On Sunday, my husband, teenage daughter and I took the El downtown to the ballet. When we got on a friend I don’t see often was unexpectedly on board and I was excited to chat with her.
A few stops later a family came on. Three gorgeous kids, between the ages of 2-5 and their father, between the ages of 20-25. The sister, a middle child, sat in the farthest right seat and immediately turned around and looked out the window. She did not turn around again until it was time to get off the train and when she did she was smiling from ear to ear. The older brother grabbed the middle seat and his younger brother cried. He had wanted the middle seat. The father sat across the aisle and told the young boy to stop crying. In a move that will surprise no parent ever, the boy kept crying.
A few minutes later, the father offered the younger brother his headphones. The boy, still devastated by the injustice of not getting the middle seat, rejected the offer. The older brother accepted them, causing his little brother to realize that he did in fact want the headphones and now he had been denied the middle seat and the headphones. There were more tears, sniffles and huge, tragic tears running down his beautiful face. The boys both had small top knots and the little boy’s bounced rhythmically with his crying.
The father did his best to ignore the crying, occasionally looking up and saying such helpful things as “I didn’t ask you to stop crying, I told you to stop crying.” Eventually, he stretched his hand across the aisle and the little boy grabbed it and climbed into his father’s lap. With his head on his father’s shoulder, he let out a few short hiccups and relaxed.
I think most of us would like to be the sister, keeping her own counsel, enjoying the view, unbothered by the drama around her. Occasionally, we may be the older brother, winning at everything. But usually we are the younger brother. An initial disappointment upsets us. We are offered a way out of the upset, but it’s too early or not exactly what we want and we can’t accept it. From there, the downward spiral seems unending, until finally, if we are lucky, a hand we can accept is offered. Sometimes we are the father, overwhelmed by the number of things that can possibly go wrong in such an easy transaction, desperately trying to hold back the grief and the chaos, finally offering a hand across the chasm and having that hand accepted.
If we are lucky, we learn to reach out our hands. If we are lucky, we learn to accept the hands we are offered.