When I texted my niece Jordin, an attorney who works as a public defender, she told me she was at a softball game. Every month, she explained, the town lawyers get together with the inmates at the local prison, along with the guards, and play softball. I was jarred to hear this, as I usually think of lawyers, guards and inmates as being in adversarial positions. They are too busy fighting and being angry with each other to enjoy each other.
But not so in Jordin’s town. For a few hours each month, all of these people rise above their social identities and come together as equals on the same playing field. What a model for how good it can get if we let it!
Jordin’s softball game reminded me of a story I heard about the French and German armies fighting each other in World War I. One Christmas both sides agreed to a cease fire, and soldiers from both armies came into a small border town to a tavern where they ate dinner together, drank wine, sang and enjoyed each other’s company. The next day they went back to shooting each other.
Yet, for a moment in time, those soldiers dropped their animosity and joined. I hold this vision dear as a teaching in what we can all do if we are willing. If we can meet each other in the heart for a day, can we not do it for two days? Or a week? Or a month? Or a lifetime?
The popular and healing spiritual training A Course in Miracles began when two people who were odds with each other chose to join instead. Dr. Helen Schucman and Dr. Bill Thetford were research psychologists and professors at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. As is often the case in academia, the two were immersed in egoistic power struggles, competition and backbiting. One day Dr. Thetford came to Dr. Schucman, and told her, “Helen, there must be a better way.” Helen agreed, which changed the entire dynamic of their relationship.
Soon afterward, Helen began to hear a voice that gave the world A Course in Miracles through her. Course scholars cite the moment when the two agreed to work together rather than against each other as the seminal moment that opened the door for the entire Course to come to the world. Behold the power of sincere willingness to join.
One Mother’s Day I saw my friend Danielle walking into a restaurant for brunch. “My husband and ex-husband are taking me out for Mother’s Day,” she told me. Odd, I thought, that these two men would join to support their current and former partner. “We all cooperate around taking care of the kids, so we thought we would celebrate,” she went on. What a wonderful demonstration of how we can choose to stay connected in relationships rather than use changes as an excuse to separate from each other. Even though we may choose to separate physically, we can still join in spirit.
One of the key lessons in my Life Coach Training Program is the technique of reframing, taking a situation that seems daunting and finding another way to look at it that is empowering. One of the trainees reported a reframe she had achieved: “Last weekend my ex-husband, who now had a girlfriend, came to my house to drop off our daughter after she had spent a few days with her dad. As the girl was exiting the car, the girlfriend gave her a hug and kiss and said, ‘I love you.’ When I heard that, my heart sank. I felt like this woman was attempting to replace me as my daughter’s mother.
“When I thought about it more, I realized that it was a wonderful thing that my daughter had another loving parental influence, and how nice that this woman chose to reach out and support my daughter. I realized that we are not in competition with each other, but we are all devoted to the welfare of my daughter. Seeing the situation that way made me feel a lot better. I now appreciate my husband’s new partner.”