The way I see it, there are three Whoops categories:
1. Embarrassing moments. These can be through no fault of your own or entirely due to clumsiness, lack of self-control, or other fault.
EXAMPLE: I was in a buffet-style restaurant and had gone up to the beverage station to get a cup of coffee. It was a wooden floor and it was Sunday, so I had dress shoes on. You know, the kind with a more smooth, treadless sole.
As I was walking past a long table with a group from some other church on my way back to my long table with the group from my church, out slipped one foot, up went my arms defensively, and the laws of physics did what they do best with the contents of that coffee cup. And then they did what they do worst with the back of the pretty pressed shirt of the man sitting to my right. And also his suit jacket which was draped on the chair behind him. Which I offered to have cleaned. And he refused. Nicely. Dying. I was dying.
My tablemates – having witnessed the whole thing – looked pained as I slinked back to them. I never knew whether it was empathy for me or wishing I’d go sit somewhere else so they wouldn’t have to claim me.
2. Accidents – avoidable or un. These are the just-happened moments that you sometimes just can’t do anything about. But sometimes you can.
EXAMPLE/Avoidable: Never athletic, I chose bowling and ice skating as my two college required PE credits. A Michigan native, I had somehow never learned to ice skate and truly enjoyed learning the skill. Until hockey. In her questionable wisdom, my PE instructor decided part of our ice skating curriculum should be playing broom ball, a slightly less life-threatening version of ice hockey.
Well. I was defending my goal from the field. (That’s how you say that, right? I mean, I wasn’t the goalie, but I was still… Oh, never mind.) Along comes Mr. Mammoth, pushing that ball/puck down the court with an intensity rivaled only in the NHL. He was focused, he was smooth, he was fast. He was BIG.
At that time I was a size itty-bitty and was still shaky on the ice. But I had a job to do. I bent at the waist, assuming the position, and stood my ground. All for the 0.2 seconds it took for him to barrel over and through me like he was the locomotive and I was a mere leaf on the track. I don’t remember the hit and wonder if it’s just in my imagination that I see me on my back, spinning in circles on the ice and sliding toward the edge of the rink. Probably not.
Avoidable, see? A wiser me would have taken one look at that fullback on skates, turned around, and helped him score the point.
3. Mistakes. These are those errors that you can only sometimes correct, the big regrets. The things you hopefully learn from.
EXAMPLE: too many to choose just one.
- The time I walked away from a woman in righteous indignation, only to realize too late that God had given me an opportunity to witness kindness to her.
- The time I let my kid down by not coming to her defense when she needed me most.
- The Lost Year in the classroom. A whole group of sixth graders had a non-present teacher that year.
- That time I protected my own pride and reputation instead of the feelings of a vulnerable friend.
- Chances lost.
- Instincts ignored.
- Words unspoken.
- Words spoken.
- Not stepping up.
- Not stepping down.
Knowing I would do it differently if I had it to do over again is not enough. That changes nothing. The real key for me has been to try to stay in this moment. Right now. Be aware and be vigilant. Keep a lid on it, but not too tightly in case the moment calls for that lid to fly off.
It’s hard. Too often, I’d rather not.
As a driver, I’m good at turning around and going back. I don’t continue on the same wrong path. But what about when I make the correct turn the first time? It feels great, is much more effective, and saves a ton of time and regret.
Twice yesterday – a day of much emotion and fatigue – I was faced with young ladies who needed to talk. I was tempted to go about my business, I wanted to go about my business, knowing I would still be able to “hear” them. Be in this moment, was the message that came through to my tired and addled brain.
And I listened, to the message and the young ladies. I put me on hold for a few moments precious to both of us, and gave them my full attention. So did it make a difference? Was there God Stuff in those moments for them? I’ll never know.
But there was for me. Because I didn’t have to turn around and go back.