“I master the moment, or the moment will master me.”~ Gandhi
Maroon lockers line the high school hallways. I do not remember the thousands of times I walked that hall, except one. I remember exactly where I am standing when I hear the boy say, “Sherry has a harelip.” I feel my upper teeth bite into my inside lip’s lower left side as my head dips and my feet double-time it down the hallway. No tears fall. They lodge in my throat as my eyes focus on the floor.
This photo-like moment from nearly 30 years ago burns as clearly as the blue jay on the snow crab tree out my front window. For some time, it sticks out with profound pain. Now I know I choose the meaning of that moment.
Being born with a cleft lip and palate means lots of doctor visits and surgeries, yet my family and friends never talk about the scar.
His comment strikes me, however. As a high schooler with a myriad of insecurities bubbling just below the surface, it hits my core. I let it determine my value and worthiness in that moment.
A Course in Miracles describes everything as an act of love or a call for love. I do not see pointing me out as a “harelip” as an act love. Is it a call for love? Does he wish to build a connection with his girlfriend? Does he think pointing out my imperfections will help his girlfriend feel closer to him?
It could mean nothing about him or me. Did he just learn the word “harelip” and wants to apply it correctly in a sentence? Is he part of a scavenger hunt and needs to spot someone with a scar?
Maybe he intends for it to mean something negative about me. What if the boy really means, “you are ugly?” Perhaps, experiencing his own form of ugliness that day, compels him to unleash it on me. He gets to think what he thinks. It does not make it true.
Slowly, I embrace the trivialness of this attribute. In my early twenties, arms heavy from balancing arms full of groceries, a man next to me in line says, “Oh, did you get hit by a ball? It looks like you you took a ball to your face. I have a friend who took a line drive to the mouth and has a scar just like that.” In his attempt to build connection, he created his own story about my scar.
Little Jimmy, a boy whose mother prefers he shush, builds understanding through curiosity. When he asks, “What happened to your lip?”, I simply say, “When I was born my lip was split open and the doctor sewed it up, and now I have this scar.” “Oh” Jimmy responds moving his attention to something else.
As an attorney years later, I represent a family of a young boy with a cleft lip. Upon seeing my scar, the mother remarks about how much teasing her son endures, pointing out how cruel children could be, and how hard my childhood must have been. In that moment, I feel so grateful for my small rural Wisconsin hometown. Most school memories conjure up times of laughter and play and good-natured teasing. Comments about my lip involve just one remark by one boy one time in one place.
For a time, I allow that one single comment from one young man at one time in one space mark my sense of physical beauty and overall worth. He is responsible for his words. I am responsible for the meaning I give them. I could choose to give that comment no power. Instead, I chose to do the opposite. After gathering supporting evidence for years, he offers the final piece of evidence for me to issue a decisive “damaged” verdict against my teenage self. I chose to allow in that evidence.
I forgive the younger me for being stuck on a fact, and not recognizing the fuller truth.
The adult me smiles and responds more nonchalantly, “yes, I do have a scar from a cleft lip surgery.” It is neither good nor bad. It just is.
Throughout our days, at home, work, and out in the community, you and I experience thousands of moments. Some may quickly be judged as “good” or “right” and others as “bad” or wrong.” What if they are neither good nor bad? They are just what they are and do not tell the full story.
Mediators hold space for people who have assigned meanings to a variety of situations. As a mediator offers compassion and curiosity, you begin to gain clarity around what situations may or may not mean. Feeling understood helps you understand that you embrace the power to create what you wish going forward.
Remember, whatever you see or hear, or think you see or hear, is not the whole truth.
Truth says, you are so much more than any single fact or situation, and so are the people around you. You, me, the folks down the street and across the world are much more than any given scar or moment.
I choose what any given moment means. You choose your meaning.
Are you mastering the moment, or is the moment mastering you?