Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Changing my perceptions

Isn’t it funny how sometimes one person’s opinion can make you take a second look at your own perceptions? And sometimes after reevaluating those perceptions you start to think that maybe you were mistaken, or at least that your perceptions have become outdated?

I have this crazy aunt. She hasn’t had an easy life, and she carries a lot of bitterness. A LOT. Lots of anger and rage. And sometimes, as you can imagine, she’s hard to be around. She is a master at saying things that make you go, “Wha . . . ??” As an example, she was mad when her sister came to stay with my grandparents and brought her dog (please bear in mind that Crazy Aunt doesn’t live with my grandparents). Not because the dog was a nuisance, or in the house, or any of those things (he’s old, doesn’t bark, doesn’t jump, and is an outside dog). No, she was mad because we had to close the driveway gate so the dog wouldn’t get out. Which meant we had to get out of the car to open and close the gate when we drove in and out. It was INCONVENIENT, she snarked. Didn’t I agree? I finally said that I figured that the dog wasn’t smart enough not to wander off, so I (as the smarter of the two) had the responsibility to watch out for it. I further observed that if I was running so late that I couldn’t spare 2 minutes, well, I was already too late and should have left 15 minutes earlier. That wasn’t the dog’s problem. But my aunt was still annoyed. She’s like that, bless her heart.

(Tangent: I LOVE the saying, “Bless her/his heart.” My Southern grandma used to say it, and it basically means you can call someone every horrible name you can think of, but if you bless their hearts at the end, you’re golden. No hard feelings and all that. LOL)

Anyway, this aunt had a big blowup with one of my grandparents’ in-home nurses, and a couple of other sisters came up to referee, hollered at Crazy Aunt and generally tried to smooth things over with the nurse.

Subsequently, my aunt was at some family gathering, talking to my mom, and the subject came up. Crazy Aunt said to my mom, “You know, I know I have anger issues, and I’m really trying to rein in my temper and learn more constructive ways of dealing with people. I’ve always had trouble communicating with others, and I’m really working on it. And in that situation, I really didn’t feel like I had been unreasonable; I even left the room because I was getting really mad and didn’t want to start yelling. But I was really hurt that my sisters came up and didn’t even ask me what happened; they just talked to the nurse and then yelled at me. I understand why they did it, why they assumed I was automatically at fault, but it still hurt.”

When my mom relayed that story back to me, it sort of took hold in my consciousness. It made me see Crazy Aunt with slightly more objectivity than before. And you know, she isn’t nearly as crazy as she used to be. I was so wrapped up in my old perceptions that I hadn’t seen what was really happening right in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, now: she’s still a nut, she still thinks she shouldn’t have to close the gate when she and her sister happen to be visiting at the same time, she still thinks bartenders are contributing to alcoholism and should all burn in Hell (it went over really well when I worked as a bartender for a while!).

But . . . when my other aunt needs a babysitter for her hellaciously ill-behaved child, Not-So-Crazy Aunt volunteers – and is incredibly patient. She called me today just to wish me Happy Birthday. When she gets frustrated she leaves the room until she can calm down. She knows that her frustration isn’t usually the other person’s fault – that’s a huge thing, right there! She’s calmer, she’s . . . . I don’t want to say “happy,” but certainly less UNhappy.

I wouldn’t have noticed any of this but for the conversation I had with my mom. I feel a little bad, and like I got a good reminder about clinging to old perceptions. I needed to remember that. So thanks to my Not-So-Crazy Aunt.

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