Basic courtesy

Joey Garcia

As a nurse, I have “crossed the line” by giving patients rides or buying them food. I befriended a former patient with a terminal illness and limited resources. She lives in a shelter. I assisted her with errands and her job search. Recently, I took her to a hospital where she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. As we were leaving, my friend began to take off her mask. The attendant said that hospital policy required the mask on to protect others from the illness. My friend ignored this. The attendant reiterated that the mask should remain on for the car ride home because others could be exposed to the disease. My friend said, “I don’t care.” I replied, “The people being exposed do care!” She did not respond. Because of her lack of caring, I don’t want any contact. I don’t ask her for anything other than basic courtesy, which she violated. I feel judgmental and punitive. Input, please.

I imagine that the combination of a terminal illness and life in a shelter might propel anyone into a serious bout of self-pity. Yet, despite your friend’s selfishness, it’s unlikely that she meant to harm you. She simply could not lift herself out of her suffering long enough to care about anyone else. The issue, then, is whether you are ready to accept that human beings are messy. We do not behave as expected under the best circumstances, much less the worse. Of course, this means you should be gentle with yourself about judgments. The human mind, no matter how well-trained, judges automatically. After a judgment arises, we choose whether to act on it or not. Those who need help slowing their emotional reaction time between judgment and action can commit to religious disciplines such as prayer, meditation or hatha yoga. Devotion to these practices creates spaciousness in the mind. With that space, plus conscious effort, a judgment is understood as an insight into oneself, and that brings compassion for the subject of the judgment.

I noticed that a basic courtesy was missing from your conversation with your friend. Instead of admitting your fear by saying, “I am worried about contracting tuberculosis,” you said, “The people being exposed do care.” The latter implies that you are fighting her on behalf of “the people.” It is a subtle reminder of what she fears: She is alone, and the world is against her. I suggest that you serve others because doing so is what makes us human. But don’t expect anything—even courtesy—in return, or you certainly will face disappointment.

What is a healthy way to deal with regret about relationships, career or finances? My regret hijacks the present, which is not healthy. Formulating new goals or resuscitating unrealized goals from the past and being immersed in their pursuit might be an antidote. However, to truly move on, I need to put my regrets to rest. Ideas?

Regret is the belief that your life should be different. It is residue from fears that say you failed. Release regret by making amends to people you have hurt (including yourself) and by accepting that you can’t possibility know whether choices made in the past would result in a different now.

Make constructive use of the energy behind regret by redirecting those sinking feelings toward a buoyant life review. Begin with this question from the poet David Whyte: “Are you still falling in love with your life?” If not, what must change to inspire you to be a source of love for others? Another investigation: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? The answers to this question are your guide into a life refreshed by trust and meaning.

Meditation of the week
“Let go of the cliff, die completely and then come back to life. After that, you cannot be deceived,” goes a Zen Buddhist saying. Have you followed the rhythm of suffering, death, solitude and resurrection that this season offers? What are you waiting for?

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