Wednesday, October 26, 2011

losing my temper

I don't know what it was. It wasn't that I was having a particularly bad or stressful day. At least I don't remember it that way. So I'm not sure why I responded to this situation in the way that I did. But I'm choosing to not ask myself why I did it, instead I'm choosing to ask what I learned from it.

We were getting a new roof, and the roofers had been on top of our house all day banging away. One of our core members has a room on the top floor, so it must have sounded like they were coming through his ceiling. Being somewhat of an introvert, he likes to spend time in his room and then come downstairs when he feels like being around people. But the banging and the pounding were disrupting his safe haven. Because of this, he had been spending more time downstairs with us than normal. I think this was somewhat stressful and disconcerting for his introverted self.

He's not always the best at expressing his frustrations or his desires. This can sometimes come out in noncompliance, and often times he outright ignores the requests or questions that he doesn't want to answer. If he's exceptionally frustrated or upset, it can come out in vocal outbursts, or "whooping."

We were coming back to our house one evening, after the roofers had left for the day, and this core member had his van window rolled down and was already exhibiting signs that he was frustrated or out of sorts. In fact, he'd been exhibiting these signs most of the day.

As we pulled up to the house I asked him if he would roll up his window. But instead, he exited the van without rolling up his window or even shutting his door, and he walked across the front lawn and onto the porch. For some reason, this happened to push me over the edge, and I blew up.

I jumped out of the van and slammed my door. From across the front lawn, I spoke loudly (ok, I probably shouted) and said, "Why do you have to be so stubborn? All I asked was for you to roll up your window and shut your damn door! But you couldn't even do that?!?!" Now I was frustrated and upset, and I stormed across the front lawn. I noticed that the roofers had left our garage door open and so I chose to enter the house that way so I wouldn't even have to walk by this core member.

After coming inside, he quickly retreated to the now quietness of his room. I fumed and flapped around the main floor, administering medication to the other core members and grumbling all the way. After I had passed out all of the medication, I flopped down in a chair and just sat there. By now I was realizing that I had probably handled the situation wrong, that I shouldn't have blown up or yelled, that neither of those things had made the situation any better.

But then, a second core member walked up to me. Now, I have my share of frustrations with this particular core member. If you asked me to pick a core member I would butt heads with, it would be this second core member before the first one almost every time.. But today this second core member came up to me and said, "Mark? Are you mad at us?" and I said, "No, I'm not mad at anybody I'm just frustrated."

He stood there silently for a moment and then said, "Doesn't [the first core member] have trouble telling us when he's upset or angry?" and I said, "Yes..." and then he said, "And doesn't he show that he's upset through his actions because he can't put them in words?" and I said, "Yes..."

I wasn't sure what to feel right at that moment. This second core member, who I often get upset with for being self-centered was showing such insight and kindness for his fellow core member. And he was lifting up things that I already knew but in my anger and frustration I had chosen to forget. He was helping me to see that instead of seeing beyond the actions of the first core member I had chosen instead to focus simply on his actions and saw them as something he was doing purposefully to upset me.

And maybe he was, I guess I'll never know because I know he'll never tell me. But regardless of his motives,  I could have handled the situation with more grace and more compassion and more patience. And this was pointed out to me by someone with whom I don't always have the most patience.

I decided I needed to apologize for losing my temper. So when the first core member came downstairs to get something out of the kitchen, I approached him and told him that I was sorry, that my reaction to him not shutting the door was inappropriate and that I hoped he could forgive me. He said that it was ok, and then walked back up to his room.

A little later that evening, I was giving the second core member a haircut when core member #1 came back downstairs. He walked into the room where we were and said, "You're doing a good job, Mark. You should be a barber." Then he walked into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of hot tea and sat down at our dining room table. This was odd for him, to choose to be around us at that time in the evening. But after his comment, and as he sat there drinking his tea, I realized what he was doing. He was telling me, in his own way, that he had forgiven me for losing my temper. Things between were reconciled and he showed that by sharing a compliment and spending time with us.

A lot of times, we see those among us with developmental disabilities as people that need our help, or maybe even our sympathy. We see them as people that can't do things for themselves or that are somehow less than "normal" because of their disabilities.  But what I am learning is that they have a lot to teach us. If we listen, and pay attention, they can teach us about things like patience and forgiveness and love... you know, the important things.

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