standing in front of my Papa’s TV- a luxury they probably couldn’t really afford, but one they saved up for anyway. I stood there hitting the glass of the TV screen, the way that toddlers do. My dad told me several times to “stop hitting that TV”, but I came into this world as a rule breaker and boundary pusher so I kept doing my thing and my Papa kept coming to my defense. “She ain’t gonna hurt that TV”, he said. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t actually going to hurt the TV, he just didn’t care if I hurt that TV. He cared more about whether I was happy and if beating his TV made me happy, then by God he was going to let me do it to my heart's content. Fed up after several stern but patient requests, my dad popped me on the leg, letting me know that he was serious. My Papa was so livid that my father had (appropriately) disciplined me that he stormed out the front door, the screen door slamming behind him on the way out. He lit a cigarette and legend has it that he smoked the whole thing in one drag. He started up his truck, peeled out, and spent the next several hours driving around to calm himself down. That’s just the sort of man he was- fiercely loyal, generous beyond measure, and strong in his convictions even when they were a bit misguided. I think about that story a lot. It captures so much of him in just that one small slice of time. And then I wonder what stories will end up on my own highlight reel.

He’s been gone for more of my life than he was alive for, but I’ll be damned if I don’t think about that man every time I slice a cucumber or happen upon some fine woodworking or watch my own son with his best friend, his Papa. My own Papa never made a ton of money and he never had a lot of power and nobody is going to write a book about his life, but his legacy lives on in my spirit and that’s the mark of life well lived.


A Case for Always Assuming Good Intentions

Humans are meaning makers, we love to "make sense" of our experiences and the way our brains do that is by constructing stories about the things happening around us and to us. The problem is, we can only create these stories based on the information available to us and often we have incomplete information. It's impossible to know what other people are thinking or to have all of the details sorted out, so we fill in the gaps the best we can and end up making up stories that fit the narrative that makes the most sense to us. Unfortunately, in our own minds, we are usually the hero of the story. We are the good guy and that leaves everyone else to play support roles or villain roles, but it's always way more complicated than that. Slowing down and trying to see the nuance and truly understand other people's perspectives benefits everyone in the long run. It is the epitome of grace and it can change how you see the world and relate to others. 

This meaning making process plays out in a thousand small and big ways in our lives every day. A person cuts you off on the way to work. You can tell yourself that they are a jerk- careless, insensitive, and selfish. Or, you can assume that maybe they genuinely didn't see you or that maybe they are trying to get to a loved one who is having a crisis. You ask your spouse to do something and they forget. You can tell yourself that they don't care about your wants and needs, that they are self absorbed, insensitive, or a bad listener. Or you can assume that maybe they literally forgot, maybe something more important distracted them, or maybe they have too much on their plate right now. A person disagrees with you about a belief you hold deeply. You can assume they are an idiot or you can recognize that there is a reason they hold that belief and seek to understand the information and experiences that led them to feel that way. It happens all day every day- we make stories up about what's going on in the world around us. How you approach those stories matters. 

Here's what I would challenge you to do- 1. Assume good intentions always, 2. If you have the opportunity for dialogue, seek to understand, and 3. Repeat that cycle forever. Assuming good intentions doesn't hurt you at all. It just relieves you of the pressure to be angry or hurt or to feel shame. It prevents you from making assumptions about who a person is or how they feel about you. It keeps you from making up stories that are untrue. Seeking to understand will help you learn. It will build your relationship with the other person. It extends grace in its most basic form. It helps them to feel seen and heard and it gives you information you need to confidently make sense of the experience. You know the easiest way to figure out what somebody meant with their actions or how they feel about you? Ask them. It's really that simple. There will be people in your life who are toxic, who do not have good intentions, who will lie and manipulate and deceive, but in my experience those people are few and far between. Most people are good and are doing the best they can to navigate the world. I would also argue that one or two bad experiences with a person shouldn't forever color your understanding of who they are. People are nuanced. People mess things up. People do things driven by emotions that they would never do "in their right mind". Keep assuming that they had good intentions and give them an opportunity to explain themselves and do better. Keep coming back to the mat and doing the work, it's so worth it.  

The next time you feel anger or hurt or resentment rising up in you, try to slow down long enough to sort out if there is evidence to support your understanding of what happened or if you're making up a story that serves you, filling in the gaps with information that may or may not be true. Then, always seek the truth.