Since it’s the holiday season, I think it’s only right that I share a story about keeping love alive in a tense time. Because let’s be honest — if you’re human, you’re probably going to experience at least one moment of stress when it comes to spending time with your loved ones this year. Someone is going to do something or say something that will drive you a little crazy. (Or a lot.) When this happens, how will you respond? Will the difficult experience serve as a gift disguised as a dilemma, actually bringing you closer? Keep these questions in mind as I tell you about a time when I (inadvertently!) made my friend and fellow L’Arche community member Pedro* very angry with me.
Pedro is a stubborn man, especially when he’s sick. And one night, he decides that socks are going to be his sticking point. The weather has just changed from summer warmth to fall chill, and Pedro wants to wear socks to bed. But last year, Pedro had a bad fall while walking from his room to the bathroom in the middle of the night wearing socks on a hardwood floor. As such, Pedro cannot wear socks to bed.
However, Pedro has a different view — namely, that his feet are cold, and that anyone who stops him from wearing socks to bed is an incompetent assistant, a Communist devil, or worse. We are going about evening routine as usual, brushing his teeth, unlacing his heavy black sneakers…until I try to take off his socks.
“No,” Pedro says. “No. Frío.” His fingers cling to the white cotton.
“Well, we can put on another blanket, or some warmer pajamas. How about that?” I say.
“No! No!” His jaw is set; his hands are trembling. I move my hands away, to show him that I’m not going to force it, but I do say: “Pedro, you have to take off your socks. It’s just not safe to wear them.”
His face gets very red. He leans down over the edge of the bed; I’m seated on the floor beneath him, and he’s yelling directly at me. Since I’ve spent a few months living at L’Arche, I can now understand enough Spanish to know what Pedro says when he’s upset. And this is the first time he’s really yelled at me. He’s so incensed, I think that he might slap my face. I sit very still, not moving. Eventually, he stops yelling. I get up, turning to face the door. I cannot quell the sobs that rise in my throat. I know that he’s ill, and just taking out his frustration on the nearest person, but I still feel as though he’s actually struck me.
“I have to go,” I tell him. “You shouldn’t speak to people like that.”
I walk down the stairs, shaken. I’m a new assistant, and I don’t know what to do when faced with such anger. I don’t know how to ensure Pedro’s safety and still respect his dignity, so I ask for help from a more experienced assistant. Upon my request, Pedro’s accompanier comes in to speak with him (and to try to get the socks off his feet). Despite her demure presence and melodic voice, he yells at her, too. After some discussion, she and I decide to give him some time to cool down. However, we agree that I should go back in, to show that Pedro’s yelling will not dissuade me from caring for him.
After twenty minutes have passed, I open his door slowly. The lights are out, and it takes me a moment to see into the darkness. And what I see is a big surprise: Pedro is lying in bed…with his bare feet resting alongside his blanket. He opens his eyes and says something about not wanting to take off his socks for the Communist assistant. But even so, he has taken them off.
And suddenly I feel towards him the way I used to feel towards my younger brother Willie, to whom I’d always say goodnight even after our worst moments of fighting. I know that I love Pedro, not because he behaves, but because he is Pedro. And because I know I love him, I am unafraid.
I kneel beside his bed, touching his white-haired head. I ask, “Can we pray?” Pedro nods. And I expect him to start speaking, as he always does. But he doesn’t. Instead, he raises one arm to the ceiling, reaching heavenward with the last of his strength.
So I pray for Pedro instead, that God would heal him. I pray for the people of his church, for the L’Arche communities around the world, for all the things that matter most to Pedro. I pray that God’s peace would be in both our hearts. As I pray, Pedro lowers his arm and wraps it around my shoulder. It feels frail, shaky as a baby bird’s wing. In this strange, grace-full, difficult moment, we find that we are family.
Since then, Pedro has had no problem taking off his socks at night, but now he removes them for me, as if to say, “See, it’s no problem for me to take my socks off.” He’s stubbornly independent even in his compliance, but what can I say? I love that about him.
How do you respond when someone you love is furious with you? Tell me in the comments!
Next, congratulations to Susan Anderson, winner of the Loving Lampposts DVD from last week’s post.
Finally, I’ll be taking a two-week hiatus from posting here in honor of the holidays.
Look forward to a new post on Monday, January 9th!
If you enjoyed this post, consider receiving new posts via email. You’ll also receive a free copy of “Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).”
oh sweetheart . . . what a beautiful story!
When my husband is angry (hurt feelings) with me, which is rare, all it takes is for me to apologize even if I feel I’ve done nothing wrong, his feelings are hurt and that’s the point. I know I’ll get my opportunity to speak my mind AFTER I’ve acknowledged his feelings. He’s taught me so much about compassion and apology . . . something I’ve never experienced before him in my life.
Thank you for sharing, Darris! Indeed, acknowledging another’s feelings is a powerful thing – we all want to be heard & held in that way.
I’m so glad you liked the post!
I’d forgotten about that story, Caroline. Thanks for reminding me.
In the last few years I’ve developed more sympathy for our friend’s dilemma- my feet get cold at night too! I hope someday if I can’t wear socks to bed someone treats me with the same dignity with which you treated nuestro amigo.
🙂 Anytime! Thank YOU for helping me get through it, Mary!
Just the best post!! I laughed all the way through…except when I cried at the prayer. I have been in those situations, and haven’t handled them so well at times! I am learning that a gentle answer turns away wrath.
What a great compliment! Thank you. 🙂 And yes, I’ve found that to hold true as well.
Caroline, your story reminds me a bit of my challenges disciplining my
three year old son Simon these days. The word NO turns me always into a bad guy. Sometimes there is kicking, screaming and resentment, but in the end the love always prevails with the hope that he learned his lesson. 🙂
Enjoy your well-deserved break and have beautiful Holidays!
What a great connection, Metod! So true – No is tough for anyone, 3-year-olds especially 🙂 Happy Holidays to you too!
Powerful story, amazing moments. Thank you for sharing. Right now I don’t know how to answer the question, but I can say that I need to think about this for awhile, let it sink in. The beauty and patience and love with which you handled that moment are truly wonderful. I hope I can step up to the plate in such a wonderful way in my own life. Thanks for this.
Thank you Annabelle! I appreciate that; it was not an easy moment! I just spent some time with Pedro yesterday and was marveling at how far our friendship has come since that time, thanks to lots of small moments of patience and love on both our parts! Happy Holidays!
I can empathize with Pedro’s cold feet… my husband tucks a hot water bottle at the end of my bed most nights. It must be a challenge, having to enforce rules and wanting to offer comfort and love at the same time. You certainly handled it with grace and dignity all the way around.
Thank you, Tara! It is, indeed, a tricky balance to strike. Stay warm and well this holiday season!
God must be trying to teach me this lesson a lot, or maybe I just have a hard head. No sooner had I (mostly) learned to manage my daughter’s angry outbursts than my mother-in-law developed similar emotional deregulation. My own emotional response is different with each of them, and depends a little on the situation, but with each instance I learn more how to respond. With my MIL my response is NOW similar to you telling Pedro “I have to leave, you shouldn’t treat people like that.” If she starts in on me I say, “I treat you with respect and you need to treat me with respect, or I will leave.” Usually that stops the yelling. It is hard, though, never comfortable. Here’s hoping I learn whatever God’s trying to teach me sooner rather than later!
Thank you for the insight into a tough situation, KDL! I applaud you for sticking to a simple, respectful, boundaried response even in the face of anger and yelling. It’s not easy, but it does sound like you are growing rich in wisdom. 😉
He slips one time and never gets to wear socks to bed again? Buy some non slip socks, don’t take the man’s choice away because of your fear and discomfort