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Cruising for a bruising

I’m just back from taking my 87-year-old mother in law on a cruise.

Mostly what was on my mind was the gloriously titled essay about cruising written by David Foster Wallace: A Supposedly Fun Thing I Shall Never Do Again.

But what I wanted to share here was the valuable reminder of how wonderful it is to be irritated.

For those who’ve never cruised before, know that it involves a lot of queuing. Getting 2000 people on and off and on again inevitably means you spend a lot of time lining up.

Most people literally and figuratively fall into line.

And then there are the exceptions.

I shall call them Jean.

Jean One simply decided queuing didn’t apply to her. She would glide to the front of any line, chin aloft, surveying her options, seemingly untouched by the growl of passive aggressive mumbling left in her wake. She wore her entitlement well, like an expensive Chanel perfume. Eau de Jean.

Jean Two was also always to be found at the front of any queue but she didn’t glide – she grumbled. She harrumphed, she glowered, she sighed, she scowled. Everything was an effort for her so everyone else should get out of her goddam way because Jean Two had the monopoly on difficulty and was therefore entitled to automatic First Place as the consolation prize for her struggles.

Jean One amused me.

Jean Two, however, annoyed the tits off me.

And there’s valuable information within this difference.

I could observe Jean One’s entitlement with a detached amusement as there was nothing for the entitlement hook to get a hold of within me. It didn’t trouble me; it was hers.

But Jean Two’s bitterness…that resonated with me so I got hooked. The bitterness within me bristled at seeing it writ large in another. It was so distasteful for me to watch Jean Two at work because my own bitterness is entirely distasteful to me.

Whilst it’s a lot easier to point a finger at the other and say, “Ew, aren’t they awful,” there’s a missed opportunity to discover something useful about ourselves. After all, whenever we point a finger at someone else, there are three other fingers pointing back at ourselves.

For me, being annoyed by Jean Two was a reminder that my own bitterness is a quality that is longing to come home, to be acknowledged and integrated into the fullness of who I am.

Because I’m not ONLY sweet (hard to believe, I know), I’m bitter too. In fact, I can ONLY be sweet due to the presence of my bitterness. It belongs. It’s part of my story. It’s part of me.

And I will feel more balance in my life the more I acknowledge the totality of who I am; this and that, light and dark, yin and yang.

So thank you, Jean, you gloriously irritating, embittered queue jumper; I wish you well on your on-going journey and thank you for playing a part in my own.

Is someone in your life irritating you like crazy? Lucky you! There’s a gift of insight on the other side of that irritation. If you need help finding what it is, drop me a line and let’s chat.

Cover image: Photo by Tom Woodhouse on Unsplash

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