I sat down this morning to write an apology email to my husband. I had been a little cranky last night and I still hadn’t shaken the vestiges of my bad attitude by this morning. Apologizing is a habit that Tim and I have cultivated over the 18 long (and happy) years that we’ve been married. When one of us gets a little chippy with the other, or takes a cheap shot, we try to make amends as soon as we are capable of getting a hold of ourselves and putting our best (or at least better) foot forward.
The invention of email has really smoothed the process along for two reasons.
Number 1: We don’t actually have to make the apology verbally.
How many times have you attempted to say sorry, only to have your bad behavior spelled out for you all over again, along with a complete list of all the ways your poor choices affected and offended the person to whom you were apologizing? Verbal apologies can lead to bigger fights if we start defending ourselves, and/or our (mis)behavior again. Email apologies allow my husband and I to adequately express our remorse, our understanding of the ways our choices negatively affected the person we love, and our promise to do better. These email apologies work best when there is also a promise of a physical reconciliation later that day, preferably after the kids go to bed.
Number 2: Email apologies sent during the workday stop the cycle of anger and frustration before we bring it back home.
If I can bring myself to apologize (and mean it, of course) before we begin our commute home, I know our evening is going to go better. I know that he will walk in the door and say, “Thanks for the email,” or greet me with a hug and a kiss to show that we are ‘okay.’ We might still need to talk about our disagreement, but it takes the edge off our nightly routine. When we have failed to at least throw out an opening salvo of reconciliation, then the minute we walk through that door, there is tension. It might manifest itself in a hundred small ways, before we finally get to hash it out upstairs after the dishes and homework are done. The evening meal, the highlight of most of my days, is ruined for me and there is no doubt that the kids notice the lack of joy and casual, easy banter that is normally a hallmark of our table.
So what does all this have to do with Eckhart Tolle’s The Good Earth and Jeff Kinney’s The Diary of a Wimpy Kid? That’s a good question, so here you go…
In The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there is something known as the dreaded “Cheese Touch.” The “Cheese Touch” originated from a disgusting piece of dairy that had gotten left on the blacktop for far too long. At one point, someone had touched the piece of cheese and thereby became contaminated with it. No one, and I mean no one, was allowed to touch, or be touched by that person; otherwise, that person would become the new carrier of the “Cheese Touch.” The “Cheese Touch” created a social pariah, someone who was damaged and outcast, and yet at the same time, actively and ingeniously seeking ways to ‘share the gift’ if you know what I mean. Once you touched someone else, the “Cheese Touch” was no longer yours. In short, the “Cheese Touch” was a really complex and damaging game of tag, which was apparently played skillfully and passionately at Jeff Kinney’s middle school.
I watched an emotional version of the “Cheese Touch” take place in my home a few months ago. My eldest daughter Keara was trying to get ready to go somewhere and she was taking a long time with her clothing, which is obviously not unusual for a 14 year old girl. As her mom, (and I will admit to being maniacally prompt), I got angry at her for taking so long. I started with the “Cheese Touch” that day: anger and frustration isolating me from my community. I scolded Keara for taking so long, being so picky and making us late. The “Cheese Touch” was passed. Now Keara’s younger sister Molly tried to get in the bathroom they share to brush her own hair. Keara slammed the door in Molly’s face and her hand in the process and the “Cheese Touch” was successfully launched onto its next victim. After calming Molly down with an ice pack, I went to work things out with Keara. In the meantime, Finn went to see if Molly wanted to skateboard with him while they waited for us to be ready. In her pain, she snapped at him and told him to get off her skateboard, even if she wasn’t riding it. Another successful transmission! When we got in the car, I asked everyone to take a deep breath, so we could try to leave the house in peace. I looked around to see how we were doing. I was calm; Keara was calm; Molly was calm, but Finn was sitting next to me, slumped in his chair, with a scowl on his face. When I asked him why he was in a bad mood, he said he had no idea. He just felt terrible, like kicking something. That was the “Aha” moment for me.
In real life, instead of fiction, the “Cheese Touch” has very little to do with a piece of stinky cheese and everything to do with the way it makes you feel. In the course of 15 minutes, I had let my anger fly and watched it travel through 3 other people I love, ending its journey in the still-sweet soul of my 12 year old boy.
I looked at him sadly and said, “Sorry you got it, buddy.”
“Got what mom?”
“The Cheese Touch.”
Since that time, the “Cheese Touch” has become a sort of verbal shorthand for the times when we have taken our anger out on someone else, someone who really didn’t deserve it. And that is where Eckhart Tolle comes in.
I was introduced to Tolle’s idea of the pain-body several years ago when I read a copy of The New Earth. I will keep the explanation short and simple, which Tolle, God bless him, can’t seem to do. The bottom line is that when you are in pain, you carry it around with you, in your body, or perhaps like an extra body part. Your pain is so big, heavy and unwieldy that it cripples you when you try to function normally. Nobody likes carrying around that pain-body, so we do what we can to get rid of it. I know it sounds strange, but we actually go around sharing our pain-body with other people. We parcel it out through anger, frustration, and sometimes, even violence. We might go around telling other people about the ways we’ve been wronged, or wounded. When our pain-body is inflamed, we transmit our pain to other people in order to ease the burden on ourselves.
Sound familiar? I think it does to most adults who are honest with themselves, and while I can’t adequately explain Tolle’s theory of the pain-body to my kids, they certainly all get the concept of the “Cheese Touch.” They’ve all had it and they’ve all passed it on and really, the two philosophies aren’t that different.
So when I sat down to write that email apology to my husband, I realized that my nastiness over which side of the sink we keep the toothpaste on wasn’t really what I needed to apologize for. That was simply me, trying to give him the “Cheese Touch.” It didn’t really work, because he didn’t feel that badly about it, and I didn’t really feel any better.
This morning, I realize that my pain-body is inflamed. I have been feeling frustrated lately, a little “ineffective” in my roles as wife, mother, writer, speaker, housekeeper and cook. Little things are falling through the cracks, as I neglect too many things on my “To Do” lists. Last night, it made perfect sense to me that if he would simply leave the tube of Crest on my side of the sink, everything, and I do mean everything, would be so much better. In the light of day, I realize that it may not solve anything really significant after all.
So, this is my apology , honey. I’m sorry. I am going to try to hold on to my own pain-body for a little while. I am going to do my best not to touch anyone else with this stinky little piece of cheese, moldering on the playground of my heart.