A friend recently told me a story about a Jewish rabbi who had a former student come back to him years after being his student. The student apologized for every trouble he caused and he asked the rabbi to give him anything to do as a repentance. The rabbi gave him a basket of feathers and told him to go the highest hill in the area and throw all the feathers out into the air and let the wind blow them and scatter them.
The former student did and came back to the rabbi. He said, “I did it, I threw them all out into the air and the wind scattered them in all directions. But rabbi, isn’t there anything else I can do? I feel I should do more to make up for all I did and said when I gave you so much trouble.”
And the rabbi said, “Yes, go and collect all the feathers back into the basket.” Of course the student realized how futile that seemed and that what has been done is done and there is so little you can do about it now. Good story huh?!
So I think I write a lot because it’s a much more controlled outpouring – like using a fire hose instead of just throwing open the valve or whatever on the hydrant (obviously i’ve never done this) and letting the water burst everywhere. I like having the control and the flexibility of a delete key and a cut and paste function. You can’t cut and paste in the middle of a conversation in order to lay out your ideas and arguments in a rational way. That takes a lot of forethought and usually I don’t have a whole lot of that in a social setting. It’s all gangbusters and full speed ahead.
But the opposite effect happens much more frequently, when I don’t say anything at all though I probably should. In the not too distant past, I held my tongue and said absolutely nothing to someone who probably could have used something from me. In the moment, I couldn’t bear to hear my own voice and I thought that a particular situation was completely far off any redeeming course, so I just backed away and let the silence exacerbate the awkwardness. And I did what any self respecting intelligent rational person would do in such situations… ran away. Brave Sir Robin bravely turned his tail and fled.
I once received a rather lengthy email from someone who could have said some things to me in such a moment as that, when i both needed to hear it most and least wanted to. I have to say it was one of those emails that made me really really want to not have email access. But I’ll tell you something, there were things written in that sucker (the email – not the person) that I still think about today, several years later – almost a decade actually. And while i probably could not have survived it if this person had said all that to my face, I feel I am a better person now for having read it.
So maybe really, in the end, you can’t take what you say (or email or text for that matter) back but it may actually do a person some good and once again I do believe everything happens for a reason and we would do ourselves a huge favor by embracing it all with an open spirit. Just dont drink the water from the hydrant, you know, if it’s yellow…