my daughter always puts cups in the sink after she uses them. she loves to place them upside down, frequently in or on top of the opening to the drain. as the primay dishwasher in our home, this makes me crazy. seriously. crazy. it makes no sense to me why anyone would put a cup upside down in the sink, let alone on top of the drain, and, it’s messy.
my son likes to borrow my car. he is far from irresponsible and typically restores order. he forgets periodically, however, and on those days i find the stereo turned up, gum wrappers gracing the floor, the mirror and drivers’ seat adjusted oddly. while it only takes me a few seconds to clear the clutter and restore order, it always ruffles my feathers more than it should.
my responses to these situations are frustratingly common for me. i aspire to be a gracious sharer and yet irritation so quickly and frequently settles where i wish understanding and flexibility lived.
the culture in which i live affords me so few natural opportunities to share. instead of relying upon a central desktop computer, multiple laptops migrate around my home which is spacious enough for everyone to have their own room. no one ever gets a busy signal when they call because each of us has our own phone. with stores open 24 hours a day my neighbors never seem to need a cup of sugar or to borrow a tool. i am warm in the winter and cool in the summer, dwelling in my heated and air conditioned home rather than chopping wood or running through sprinklers with those around me. paper cups are the norm in my neighborhood coffee shop and i order my drinks to go.
sharing space, objects, and ideas, and all the stretching this requires, isn’t as common as it was in the past. we used to have to share a phone, a television, a car, a kitchen, a bathroom, books, movies. now we stream, download, amass portable devices, drive through, and hole away. sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.
i have friends who chose to live in intentional community in order to keep their lives from becoming too self-centric. many restaurants are integrating community tables where patrons can join others. these are fantastic things and yet not everyone can or will or wants to share in these ways. we all can, however, share more. we might, for example, share a conversation with our neighbor when racing in and out of the house. we could, for instance, loan our professional expertise to a non profit or our interviewing skills to a college kid learning how to apply for work or our time to clean up a trail or our eye contact to the grocery clerk who’s worn out or our sink with a housemate who places cups upside down. maybe we could share our things spontaneously, our time more freely, and our selves (our ears, our hands, our eyes) with more regularity.
i’m not referring, here, to the kind of giving of self or making space for others that is borne out of martyrdom or a lack of health or is solicited by manipulation. i’m not suggesting we rescue others from their responsibilities nor that we consistently swallow our own needs and preferences in deference to those of others. sharing out of guilt or when motivated by another’s entitlement is not healthy.
what i am referring to is the kind of sharing that grows both the sharer and the shared-with. i’m talking about developing the ability to hold our own preferences loosely enough that there is room for the presence of others in our day or week or month. the kind of sharing that is less about loaning an object and more about the giving up of ones’ self or invisible things/energies/capabilities connected to ones’ self. the kind of sharing that helps me realize that my [bizarre] need for cups to be placed in the sink a certain way means that i see the sink as mine and not a shared space. the kind of sharing where my flexibility, grace, and ability to be with with others meaningfully is grown.
every time i open my mouth to call attention to upside down cups or gum wrappers and ill adjusted mirrors i try to pause to ask myself, “to what end?” “does stating my preference or reaction contribute to the quality and nature of the connection i want with connor and kaija today?” i typically decide “no” and in so doing feel a sense of stretching. the sink may not be how i want it. i may need a moment before pulling out of the driveway and yet i can live with that and that feels strangely comforting to me. i don’t always have to have my way. i can live in a space that is shared, where the preferences of others live on an equal plane as my own, and where relationships mean more to me than my stuff.
it can be challenging to find places and ways to share. when we live alone. when we like things our own way. when we want to rest. when we have worked so hard for our autonomy and our ways of life. when someone has taken advantage of our sharing in the past. and yet, it can be done. with intention.
sit at a community table at a coffee shop. share a possession with someone (something that you care about but that you won’t be resentful about having shared) and pay attention to how it feels to let it go and receive it back (or not). share one gaming system amongst your group of friends. borrow books and movies from a library instead of downloading them then watch them in a shared space rather than by yourself with headphones in. share a compliment with the person who pumps your gas. or makes your coffee. or ironed your shirt. or cleaned your office. loan someone your empathic ear, listening without giving a single piece of advice. share your flexibility and let someone else win the argument. share your humility and let someone else be “right,” even when...no...especially when, you disagree. you just might find out that there’s a very good reason they place the cups in the sink upside down.