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Thursday, 6 September 2012

38. Letting go

A couple of nights ago, taking Buddy for a quick walk left me incensed.  “You’ll never believe what happened downstairs!”  I raged to Matt on my return.  Continuing my rant, I described the rudeness of our neighbors when I approached them about where they were burning offerings for the Hungry Ghost Festival. 

A brief tutorial for uninitiated: celebrated on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month (according to the Chinese calendar), believers observe the entire month as “Ghost month” where the ‘gates of hell’ are opened for all spirits to receive food and drink, along with offerings (eg paper ‘money’) burnt for them.  As such, here in Singapore, the month of August is very smoky with joss-stick-adorned-sidewalks and sizable steel barrels ablazed with varying types of paper offerings which rise to the skies in a sooty smoggy vapor.  As a large number of people live in highrises (ie residential towers), there are strict guidelines about where you can ‘set up’ so it doesn’t become a fire or smoke hazard.  Or so I thought.

Getting back to my story, our said-neighbors were performing their rituals near the children’s playground instead of the pre-designated area outside the building.  After checking with the now-angry and flustered guard-on-duty (who apparently had just been insulted by the couple when he tried to carry out his duties) I gently broached the subject.  They both just ignored me.  Thinking they didn’t speak English, I tried again in my third-rate-broken-Chinese.  The man responded, “You are Chinese?”  (which I thought was a weird response), whilst his co-conspirator became confrontational.  Wanting to defuse the situation, I offered that I wasn’t trying to be quarrelsome but needed to point out the gas pipe behind them.  And no, I wasn't bluffing.  But my words fell on deaf ears.  I gave up and walked away, exasperated and decidedly peeved.

After venting to Matt, I didn’t want to keep harping on about it to him so I took to Facebook and wrote: “Very very cross at some very rude, inconsiderate and selfish people who behave as if the world owes them a living and they are 'above' everyone else! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”.  But then, I got frustrated with myself.  Why am I getting so upset about an exchange with 2 total strangers?  Why was I letting someone ‘push my buttons’ so to speak?  Wasn’t I always trying to teach the girls about not letting other people’s behavior impact how they feel?

Disheartened, I took to Facebook again: “don't want to be this person... or get this worked up about stuff (especially when you consider things from the whole "bigger picture" perspective).. Sigh.. need to set a better example for the girls and be a better person. Luckily tomorrow is a new day.. x”.  And then, I went to bed.

When I woke, in amongst all the shout-outs from good friends, a message from an ‘old soul’ stood out.  She asked: “What hurts more?  What these people are doing or the way you feel about them?”  Her words made me pause and I took a long hard look at myself.  Why?  Because although it would be much easier to lay blame on my errant neighbors, it was important to me that I took ownership of my negative feelings.

And what did I learn?  After nearly a week of mulling over my wise friend’s words, I concluded that ‘letting go’ is a kinder way of living – to yourself and also those who’s paths you happen to cross.  That ‘letting go’ doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you are ‘selling out’ on your values or beliefs.  But rather, realizing you cannot (and should not) try to hold sway over every situation.  And finally, that ‘letting go’ means being forgiving, compassionate and patient with others (because you don’t know their daily reality) – as well as to yourself.  And so the lessons continue.


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