Last week going into basketball practice with my son I was accosted by an acquaintance in the hallway of the community center.
Here’s how it went down:
My son and I converged with Zhu-Zhu — that’s what we’re gonna call her — and her son and daughter near the entrance of the civic center. I called out a hello as Zane bounced up to her son. Zhu-Zhu looked at me, startled, then looked down and backed up so that we would not quite converge, her daughter almost piling into her.
I walked with the two boys down the hallway and round a bend, talking about the previous week’s game, while Zhu-Zhu and daughter trailed behind. Her son played on a different team — and I was asking about how he did in the last game.
Rounding the final bend before the gym, taking us once more into a hallway. Zhu-Zhu strode up beside us and called out loudly.
People were streaming in both directions — so when she stopped us full stop it created a logjam in both directions.
“Evan,” she said loudly. “I demand an apology! Right here in the presence of my kids!”
“Zhu-Zhu,” I asked. “For what? What are you talking about?”
Though I knew something was askew from the way she non-greeted my greeting — still — nothing prepares you for this kind of surprise attack. To be accused publicly and to not have a clue why . . . .
Then something comical happened, if seen from a distance— probably a distance of no more than three feet on either side of us, where people were piling up. We repeated our witty banter almost verbatim, with only slight word variation.
“You owe me an apology right now in front of my kids!” Her two kids looked hapless, trying to shrink away. My son appeared as perplexed as I was.
“Zhu-Zhu, seriously, for what? What are you talking about?”
As we stood there in this back and forth she gathered force. She crescendoed.
“I deserve an apology right now in the presence of my kids!”
“Zhu-Zhu . . . you’ve got to tell me what you’re talking about. What is this about?”
“I deserve an apology in the presence . . I don’t even want you in the presence of my kids!”
With that she marched forward into the gym, her ducklings in tow. She’s a healthy-sized duck, there was a bit of waddle.
I looked down at my son: “Do you have any idea what this is about?”
He shook his wide-eyed head no.
In the gym I went over to her and asked again: “Hey Zhu-Zhu, I have no idea what’s going on. What’s this all about?”
She was seething: “Ask Marlon.”
Marlon is her husband, almost ex-husband — we’d become good parent friends again in the wake of their split up. Zhu-Zhu and Marlon, of course, were battling it out in the divorce system. Why she would send me to him, I had no idea.
A similar comedy ensued. Back and forth sameness.
“Why don’t you tell me. You brought all this up. What’s going on?”
“Zhu-Zhu, what’s this all about?”
“What am I asking Marlon about?”
She paused . . . “Opposite weeks.”
I nodded and walked away.
I’d spoken with Zhu-Zhu less than a handful of times in the past couple of years, all in the prior month or two, in passing while our sons played basketball in the same league. Different teams, mostly same training and game times.
My hand instinctively went to my side pocket where my phone was.
I thought, wait.
When you are confronted publicly and vehemently your heart rate goes stratospheric — especially when you have no inkling as to its origin.
That’s not entirely true. Zhu-Zhu had a history of flamboyant distress in her life. Accidents, addictions, police at her door, breakdowns, staying in bed for weeks while her husband fended for the kids as best he could off work hours, periodic crises where others — including us — came to the aid of her family.
It was only a few weeks earlier we’d taken her kids home with us for the evening, fed them and soothed them, because she was having a crisis.
Those were the origin stories.
Yet it was my first confrontation with her. I’d only heard about them before through others.
I breathed slowly and deeply, only 15 feet from Zhu-Zhu.
Here’s where meditation comes to your aid as a focusing agent. When you meditate you are accustoming your body-mind to enter into a calm clear space.
After an incident like this confrontation, with heart racing and breath shallow, within a minute of turning my attention to my breath I felt myself clearer, calmer.
I thought, I’m not calling Marlon. If I’d done something inconsiderate he would have called me and said, “Dude, this wasn’t cool, this thing you said/did. Is there some way you could make it right?”
Marlon hadn’t called. This episode was pure Zhu-Zhu. She was sending me to someone else to find out the source of her ire, someone she wasn’t even on good terms with. How fucking pre-school. (I wasn’t entirely calmed.)
The action I chose was non-action. I would not call Marlon. It was up to Zhu-Zhu to communicate what was bothering her.
. . . . .
Though I never called Marlon, Marlon ended up calling me. After a blistering series of communications from Zhu-Zhu.
A couple weeks prior at a practice, Zhu-Zhu suggested that we get the kids together on the weekends that Marlon didn’t have the kids — which was when our children always got together.
“Oh, that won’t work Zhu-Zhu, we’re already scheduled on alternate weekends. [Which is true, it’s a long-standing commitment.] But believe me, we get the kids together as much as possible.”
It was that that had apparently pissed her off. Though because she won’t tell me, I don’t know why.
. . . . .
Still . . . I didn’t want to leave the situation in the air like that.
I went to meditation and prayer. I sent compassion to her. I visualized giving her a peace flower, every time I thought of her. Because I know this: The knotted-up energy behind this exchange could be softened, even if only one party was interested.
I visualized giving a flower to Zhu-Zhu so often that on our way to the next game I thought, Why not give her one in reality?
I plucked a wildflower that seemed perfect, a sprig of yellow little bursts fanned out on several tendrils. It was simple and natural.
When I saw her conversing with a friend of ours I walked up and held out the wildflower.
“Zhu-Zhu, I brought a peace flower for you.”
She grimaced and huffed away. Oh she exuded bottled up turmoil.
Here’s the beauty in this: Her grade school behavior freed me.
I had done what I could do.
I’d asked five or six times what the issue was, on two separate instances — the first when she first confronted me in the hallway — the second minutes later when I approached her inside the gym.
I’d sent her love and compassion for days, whenever I thought of her.
I’d brought her a peace offering . . . .
This is what overcame me the moment she spurned my peace gesture: Peacefulness!
I was overcome with glorious, easy peace.
I had done what I could do — and in fact will continue to impart compassion in her direction whenever she comes to mind — and now I was released into exuberance again.
By offering peace, I’d attained peace.
For you —
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