Promontory Point

Some big things have happened over the last few weeks – most of which are not mine to discuss – and the remaining few are things about which I do not want to write.  That leaves me a bit hamstrung, and gives me a file full of drafts, but no output.

That said, several of the aforementioned drafts concern the story of my lunch with Frederic.  You see, I was the one who asked for the meeting – not the other way around.  So there was that.

Like an onion, there were layers upon layers to the Frederic story, and to Napa and everything else.  Several of them have to do with me being slightly less horrible to myself.  This is a recurring theme.  Back in December, Sarah Rosemary and I both wrote about Self-Compassion.  She got it.  I, on the other hand, did not. 

So I’ve been thinking on the parable of the plank and the sawdust.  I hesitate to get all New Testament on you, but I will.  It’s where Jesus is preaching on Mount Sinai and he says:

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

(Matthew 7:1-6, NIV)

This, by the way, is the best scene in Godspell.  But it is also the quintessential teaching on self-compassion – regardless of whether you take this as Gospel, or literature, or merely pleasant words. 

At some point, I became a bit of a martyr.  There was a part of me that liked having had my heart broken, and enjoyed the hurt of fighting unwinnable battles.  I absorbed burdens and I quietly judged those who weren’t fighting.  I dutifully wiped away specks of sawdust from others’ faces – sometimes even whole treetrunks! – never once aware of the fact that I had a goddamned railroad tie sticking out of my own eyesocket. 

So that happened.

Now what am I doing?  When did I become a sanctimonious asshole, despite my many disclaimers that I am trying not to be?  When did I fall into the service of addicts and difficult people and situations – when and how did I martyr myself to them – all the while forgetting that I should probably take care of myself; deal with myself before trying to handle or fix others?

What is sacred?  Where are these pearls?  These are honest, broken, humble questions. 

I left for San Francisco the day after lunch with Frederic.  While travelling, I sent him an email with one more thought leftover from lunch.  And then I said something about being on a transcontinental flight:

Every time I take a transcontinental flight, I have a moment of remembering when we learned about the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point, UT, where they drove a golden spike in to finish the rails.

Also, because I am a font of information like this, you should know that I am wickedly good at Trivial Pursuit.

But it wasn’t just a golden spike.  It was a railroad tie of polished California laurel that finished the job too.  The journey supposedly ended with sharp, polished, beautiful things.  They were perfect.

Except they weren’t.  The railroad wasn’t actually done – the skeleton of the railroad was in place, and technically, there was a means transcontinental transport.  But for all intents and purposes, there was no seamless way to cross the country by rail until years later.  People had commemorated the finishing of something that wasn’t completely done; later, they “uncommemorated” it when they “undrove” the spikes, and tore up the old rails because it simply didn’t work right.

In other words, it had never been perfect.

The point is this:  It is so easy for me to accept human-ness in others, but so hard for me to accept in myself.  Nothing is perfect.  I can wipe away choking clouds of sawdust with ease, but do not often notice the plank in my face.  And this plank is rough and full of splinters – it is no polished block of wood. 

When I had lunch with Frederic, we sat across from each other – once (again) two human beings.  Not characters, not caricatures, or furious lovers.  We were reduced to compassionate, incomplete, imperfect parts.  We were made up of parts who had loved; parts who had had a vicious, thrilling ride.

It was then, feeling so unbelievably like a person – one I forgot I had ever been – that I noticed the railroad tie in my face.  And that was why I had sent him the message about Promontory Point — a shapeshifting, imperfect place full of history, but one that had never had a permanent population.  Had it ever been real? 

We laughed some, because in our humanness, it was clear that our story wouldn’t ever have a golden spike in a California laurel. 

At the times I can peer over this plank (and even when I can’t), I know there is grace in these moments – the broken ones.  The human ones.  The ones in which I learn compassion.  And so, too, I am sure there will be pearls.


Leave a Comment

  1. Could this be made required reading for all owners of human bodies planks sawdust and all?
    what an awesome perspective Meredith!!!!
    kind of makes you wonder whether the sawdust planks warts idiosyncrasies quirks etc are the truly embraceable components our humaness!!

  2. You get a gold star for expert parable-usage.

    In all seriousness, I know that for me, perfectionism (while it moves mountains and gets things done) can be so totally crippling. There are numerous points in the day where I find “endearing” traits in others to be intolerable when they show themselves in me.

    What I try to remember in the interim: To be gentle to myself.


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