I have a distinct memory of being five years old and walking home at lunch time from kindergarten. (Walking two blocks to home was still acceptable in the 1970s.) My teacher, Mrs. Madrin, was a bitter woman who never smiled and yelled at us for the full three hours we had to endure her. After a morning of kindergarten, I deserved a break! Waiting at home for me would be my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and some serious downtime with “Sesame Street.”
I trudged up the front steps of my house and went to the door, sure I’d find my mother waiting anxiously for me; her life had no meaning until I was in it again, after all.
But, shockingly, the door was locked!
Dismayed, I kicked it, banged on it, jiggled the handle—how could this be?! It’s supposed to be open, and I should get my lunch and TV time NOW!
And where was my derelict mother?
Quietly, softly into my mind came the words, She’s in the backyard. Go there.
Was I relieved by that news? Comforted?
Heck, no—I was furious! She was supposed to be in the house, with the door unlocked!
This was NOT how I imagined things should be!
She’s in the backyard. Go there.
I kicked again, sobbed loudly for being so insulted, and finally sulked and slumped against the door. Things were supposed to go exactly as I thought they should, because the world revolved around me.
How dare it turn another direction without my permission?
Amazingly, none of my tantrums changed my situation. If my mother really was in the backyard, she wouldn’t hear me. No one was on the street to notice my despair. And still I heard the promptings to go to the backyard.
Oh, I was a prideful, vain child. I wouldn’t relent, I wouldn’t go out of my way to do what was suggested. I sat there, probably for only a minute, but I was sure it was a full hour of protesting.
Eventually, furious and hungry, I got up and trudged to the backyard—an entire forty feet—to find my mom weeding in the garden. Oblivious to the anguish and heartache she’d caused me, she said, “Oh, there you are. Ready for lunch?”
Affronted, I said, “Where were you?! Why was the door locked?”
She stood up and brushed off her clothes. “I told you this morning that I’d be in the garden when you came home, so you should come back here.”
I have no idea if she said that or not. She may have, and I likely ignored her in my dread to go to school. Startled by the news that I may have been wrong in my tantrum, I followed her inside to find my waiting sandwich and the opening credits of “Sesame Street.”
I’ve often wondered why this incident from my early childhood has remained so vivid in my head, and I know it’s because I need this reminder:
The world will not go the way I think it should.
Not every door I pound on will open. Not every tantrum I throw will give me my way. Not every fist shaking to the sky will change my predicament.
Because I’m just not that special.
It does, however, take a special kind of arrogance to believe that every whim and desire should be granted, simply because of who I am.
I possessed that kind of arrogance, I’m ashamed to say. When I was six, my friends happily announced their mom was going to have another baby, and I was stunned. Wait—people still have babies? But I thought I was the last and the best baby in the world! My mom probably told me something like that, and since I was her last, I assumed I was the last for the entire world.
It was an earth-shattering day for me to realize that other people were still inhabiting this planet, and that maybe I wasn’t the end-all of creation.
I like to think I’ve improved over the years, although my arrogance still rears its childish head at times and wails, “Gimme what I want!” I’ve learned in the forty-two years since my door-pounding episode that rarely will the world drop everything to tend to me, because there are seven billion other people, and you know what? All of them are important, too.
There have been only a handful of times when strangers have dropped everything to wait on me hand and foot, and each of those times involved me at the hospital battling for my life because a baby’s delivery developed complications, or we discovered the hard way that I have a deadly allergic reaction to morphine. (They revived me, kindly.)
Otherwise, I don’t get special treatment. Doors don’t always open when I’ve worked so hard to get to them; houses I’ve searched for and wanted go to others; jobs owed to us are given to someone else; and I have to acknowledge this important fact: there are others in the world who also needed those doors opened, those houses, those jobs. More than I do.
I’ve learned over the years to try to the door once, and if it doesn’t open, find another way. We’ve moved more than a dozen times (cross country twice), rented dingy and moldy houses, bought and sold homes we loved, got jobs, lost jobs, got and lost jobs again, have said good-byes to friends and family, and have experienced “stability” for maybe a total of fourteen out of twenty-eight years of marriage. Facing yet another cross-country move in a few months, I find myself pulling out what’s become my mantra: We can make this work.
If that door won’t open when we pound on it, then don’t pout and don’t throw a fit. Find another door. And another. And another.
And if those don’t open, how about a window?
Got a rock?
Maybe—maybe it’s the wrong house entirely. So let’s find another set of doors!
I’ve imagined myself going back to that old house on Edith Avenue in Salt Lake City, finding that petulant five-year-old, taking her hand, and saying cheerfully, “Let’s go on an adventure and find a way in!”
I know I would have given my older self nasty glares, but I would only laugh it off, because there’s something else I’ve remembered over the years:
The lunch is waiting.
It always was, as I pounded uselessly on that door. Mom had made my sandwich and set it on the table; I simply had to be more resourceful about getting to it. Eventually, we do get a job, a house, an opportunity, and that’s best one for us at the time. Not the most luxurious or fantastic, but the best, meaning the situation to provide us the learning and growth we needed . . . and wanted, but didn’t realize that at the time.
The life I hoped for still happens, but in different places, in different ways, and—I have to admit—with better plot twists than I initially planned. That PB&J tastes a whole lot better once I get to it again, having “labored” so hard to reach it.
And one more thing I’ve always remembered: That quiet, calm voice will never lead me astray. It knows how to get in the right doors, it knows where my lunch is, and it’ll make my life a whole lot easier if I skip my useless, prideful tantrums and just follow its promptings.
Because He cares for me–deeply, sincerely, earnestly. So much so that He told a five-year-old how to get her lunch, and always let her remember how that came to be.
And here’s the best part: He cares for you that deeply, sincerely, and earnestly too. Because to Him, we are all that special.
“Expectations? I didn’t expect this!” Shin shouted. ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World
(In another example of “We’ll make it work,” I used my almost-five-year-old as a model for this picture below. But too delighted he was by my request that he pound with his fists on the door, that he laughed and giggled endlessly as I snapped pictures. Out of the dozen shots, I captured only one where he wasn’t demonstrating having a great time. See? We can make anything work . . .)