“Look at the big picture,” snorts a teenager. That’s what she told me to do. What a waste of time to go to counseling.”
The courts assigned him to anger management. He doesn’t do well with abstract theories. So I try to remember what it was like when I could not see beyond the pain of the immediate situation.
I talked to him a long time, trying to remember what I do when I go beyond the particular. “When I began my sobriety journey twenty three years ago, I followed the platitude of ‘do the next good thing.’ And I learned how not to think of anything but the very next step. That was necessary. But one day, when my anger erupted at a trivial incident, I realized that I had to look beyond the next step. I had to see the whole.
Part of this is looking at all the things I am related to and the consequence of what I do. It is looking for implications beyond the immediate.”
Fascinated, he asks “What did you do?”
I laughed and say “I took a yellow pad and pencil and tried to make a list of all the ways I am related. I remember when I announced that I would retire at seventy-three. I was scared. My identity is so tied up with living in Arizona as a youth missioner to Native Americans. I wrote down what I wanted to become as a person, as a member of my family, as a Church member, as a teacher, as a hard worker, as a mentor, as a spiritual writer and in a place and role that would allow me to continue to dwell in the sacred. I drew abstract pictures of how this decision is more than the work I do or the place where I live. It was a bunch of circles.”
He laughed with me and started thinking aloud. “I guess that what I do is about my younger brother and my family and maybe my future of what I want to do. I never thought of it before.”
So this is the life skill—how to respond beyond the immediate to all those people and issues that shape us. It is learning to connect in wider and wider circles until you know you are stretched beyond the known stars and possibility is everywhere.