What freedom there is in opening a new calendar. No scribbled out changes, no limits yet on what we can do or what opportunities will come. Within hours we will gather up our promises, obligations, hopes and commitments, planting them among the dates to anchor us along the way.
We lead off this new start with this challenge: Who are we saving our best for?
Different occasions call for our best. As children we are taught a “best behavior” which requires extra mindfulness of our actions to make sure they are pleasing to others. It is implied that we don’t live this way routinely, and it almost seems exhausting to imagine doing so. “Best behavior” is usually in direct opposition to “relaxing” and “enjoying ourselves.”
Sometimes, our “best” is not the kind of “best” like the fine crystal in the china cabinet. Sometimes “best” means “this is the most I can offer.” When we have masked anxiety with all our might, when we have spent hours following social scripts to perfection… when tension and frustration and exhaustion threaten to overload the circuitry already loaded with “best” expectations … our other emotions may begin screaming to be addressed, and this can spill over into literal expression very easily.
Notice we don’t explicitly say “autism.” Exhaustion is exhaustion, whether it is autism-induced or caused by any of the hundreds of other conditions of being human and being asked to perform. For that matter, tension and frustration are also tension and frustration. People without autism face all of these challenges too; sometimes, just as frequently.
Bottom line: best behavior takes hard work, much attention and care to which we are not ordinarily accustomed.
Back to the china cabinet for a moment.
Most of us use plastic cups more frequently than fine crystal. Few occasions, for that matter, call for fine crystal. It makes more sense to bring plastic cups with us to school and work or out for a run; certainly not fine crystal. Why is this? Obviously: because fine crystal is expensive and fragile… but not because crystal is unsuitable to hold water.
More truthfully, though: If we carried fine crystal with us wherever we went, we would have to treat it with our full attention and care. We would have to invest time and effort in using it well, slowly and thoughtfully. It could be done. We choose not to.
Another argument says that cheap occasions do not warrant fine crystal. The effort to use fine crystal, and the act of appreciating its uniqueness and careful design, is wasted on chugging water out of the cooler and soda from the can.
Is the same true, then, of our best selves? Do we not routinely give our best because we would have to invest time and effort in spending ourselves well, slowly and thoughtfully? Is the effort wasted on eyes and ears who won’t pause to appreciate our uniqueness and careful design?
How often do we consider the person in front of us and immediately think they are worth investing time and effort into spending ourselves well, slowly and thoughtfully? How often do we pause to appreciate their uniqueness and careful design, before chugging with a glance and moving along?
One could argue that plastic cups exist out of laziness more than matters of practicality, portability or affordability. But then, how is it any fault of ours if we find ourselves starting with a cabinet full of plastic cups and not a drop of crystal?
No matter. The issue is not what we have; it is the care and investment with which we have it.
If our china cabinet is a cardboard box and our best is a plastic cup, it still holds water. If a guest arrives at our door, we can turn them away because we do not have crystal, or we can offer them a drink from “this cheap, disposable plastic cup,” or we can invite them in and say, “Care to share a drink with me?”
The issue is not that we live in a world which has embraced plastic cups. We do not suggest bringing fine crystal into situations just to say it’s fine crystal. Rather… we see a world of plastic cups and wonder if we can elevate it to equal footing with fine crystal. In the end, it matters not one bit what it is made from or how it was made. It matters what we do with it.
What if we take exactly what we have, act as though it is worth our time and care and personal attention – and then share it with the people around us?
The ordinary stays ordinary. Plastic is still plastic. Crystal is still crystal. Everything gets treated with the same degree of careful, thoughtful appreciation.
Appreciation. That is something we can all strive for, no matter what our state in life might be.
Who are we saving our best for?
Once we begin sharing it routinely… the answer will be right in front of us.
Pray: Loving God, You supply us abundantly with evidence of You in the people around us. May we learn to recognize your signature, even if we have to seek slowly, thoughtfully and with our full attention and care. Give us, then, the privilege of seeing Your design in ourselves.
Contemplate: How will seeing God’s design in ourselves make us less inclined to save our best only for certain people or occasions?
Relate: Go for it. Put out your best to the first person who comes along. Then, again, with the next. Start small with the hope that one day it will become a habit.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak