Blooming from the Inside Out

photo 29I spent Memorial Day weekend with my Aunt Joan—one of the nicest people I know. These days, her short-term memory is impaired, but it really doesn’t matter. With or without memory, she’s friendly and generous, with a tendency to see the best in people. She told me over and over: “I’m so glad to see you,” “it’s great that we can spend this time together,” “I hope you can come again soon.” And my personal favorite: “You’re so pretty.” She made me feel cherished and appreciated.

If I lose my memory someday, I hope I’ll handle it half so well. The trouble with dementia is that you can’t monitor your own behavior. Whatever’s inside you, leaks out. How will I keep a lid on my impatience and defensiveness? With Aunt Joan, it’s okay because she’s full of optimism. When she wakes up in the morning and doesn’t recognize her surroundings, she assumes she’s in a hotel, and bounces out of bed ready for a vacation adventure.

Seeing how her personality transcends memory loss, I’m reminded that our basic attitudes define us. If I want to be good-natured in my old age, I need to pay attention now to my inner being. It’s not enough to act nice on the outside. Whatever is in my heart will find it’s way to the surface. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity.

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

What does any of this have to do with assertiveness? It reminds us that assertive living requires more than a make-over of our external persona. “People skills” are merely tools. Our responses to life’s unexpected challenges will be driven much more by our inner attitudes than by any memorized set of tips and tricks.

Jesus said: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

Thank you, Aunt Joan, for sharing the good treasures of your heart.