Saturday, March 25, 2006

little me and the library card

About a month ago, I decided it was time for my son to have his own public library card and take more responsibility for the books he checked out. We went to the library, and got the card all set up, and he presented his five or six books to check out. At that point we were informed that until we verified his address, he would only be able to check out three books at a time. I didn't have anything handy with our address, so we decided to wait until next time, going our way with only three books.

Today we went back to the library, this time with BOTH his library cards (unbeknownst to me, he had already gotten one last fall with my wife). His old card had been verified and had no limit to the books he could check out, so I figured they could cancel the new one and thus there would be no need for another address verification.

Of course it wasn't that simple.

First of all, there is still one more book out on his new card - one we could not find this morning - so they could not cancel that account. I thought maybe they could transfer this book to the other card, but no. So the end result was that they wanted to cancel the old card and just use the new one. Fine, I said, can you remove the three book limit? No, they said, you have not verified the address. But the address was verified for the other card, and it's the same kid, and the same address. What's the problem? That's not our policy. We must verify the address for every card we issue.

Hmm. So whose address are you verifying? Your son's - it's his card. So I should bring in something with his name and our address on it, right? No, just your checkbook or a piece of mail with your name and address. But that's verifying MY address, not his. I'm sorry sir, that's our policy.

This is crazy, I thought.

I made one more attempt to evoke some common sense from these library people, to no avail. We ended up with three books checked out (not the four my son wanted) and I left the library in a fine righteous pique, determined not to bend to their rigid bureacracy, and to live with the three-book minimum on principle.

Once we got to the car, however, I decided that wasn't fair to my son, and it would really be easy to take my checkbook back in and verify the address (mine, not my son's, but I guess that's unimportant). So I did that, and grudgingly apologized for being difficult.

Driving away, it hit me like a two-by-four between the eyes - I had been acting like a little kid who couldn't get his way! So what if my common sense approach was reasonable (to me anyway) and their address verification policy is inconsistent - their policy is their policy and it was not that hard to comply.

Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about ego - the "little me" he calls it. This little me - this egoic self - wants to be in conflict with other people and situations so it can feel superior, or sometimes so it can feel victimized. Today was a little of both for me - i wanted to be "right," and i wanted to feel cheated and put upon by those terrible librarians for making me walk all the way out to my car for my checkbook. In retrospect, my behavior was immature and ridiculous - in Tolle's words, i was acting "morally superior to reality."

What now? I cna look back on the situation and laugh, and hope that next time little me wants to be in charge I can notice it before he starts driving, and take away the keys.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

One Year Back

A year ago today I returned from my deployment to Iraq. In some ways, it seems impossible that a whole year has passed, but in many others it is easy to believe.

It took me most of the first half of this last year to really adjust to my life and feel like I was "home." I have thought a lot about why this happened, and decided it all boils down to how I have perceived and responded to reality. You see, I came back from Iraq with a definite story of how my life was going to be - how much I had grown, how I would put relationships first, and how great everything would be.

Of course reality never conforms to our stories about it, no matter how carefully crafted they are. Even more surprising was the way the stories other people told themselves about me differed from my own stories. It took me a long time to notice and accept that we all have different stories about ourselves and each other - and how attachment to these stories can cause so much pain.

There have been some great influences in my "waking up" - first, my therapist Brian. I spent a lot of time with him, and he reflected my reality more than my stories and helped me see where I was. I learned more about Buddhism through reading, meditation practice, and Shambhala training, illuminating the path of presence, surrender, and acceptance.

Special thanks to Marti for introducing me to the work of Eckart Tolle, whose calm words helped me through many a rough morning. Thanks to ALL of the members of my Covenant Group (Chalice Group) for providing a safe place for me to really show up and be heard. And thanks to Shaun, my evangelical Baptist co-worker and friend, for his faith and friendship. Finally, thanks to my Warrior Brothers and the ManKind Project for providing another safe space to show up as a man and learn to trust other men again.

Lots of things have changed in the last year. 365 days ago, I was certain we would move to Northern California when I retired from the Marines, and that I would attend seminary there to become a UU minister. Today, we plan to move to Colorado and join a cohousing community just now starting up. I plan to take at least a year off and just LIVE MY LIFE - spend my time taking care of my family, playing my guitar, meditating, riding my bike, and building community. Wow. I might even learn how to cook. I am still called to serve others, but I'm not sure what shape this ministry will take. If I go to seminary, I'm not sure where or when it will happen.

When I got back from Iraq, my guitar playing was a lot better than when I left, and now a year later it's much better still. I bought a new guitar, and now love playing fingerstyle more than just about anything else in the world. Making music with voice and six strings is a spiritual practice for me.

This is really getting long, isn't it? No problem, it's my reflection on the past year and I'm writing for myself, not for you.

It looks like I'll finish out my Marine Corps career here in Northern Virginia, so we have about two more years in this community. I've thought a bit about leaving, and although there is a lot I will NOT miss about this area (can you say TRAFFIC?!), I will miss many of the people I've met.

In my congregation, of course there is our Chalice Group Leaders' Group. And my (as yet unformed) Chalice Group. And the Board - the Sinister Minister, Sister Emily, Professor Puck, Miss Violet, Captain BRUU Brew, and all the rest. And Mary, my dear enigmatic faithful friend and co-conspirator in the world of RE. And, yes, my fellow Marines in MPP-50 whose friendship and humor make work something I actually look forward to most days.

Well, I've reflected enough - it's time to move ahead. Who knows what the next year will bring. I hope it won't matter exactly what happens, just that I can notice and accept and appreciate every moment of it for what it is.