The roses or the thorns?
Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
It’s all how you look at it.
The other day, when I was downtown DC, there was something I wanted from CVS, so I headed toward one on the way to the Metro. Outside the CVS was a man; I am getting used to seeing people panhandling, and I must admit, every time I pass someone I think “there but for the grace of G-d…” I don’t usually give money to panhandlers, because you never know what they will use it to buy. However, in the past, I have purchased food or medicine for someone who was asking for that rather than money.
This man asked “could you help me get some food?”
I stopped and asked what kind of food he was looking for – a sandwich? I could surely get him that (my own situation notwithstanding, I am so much more fortunate than so many others and try to be kind to those less fortunate, as much as I can). He stood up, grabbed his cane, and started telling me how he actually needed cold medicine. “But you said you needed food?” I asked. He replied that asking people for food gets more of a response than asking for cold medicine.
Fair enough. I told him I could get him some cold medicine. He followed me into the store and we went to the cold medicine aisle. He first chose Dayquil (I chose its generic equivalent) because it would not make him drowsy; I told him I could buy that for him. He said no, wait a minute, it has Acetaminophen, which will upset his stomach. “Well,” I said, “all of the cold medicines have that ingredient, for the pain.” He continued to look, started looking at liquids, at which time I said “I won’t buy a liquid because it has alcohol in it.” Then he chose a box that contained half of the “Dayquil” generic and half of the “Nyquil” generic, in tablet form. “But wait,” I said, “you said you cannot take this because it will make you drowsy. This box (the original he had chosen) has more tablets in it; that one has half of the tablets for night.”
He then proceeded to get upset with me, saying that THIS was the medicine he chose, and it is the one he wanted, and if I did not want to buy that specific medicine, well then I did not have to.
“Fair enough,” I said, “I won’t buy anything,” and I then moved on to look for the item I was originally there to purchase. They did not have it, so I left.
As I was leaving, he was asking another man, who had left right in front of me, to help him; the man said no, and I started to tell the man what had happened with me. Another woman came up next to me and said “I was getting so mad when I saw that!” and continued walking. The man and I were chatting a bit, and my current situation came up, which seemed to pique his interest, especially after he heard a bit more about what I have done. He is potentially in a position to help me, and seemed interested in doing so, so he sent me an e-mail right then and there and told me to send him certain information.
Whether I ever hear from him again or not, it is interesting to think about the choices that led me to the conversation. The choice to spend part of the day at the MLK Library near Chinatown (and oh my, the interesting people you see there!); the choice to bypass the Chinatown/Gallery Place Metro stop and walk a few blocks further to stop at the CVS; the decision to leave at the exact moment that I left; the interaction with the man regarding the medicine.
So what does any of this have to do with President Lincoln’s quote, anyway?
I have now been back in the U.S. for six weeks, and in the DC area for two. It is sometimes surreal to be in a situation and realize where I was two months, six months, a year, two, three, and five years ago. I’ll admit; it was more difficult than I anticipated and I went through more than I expected during my experience. I also still have impacts from my two years prior to Peace Corps.
How do I move forward? I sometimes fall into darkness. The most recent time I did, I came out of it and started promising myself some things: that I want to move forward in a positive and optimistic way; that I do not want to, as Jo Blackwell-Preston put it, “ for one more second, surround yourself with people who are not aware of the greatness that [you] are.”
So in that specific situation, I could have seen the thorns rather than the roses, gotten angry with the man, and been unkind. I could reflect back and say “what a jerk, I was trying to help him and XYZ choice of negatives.” Instead, I am determined to look at the situation and say, “I tried, and oh by the way I met someone who I may be able to add to my network.” I can leave that situation knowing that I tried to help someone else, that I tried to be kind.
It seems “easy” right now to be positive, although I am still facing a host of challenges. I am sure remaining positive will be difficult at some point. That is when I will lean a little bit on those people with whom I am surrounding myself; those people who are seeing some greatness in me. Perhaps sometimes I will need gentle reminders of my commitment to be kind to myself, to be patient, and to continue to put forth positive energy. It’s a good lesson to which to return, to see the roses rather than the thorns.