The Pain and Beauty of A Rebuke

“Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32)

I will admit that I used to be one who was often late for dates and appointments. Not by a few minutes, but by half-hours, sometimes more. The excuses, not reasons, were constant and consistent: I got waylaid by a sudden corridor meeting, the boss called, one of my team members came into my cube to consult me just when I was getting ready to leave. Then on top of that, I got held up in unexpectedly heavier-than-usual traffic.

But I say “used to be” because I will also declare that I have managed to correct this many years ago. It was after I was to meet a friend for our usual get-together and I was close to an hour late, and he just about had it. That time around, he did not spare me his words: “Look, I work farther than you do from this place but I managed to make it a few minutes before our appointed time. Can’t you respect my time as I do yours?”.  The mood was ruined even before I could sit and settle myself for our much-anticipated lunch and conversation.

I made all conscious efforts to change since then. Not only because of that messed-up lunch appointment, but because I suddenly became self-aware of how often I had turned up late for client meetings, family gatherings, friend get-togethers. If I weren’t late, I’d be feeling harassed upon arriving at where I had to be, having left from where I came with no minute to spare. Sure, I wasn’t late, but I might as well have been as I would struggle to settle and compose myself while the meeting started. Among friends, I developed a reputation of one who was perennially tardy.

And yes, I succeeded. I changed. For years my batting average at punctuality was so good that I believe my reputation changed from a perennially tardy attendee to a stickler for punctuality.

Until the other Saturday.

My best friend and I had a date with a couple of friends at the Polo Club. We were to introduce two other friends to each other so that they could play a few sets of tennis. We reside a few minutes from the Polo Club, so I was taking my time getting ready and for some reason, slipped into my old, long-forgotten habit of leaving without any minute to spare.

Patty, my best friend, peeked into my room and, with that familiar exasperated tone, urged me to hurry. I remained relaxed, moved in slo-mo as I had one last glance at the mirror, switched off the lights, picked up my shoes from the shoe closet, slung my bag on my shoulders.

I heard the car start, Patty revving the engine and palming the car’s horn. My mobile phone rang, insistent and angry. I knew it was Patty calling to ask me what on earth was keeping me. I ignored the ringing and dumped my phone in my bag, went down the stairs, sat on the bottom step to put on my shoes, patted my dog, went out the door, out to the street and boarded the car where Patty, with lips pursed, almost jack-rabbited the moment I shut the door.

We were quiet. I knew she was upset. And I was… defiant.  Defiant!

Patty broke the silence. I was expecting her to rant at me the way she used to whenever she was angry. But she was different this time. In measured tones and words carefully chosen, she said, “I don’t want us being late. It is embarrassing. And it’s disrespectful. I found it disturbing that you were not moving with urgency when we were getting awfully late. I hope you understand why I am upset.”

I was quiet. I did not want to argue. And then I wanted to. Pride started getting in the way of my ability to think rationally.  I so much wanted to tell Patty that this was the first time in so many years that I caused us to be (almost) late so can’t she cut me some slack? Why can’t she see that?

I did what I learned to do when irrational emotions start creeping inside my heart. I did not count to 10.  I could have forced myself to think and feel the oft-repeated phrase “good vibes”, but I needed something else out of the way. Instead, I prayed a silent prayer.

And at that moment, I felt pride leave, almost physically.

I realised that my pride was killing me not so much because I knew she was right, but more because I had to admit I was wrong and was an idiot. Being rebuked by my best friend, or anyone else, is not a pleasant experience, but one that is necessary. Better her than the mute criticism of acquaintances or strangers. And I suddenly appreciated her effort to choose her words rather than berate me as if I were a little kid.

Before I could even speak, Patty continued, “Can we be friends now? I’m sorry, I had to tell you off.”

I was chastised. Pride had no place among my reactions. “You’re right… having improved all these years does not change the fact that I am causing us to be late today. I’m sorry.”

I recall a human resource training course that I attended in a previous job; it was about the importance of feedback. The lesson that struck me the most is that: “Feedback is a gift. Its beauty depends on what we do with the gift.” Pride often prevents us from appreciating the gift of negative feedback especially from those who matter to us and to whom we matter.

And just like any gift, a sincere feedback, most especially a rebuke, deserves at least two words in return: thank you.

 

 

A Lesson In Life I Learned From The Fan Blades Of My Aircon’s Compressor

For me, this was another lesson in humility, one of the many that the good Lord has showered me with for the past year and a half. If the Lord were the school principal, His teachers on earth come in many forms and shapes. This time they were an unlikely teacher named Junior…

… and an even more unlikely instrument: the cold, metal blades of my aircon compressor.

It was warm that afternoon.  My best friend Patty dropped me off our house before running another errand. I stepped out of the car into the stoop where our pedestrian gate is.

As I rang our doorbell and waited for Junior, our household helper, to open our gate, I looked up and found myself staring at my balcony on the second floor.  It was small, just enough to house my room’s aircon compressor. 

I frowned, puzzled.  The fan blades of the compressor of my aircon were turning.  I looked to the left to check that of my next-door neighbor’s, whose aircon compressor is likewise sitting on her balcony.  I could not see clearly through her compressor but sensed that its blades were still.

I looked back at mine and willed them to stop turning.  They did just as Junior emerged from our front door.

“Saan ka nanggaling?” (Where were you?)

“Naglilinis po ako sa baba.” (I was cleaning downstairs.)

I was disappointed.  I was hoping he would admit what I knew he just did.  I trusted him to tell me the truth.

Without a word, I went up to my room.  It was still warm.  This meant that Junior had just switched on the aircon but did not get to enjoy its coolness because I had rung the doorbell.

I composed my thoughts.  How do I rebuke him without embarrassing or hurting him?

You see, Junior came highly recommended by close friends for whom he had worked a few years ago.  He is a good man, they said.  Except that we had to be patient with him. He could not read nor write, and it is a source of insecurity and sensitivity for him.  It does not help that he has lost his two front teeth, so he is often mistaken for being mentally challenged. But he is not.  He barely speaks Tagalog, having lived in Pangasinan all his life.  We now believe that his stuttering is due more to his difficulty in speaking Tagalog, because he speaks animatedly in his native dialect over his cellphone.  Common sense, he has.

I chose my words carefully, spoke in a calm, modulated, motherly tone.  I said something like…

“Junior, kung pwede sana, habang wala kami, huwag mo sanang gamitin yung aircon. Alam mo na… medyo mahal ang kuryente.” (Junior, if I may request you not to use the aircon while we are out.  You know, electricity and all.)

He looked away, then bowed his head, “Hindi ko naman po ginagamit mga aircon niyo, Ma’am.” (I don’t use your aircons ma’am.)

“Di ko sinasabing ginagamit mo nga, pero may paraan ako para malaman kung ginamit mo.” (I am not saying that you are, but I do have a way of knowing if you do.)

I paused, then decided I had to be frank with him, “Alam kong ginamit mo yung aircon ko ngayon lang.  Hindi ako galit.  Paikiusap lang na huwag mo na lang gamitin.” (I do know you used the aircon in my room just now.  I am not angry, but I am just requesting you not to use it please.)

He looked up at me and said, “Paano po ninyo nalalaman, Ma’am?” (How can you tell, Ma’am?) He just gave himself away with the question.

“Hindi na mahalaga kung paano ko nalalaman, pero nalalaman ko. Ganun na lang.” (It doesn’t really matter how I know, but do know that I will know.  Let’s just leave it at that.)

“Opo.”

That was that.  For the next few days, Junior was quiet and distant as he did his daily chores.  He could not look me in the eye. Guilt? 

A few days passed and the incident was all but forgotten.  Or so I thought. 

One morning, Patty and I were sipping coffee in our lanai.  The sun had come out.  I heard the leaves in our garden whisper as a faint breeze passed through.

It was at that exact moment that I knew.

I recall that Patty was in the middle of a story but I left her and ran upstairs to my room. I swung open my balcony door.

I froze.

The light breeze was turning the blades of my aircon.  And not even a minute later, when the breeze passed, went its merry way, and the leaves of the bougainvillea in our carport below fell quiet… the blades stopped turning.

I closed my eyes and uttered, “Forgive me.”

I walked a funeral march back to our lanai.  I stared at Patty.

“What?”

I shook my head, “I made a huge mistake.  A big mistake.”

I told Patty everything.

“I must apologize.  I cannot have him thinking this way.”

Junior was in our kitchen, mopping.  This time, I did not give myself time to think. I went right in and let my heart and my prayer lead me.

“Junior, patawarin mo ako.  Nagkamali ako.  Hindi kita dapat napaghinalaan at inakusahang gumamit ng aircon ko nung araw na ‘yon.”  (I’m sorry.  I should not have accused you of using my aircon that day.  I was wrong.)

As before, Junior looked at his feet, bit his lip, then finally looked me in the eye, smiled, then scratched his nape, “Wala po kayong kasalanan, Ma’am.” (You did not do anything wrong.)

“Pasensiya ka na… ang dami na naming masamang karanasan sa mga kasambahay… ninakawan kami, ginagamit ang gamit namin, at kung ano-ano pa.  Pero hindi sapat na dahilan para hindi ka pagkatiwalaan ng nararapat.  Sorry, nagkamali talaga ako.” (Forgive me. We’ve had so many bad experiences with helpers who’ve stolen from us, used our things. But this is not a reason for me not to give you the trust you deserve.  I’m sorry, I made a mistake.)

Junior continues to stay with us.  He is back to his chirpy self.  Thankfully, that incident even proved to be a turning point.  I have since then felt him become more diligent with his chores, more attentive towards us.  For some reason, he refuses to turn in for bed until we arrive home from a night out with friends, no matter how late.

A cliché, I know, but one and one sometimes don’t add up to two.  What seem obvious are often not what they really are. 

Where does trust begin?  Should one treat a person with a glass full of trust to begin with, or should one start with an empty glass and slowly pour trust into it?

For me, this was another lesson in humility, one of the many that the good Lord has showered me with for the past year and a half.  If the Lord were the school principal, His teachers on earth come in many forms and shapes.  This time they were an unlikely teacher named Junior…

… and an even more unlikely instrument: the cold, metal blades of my aircon compressor.