Don’t Be Wrong with Wrong People

by Rick Hamlin

Have you ever been snubbed?

Has anyone ever looked right through you?

Has anyone walked the other way at the sight of you?

It’s really painful.  It can make you very angry.  It can make you as angry as the person who is angry at you.  But the only way you can make sure they don’t succeed at whatever they intend to pass on to you is to not get angry back.  Don’t be wrong with wrong people.  Don’t give them the pleasure.  Don’t let them rob you of your joy.

We have this neighbor who will not talk to us.  She feels that she was wronged by one of us and her response is to cut us dead.  She doesn’t speak when spoken to.  She doesn’t wave back.  She walks to the other side of the street if she has enough warning.

Whether she was truly wronged or not is not worth discussing and wouldn’t be terribly interesting if it were explained.  At this point I can’t explain it to myself but the sight of me or my wife pains her and the only way she can express it is by hoping to give some of that pain right back.

I find this hard.  I want to be liked.  I assume everybody will like me.  She doesn’t like me.  I can accept that she’s suffering.  If she’d like to talk about it, I’d be glad to talk about it, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.  She’d rather pretend that I am not here.

As a point of emotional growth, I find this helpful enough.  It’s given me some insight into the pain of racism.  To be a victim of prejudice can mean having someone look right through you, to not even acknowledge that you’re there.  To be totally ignored is to not be seen as another member of the human race.

Don't Be Wrong with Wrong People

I don’t go out of my way to be ignored, but the other day when I ran into her in the park on my morning jog I couldn’t swerve away.  “Be pleasant.  Treat her like you would anyone else,” I told myself.

“Good morning,” I said.

She turned the other way.

Just so you know that I’m hardly the nicest person on earth I will let you know that my next gesture was going to be a rude one.  My arm rose slowly to express it, my hand was ready.  Then I reminded myself, if I did that, who would have won?  She or me?  My hand swept up near my head.  The rude gesture turned into a sort of wave in my hair.  Something for a bird to decipher or an umpire.

“Pray for your enemies” was Jesus’ injunction.  That means not giving them back what they mean to give us.  No eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth.  No rudeness for rudeness, no wrong for wrong.

Anger with angry people only mushrooms into more anger.  I didn’t get angry, but I did come home and laugh.  I hope my “Good morning” didn’t come out sounding hostile.  It probably had some fear in it.  My gesture on the other hand was really dorky.  Too bad she was looking away.  We might have both laughed.

Next time maybe, next time.

Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, where he has worked for more than 25 years. His spiritual memoir, Finding God on the A Train, was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection and a selection of One Spirit Book Club. He lives with his family in New York City.


Pray for Someone Else

by Rick Hamlin

It will probably come as no surprise to you that I think of myself all the time.  I worry about myself and my family.  I wonder when I’m going to die.  I wonder why I don’t find much peace of mind when I’m  working so hard at being responsible and good.  I become anxious about the future.  I start obsessing about some physical symptom, the slightest headache perhaps that probably hints at a life-threatening illness.  I fight against trusting in hope too much.  I try to imagine what it will be like when I accept the National Book Award or the Oscar for Best Screenplay or the Nobel Prize for Peace.  I become tiresome even to myself.

If I’m by myself I find the only recipe for this closed circuit of self absorption is to pray for someone else.  Lots of someone else’s.  “The person wrapped up in himself is a very small package indeed,” goes an old saying.  And if I were praying for myself it would be a prayer of becoming someone big and generous and whole-heartedly involved in the world and the concerns of others.  I’d like to be a big package.

Pray for Someone Else

I have learned to become very deliberate in my prayers for others.  There have been times when I’ve simply closed my eyes and waited for a name or need to come to me.  I’ve gone through letters of the alphabet, finding someone for each letter.  Or I’ve imagined myself going through space at the office and praying as my mind has passed by cubicles and offices and conference rooms.  I’ve even looked to pray for others by sending myself on a magic carpet ride across the planet, pausing at cities where I know someone and saying a prayer there.

The only danger with any of these methods is that I will forget someone whose need is particularly pressing.  I will sacrifice urgency for the imaginative freedom of traveling where my mind takes me.  That’s probably okay.  I must stress that I think prayer should be the freest of exercises.  To become too critical of your methods of prayer is to become too self-conscious which is to become simply un-prayerful.  To try to pray is to pray.  Any prayer is good.  All honest prayers are acceptable.  All prayers are right.

I don’t believe in that hoary let-it-all-hang-out line that “There are no dumb questions.”  There are some truly stupid questions.  But there are no stupid prayers.  Just look at the psalms for models.  If the psalmist could pray about smashing his enemies’ babies brains to bits, well, you can say anything in a prayer.  Say the worst if you have to.  God has probably heard much worse.  And he’s already heard you think it.

I have come to write down the names of people I’m praying for just because it helps me keep focused.  I don’t look at the list but I think of it.  And as I go through those names, I think of those people.  Many of them have trials much worse than ones I’ve ever faced.  Many of them have needs that far exceed mine.

Of course, I come back to “me” in my prayers.  I might even start with me.  Sometimes things are so pressing I can’t unload them fast enough.  But praying for others is my recipe for sanity.  If I am at all generous as a person and am able to think of others and quiet the inner tapes, it is through this wonderful method that we were given when we were given prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is in the first person plural.  Plural.  Me and you.  Us.

Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, where he has worked for more than 25 years. His spiritual memoir, Finding God on the A Train, was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection and a selection of One Spirit Book Club. He lives with his family in New York City.



Read the News Late

by Rick Hamlin

Fear sells.

It’s worth remembering when you pick up the newspaper and gaze at the headlines or scroll down an article on a news site or hear the drumbeat of the upcoming news story on TV.  It always sounds terrible and they want you to know it’s terrible.  A tremor goes through you.  You know for sure that the world is gone to hell in a hand-basket.  You thought only minutes before how could things get any worse and now here’s a story to let you know.  Things ARE worse.

Whoever wrote that piece or produced that segment or came up with one of those headlines knew just what they were doing.  They wanted you to be upset.  They hoped you’d be outraged.  They wanted you to tremble.

They hooked you with fear.  Let’s face it.  If it didn’t hit your gut, if it didn’t disturb you, if it didn’t make you want to go bury some cash under a mattress for that rainy day that was much closer than you thought, that tempest, then why would you read on or listen for more?  You want to do the right thing and be informed and if the government is going to fold on Monday or the stock market is going to crash again on Tuesday or the war is going to start on Friday, you need to know.

Read the News LateBut what are you going to do about the war or the government or the stock market for that matter?

I suppose you could write a letter to your Congressman and sell off what little stock you had, but then what are you going to do?  Buy Treasury bills that are backed by a government that is supposedly failing?  Put more cash under the mattress that would supposedly be worthless in a few years because of rampant inflation?

The options are few.  And you have just successfully wasted a few pleasant hours by being truly riled up.  It’s worth considering that somebody got you afraid for their own personal benefit, not really for yours.  It’s like a kid sticking out a foot at a playground and tripping you.  “Got you,” they should say.  Unless you refuse to fall for it.  Again.

I’m a sucker for the news.  I like to be informed.  But I’ve grown wary and weary of the story tellers trying to manipulate me.  I forgive them for doing it because they’re just doing their jobs.  They need as many eyeballs as they can find to stay in business.  I’m glad for them to stay in business because they help me keep informed.  But I’ve given up the fear as much as possible.

The angels of the Lord made it their greeting, “Be not afraid.”  I try to pay attention to the angels of my own best nature.  And I try to choose the times of day when I give the fear mongers my eyeballs.  Not too much in the morning.  I could end up wasting my day.  Better late in the day.

Why buy fear wholesale?  I’d rather spend my emotional capital elsewhere.

Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, where he has worked for more than 25 years. His spiritual memoir, Finding God on the A Train, was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection and a selection of One Spirit Book Club. He lives with his family in New York City.


You Can’t Say Thanks Too Much

by Rick Hamlin

I had a boss who once asked me to compile a list of all the people who had helped me in my job in the past year.  Not only that, he wanted me to write down exactly how and what they had done.  “What a waste of time,” I thought.

I spent a whole day on it.  At the time I was compiling a quotes page in the magazine, collecting over a dozen inspiring quotes each month.  For each quote I determined who had passed it along to me and where they had found it.  I tallied up the names and how many quotes they had found.  It was an illuminating exercise.

First of all, I had to acknowledge how dependent I was on almost everybody in the office.  Funny, I had come to rather congratulate myself for coming up month after month with such a wide range of interesting quotes.  I’d seen it as one of my triumphs, one done almost effortlessly.  How quickly I had forgotten how many others had a hand in my work and how I could never have accomplished it without them.

You Can't Say Thanks Too Much

The second lesson was a little harder to acknowledge.  One of my least favorite colleagues, someone I found petty and vain and pushy and obnoxious, the least generous of cohorts, had landed at the top of my list.  He was the one who was always giving me good quotes and I used them.  Had I ever thanked him?  I wouldn’t have wanted to give him the pleasure.  But look at this.  He was partly responsible for my success.  He deserved some credit.

“I’ve done it,” I said to my boss.  “I put together that list you wanted.  Do you want to see it?”

“No,” he said, waving a dismissive hand in the air.  “That was just for you.”

“What should I do with it?”

“You might want to thank some of the people on it.”

I did.  Deliberately, consciously, carefully.  I needed that record to be able to see what I found hard to acknowledge in myself.

Let me make a curious analogy here.  I once met a woman whose drug-addicted husband had beat her.  At the police station someone took a picture of the bruises on her face and she kept that photo with her.  When her very charming but very dangerous husband tried to lure her back, she looked at the photo.  She needed it to remind her of the truth.  Otherwise she would have gone back to an untenable situation.

I thanked the colleague I didn’t like for all the help he had given me over the year.  My thanks could be very specific.  I told him the actual number of quotes he gave me.  Let me be clear here.  He didn’t become especially nice.  We were never good friends.  But he was gracious when I thanked him and I appreciated that.

And I’ve never forgotten my boss’s exercise.  It’s worth doing every time you congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Your good job was probably the result of a lot of good people helping you.  Sometimes you didn’t even see what they did.  I don’t see a half of what the finance and marketing and I.T. people do at my work.  But they deserve a lot of the credit and I rarely thank them.

I don’t think you can ever say thank you too much.  Thank someone when they least expect it.  Thank someone who will least expect it.  Surprise them.  Surprise yourself.  You’ll be unaccountably grateful.

Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, where he has worked for more than 25 years. His spiritual memoir, Finding God on the A Train, was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection and a selection of One Spirit Book Club. He lives with his family in New York City.