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Standing in line with my family outside the Musee d’Orsay restaurant waiting to be seated for lunch during our recent vacation in Paris, I found myself privy like everyone else in the general vicinity to a colossal meltdown on the part of an American man standing just behind us with his adolescent daughter.
“Give me that phone,” he demanded, in a loud voice.
His daughter shook her head, dropped the phone into her purse, and hugged it to her chest.
“I want the phone. I want to call your mother and tell her I don’t want to eat lunch here. Who picked this place anyway? It’s like a cafeteria; I want a real sit-down meal.”
Never mind that through the adjacent glass walls waiters dressed in formal black-and-white attire scurried back and forth to proper tables taking orders and delivering lovely platters of food beneath the dappled light of crystal chandeliers. Never mind that outside the restaurant’s expansive windows the generous, Left-Bank boulevards of the City of Light fanned out in all their fairy-tale splendor below trees in full rococo leaf. Having strayed vastly beyond his comfort zone, the American found himself under siege by everyone and thing around him, his perception impossibly skewed by the faulty lens of the inner teacher of fear he had no clue he had chosen.
“If you won’t give me the phone, call your mother for me and tell her I want to go someplace else.”
His daughter rolled her eyes and turned away from him.
My daughter rolled her eyes at me.
Up and down the growing line, tourists of various ages, genders, colors, and nationalities, rolled their eyes.
“Give me the phone,” he repeated.
His daughter began to walk away.
He called after her, more than once.
“Who’s the parent and who’s the child?” my daughter mouthed at me.
His daughter returned, handed him the phone, leveled the look I recall being the recipient of many times when my own daughter attended middle school just a few short years ago, and huffed away.
Our fellow American then got on the phone, dialed his wife, and began reporting on his daughter’s rude behavior before branching out to repeat the same, sad refrain of complaints he’d delivered earlier. My own eyes itching to roll, I glanced over my shoulder at him, caught his eyes for an instant and was astounded to see … myself staring back at me. I am not making this up, well, anymore than usual. I could feel his misery, his terror, the hangover of embarrassment and regret that would surely follow this ego attack.
My husband and daughter were shaking their heads, biting back judgment.
But although this was exactly the kind of seemingly random dream figure behavior that used to drive pre-A-Course-in-Miracles-student Susan up the proverbial wall, each time he uttered another classically obnoxious line I reached for the muscle of judgment only to find it happily disabled. We’ve all been there, I thought, and actually later said. He was probably jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, blood-sugar-challenged, and as bewildered as I by the overwhelming magnificence on display within and without this museum around which I found it almost impossible to wrap my puny little head. He was merely acting out externally an internal condition we shared, I thought, filled with compassion, as a waiter ushered us to our table and we proceeded to lunch in style, later noticing the man and his family seated across the room, sans offensive cell phone and tantrum, sanity seemingly restored.
Although I seemed to have difficulty during our ten-day excursion feeling the presence of the inner teacher of love in the palpable, mystical manner I believed I’d earned as a reward for having completed an intense forgiveness semester :), I nonetheless enjoyed several similar experiences that proved the love was still there. Every time I sought to distance myself from certain anti-social behavior seemingly “out there” I found myself gratefully aware instead of our sameness. The tour groups in the Louvre swarming like a moving hive toward the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo sweeping anyone in their path aside did not trouble me. Although I held on to my daughter, walked briskly, and avoided eye contact with the unsavory seeming characters accosting tourists on the steps to the Sacre Coeur, I felt no impulse to condemn. The disapproving glances leveled at the flip flops I’d donned when my more fashionable walking shoes quickly failed my deformed feet merely amused. Even my husband’s inability to refrain from snapping clearly forbidden photos inside various attractions failed to rattle me.
Our sameness shone like the light suddenly igniting a spire of the Notre Dame as we rounded a corner, sunlight breaking through distant thunderheads, illuminating the truth that we shared the same split mind here in this dreamy dream of exile from perfect, all-inclusive love. Whatever the dream’s details, the fearful defenses and attacks it inspired, the love was still there, embracing each and every one of us as we wound our halting way home. Even as I found myself sensing the familiar ganged-up-on theme still apparently thriving in the story of my special relationship with my husband and daughter, a part of me remained aware of the one love we share holding us gently in its fond embrace.
I mention this because in the regular weekly ACIM class I teach here in Denver I am often asked about the benefits of forgiveness especially by students new to this path who have not yet experienced their own holy instants of release. Who are blundering as I did only on blind faith that the content of real love they feel in the big, blue book’s pages will help them heal their minds about the condition they think they’re in here in a world full of turmoil, drama, and all too fleeting pleasures. Will help them conquer the deep fear of the finite human condition and the nagging belief they are wandering alone in a strange land, unworthy of love and unlikely to ever find their way back into the loving fold.
I mention this because I want to reassure them and often still need to reassure myself that the day-to-day, moment-to-moment practice of taking responsibility for our experiences back to our mind whenever we feel victimized or victimizing really does heal in ways beyond our understanding or need to comprehend. Whenever tempted to condemn or distance ourselves from the behavior of others and willing to ask the inner teacher of forgiveness for help in interpreting what is really happening we remember the “tiny, mad, idea” of separation from our source had no consequences despite the dream yet playing out in our mind. And re-experience the prevailing innocence that includes everyone.
By focusing on which teacher we are choosing and have chosen from moment to moment in the classroom of our lives and choosing again when needed our belief in what the Course calls a hierarchy of illusions dissolves. And we have more and more experiences of tranquil right-mindedness wherein our rush to judgments are automatically replaced with demonstrations of true compassion, the effortless recognition that we are one despite our seeming differences in form.
And so I give thanks again today for this path, and offer to you and all students of all nationalities my still fragile but strengthening faith that we’re really all the same. An awareness that is baby step by step leading me home to the reality of our unwavering wholeness, firmly grasping the hand of the inner teacher of love that is really your hand and my hand and one hand always and forever, amen. :)