Thursday, August 11, 2011

pondering motive

It's been said that, "You can't see a motive."

I'd have to agree. And yet, it's so common for us to assume we can? Makes me think about how Jesus told us that we are blind for the very reason that we won't admit we ARE in fact blind. Definitely the case here.

We judge what we can't see. What we can't know. All the time denying we are in fact blind to others' motives, to their hearts, to their stories.

Case in point: the kids and I spent yesterday in Julian Price Park on the Blueridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, NC. We were creek-walking, and my oldest was out ahead. He has Asperger's Syndrome - a form of Autism. To say that he does not think before he acts would be a gross misstatement. He does think. He thinks all the time. He just doesn't think the way you or I do.

If you or I were walking in a creek and saw a watermelon in the water, we'd assume that someone put it there because they wanted to keep it cold. If we didn't arrive at that conclusion, we'd probably at least walk past, leaving it alone. I'm guessing.

Not him. His thought process is mostly visual images, but if translated into words it would go something like this:

"Watermelon in creek. Watermelon does not belong in creek. Watermelon belongs in store, in fridge, on counter, on table, in bowl - places I have seen watermelons before. This is clearly an unattended watermelon - if it had a caretaker it would be in a logical place for watermelons to be. I've often dreamed of smashing a watermelon just to see what would happen, but every watermelon I've previously encountered has been overseen by someone who had other plans for it, and thus, smashing would result in a negative experience for me. This watermelon is obviously not being overseen, otherwise it would be in a logical place. Not lying in the creek. I shall smash it."
Now, I came upon the scene later - when my son had moved on. An elderly man approached me, quite angry. He was missing some teeth and seemed to be, as my mother likes to say, "two sheets to the wind". Still, neither of these issues made him any harder to understand.

"You better do somefin bout dat boy a yers, he dun smashed dis here watermelon we was fixn to eat, and I'm *$^&* mad about it too! Mad, I say! You better do somefin bout him! You better do somefin, I say!"

I wish I could say this was a new and unusual experience for me, but it wasn't. My son is almost thirteen, so for at least twelve years now I've run interference between him and the non-autism-world. I'm developed a certain... unflappable-ness, shall we call it? Even this guy couldn't rattle me.

"I'm truly sorry. I'll ascertain what happened and get back to you."

More yelling, swearing, and chest thumping from tipsy toothless man as I calmly walked on, wondering whether he had the slightest idea what ascertain meant.

Thankfully, a woman who appeared to be his adult daughter intervened. I looked back and told her that I'd be sure to take care of the situation. She smiled a patient smile; in a way this made us kindred spirits.

I walked on and found my son jumping into a swimming hole. I pulled him over and asked what had happened with the watermelon. He related to me nearly word for word what I've already shared above (honesty is his strong suit). When I explained that a family had put the watermelon in the creek in order to keep it cool, he was mortified. He'd had no idea it belonged to anyone. He wanted to apologize.

I imagined him trying to apologize to drunken denture-needing man, and decided against it.

I returned to the scene of the crime and addressed my explanation to his adult daughter. She smiled and said it was no big deal. What neither of us said, but what passed between us all the same, was gratitude. I was grateful she'd been patient with my son. She was grateful I'd been patient with her father.

That's when it sort of struck me... this man had misjudged my son's motive, but who was I to judge his motive? Maybe watermelon was a luxury for him. Maybe he's been mistreated by spoiled boys who have nothing better to do than pick on old men. Maybe he's sick or mentally ill. Maybe he has a neurological difference that was never treated when he was young: Asperger's like my oldest son or agenesis of the corpus callosum like my youngest daughter. Who could know? Such things are invisible. I can't see his motive.

Turns out the only motive I can even begin to see is my own.. and often, that's iffy.

I'm guessing this is why Paul directs us to believe the best about people. And why Jesus reminds us to treat others the way we want others to treat us ... or our sons ... or our elderly fathers.

A final thought here ... while it isn't possible to see a motive, motives are knowable. But not with blind eyes. Only with open ears and open hearts. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear", Jesus said (a few times, as I recall). His brother James wrote, "Be slow to become angry but quick to listen." A good listener gets to hear the stories behind the motives.
A good listener gets to know. That inspires me.


christina britt lewis said...

i feel a book coming. a book that will reach not just a handful, but a worldful.

Kristi said...

Love this, Michelle. Beginnning to experiance some of this with one of my boys. What a treasure of a mother you are!!