The first time I consciously shut up about myself was at my sister’s Marymount College reunion. The wonderful Catholic women’s college in Tarrytown was closing and this was the last hurrah for the graduates. The college had been folded into Fordham and then simply disappeared. Gone from everywhere but collective memory.
All that remained of the college was the fading sign at the Metro North Station, once a “Welcome Home!” symbol, now a reminder there was no home to be welcomed into.
I knew the reunion would be hard on my sister and her friends (Katie!) So I said to myself. “Yes, Mary Beth, you have troubles, issues, ideas, opinions. But today is not about you. You are not the center of the universe. Support MK. Focus on her. Don’t go into any of your diatribes about the sexism of the Catholic church.”
This last edict was hard on me. I wanted to vent about the BS of Catholicism. About how the nuns were smarter, yet could never have more authority than the priests. About how God resides in everyone – especially in the least of these – not more fully in the Pope. How Catholicism kept abusive marriages together and women down over the centuries. Well, you can see, I’m about to go off again!
My point is that I told myself in my journal and then throughout that day, “Do NOT talk, think, focus on yourself today. Not one little bit. Today is NOT about you. Other days will be about you, but not this one.” And it worked. I relaxed, felt receptive, and was non-judgmental.
In our modern culture of narcissism, giving up on my own opinion is difficult, but that day, it paid off. I listened more. I nodded more. I really heard more. My heels sank into the mud under the tent on the lawn and I experienced more. I felt embedded in the Marymount community. Although it was disappearing before my eyes, it was also coming to light – what community had been so many and what it could have continuted to be.
On the ride home, I could resist no longer. A flood gate opened and I had to mention the BS of the Catholic mass that day – how could the presiding priest not recognize the huge, gaping sadness of so many people in attendance? He did not even mention the loss to so many people. I couldn’t help it. I shared my sadness too. I did apologize for having an opinion. But, luckily, MK agreed. She vented too.
It was hard not to talk about myself all day. I find myself and my views so interesting and I have something to say about, oh, just about everything.
I recommend this exercise. Give up your own point of view. Focus on some community. Or some person who is having a special day. Like a wedding, divorce, graduation, bar mitzvah, funeral, reunion.
Put all your attention on the other person or the community. You will find a freedom in getting away from yourself. And then, if you’re lucky, you will be able to debrief and put in your two cents on the ride home. Or you can write about how the exercise made you feel. Because, ultimately, it’s all about you.