WAVING THE WHITE FLAG

WAVING THE WHITE FLAG

From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Waving the White Flag

I have found that the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.

Harry S. Truman

It had been one of those days. First, I lost the freelance job that would have supported me for the next two months. Then, I discovered I needed outpatient surgery, only minimally covered by my insurance. Next, a torrential downpour turned my basement furniture into islands. Instead of spending the evening creating a stunning new resume, I was duct taping trash sacks to the dribbling basement walls and sopping up puddles with towels. I started upstairs to search for more trash sacks and tripped over a stray board left by the rascals who waterproofed my basement! I picked up the board and was instantly stabbed with a splinter. I stomped up the stairs.

“I give up,” I said to the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. “I can’t take anymore,” I said to the pile of unopened bills cluttering the kitchen table. I shook the white towel and water flew across the countertops. Then I remembered the old Westerns, when the bullet-riddled good guys tied a handkerchief on a rifle butt and waved it at the enemy just to get a moment’s respite.

It was time for me to officially throw in my towel.

I went outside and tied the towel to a board. I walked into the yard and waved my flag at the sky, and said, “I surrender.” It was a good thing, too, because I suddenly realized I was ankle deep in water. And I was wearing my good shoes. I leaned the flag against the porch and dragged myself up to bed.

The next morning, the beat-up-looking flag made me smile. I felt better now that I had officially let go of control. I believed in the idea of an abundant and beneficent universe; I believed that I did not have to struggle so mightily to get what I needed. But I hadn’t been able to really incorporate such serenity into my everyday life. Maybe this flag was a first step.

Every time I came in and out of the house, I saw the flag. Despite that constant reminder, I still struggled. Sure, my basement dried up, and, yes, I got a new client. But I felt “on the edge” rather than brimming with abundance. I saw various friends being rewarded for their persistence and faith, and I knew I wouldn’t be so lucky.

“What is that rag and board on our porch?” my daughter Sarah asked.

“My white flag,” I told her. “I am practicing surrender.”

Meanwhile, I began noticing other people’s flags: colorful cardinals on a quilted field of leaves; a sassy black cat, jauntily swinging from a porch pole; a winsome dog wagging his tale. These flags were crisp and lovely, flying proudly from well-turned poles. Suddenly, my flag looked old and tattered. My flag had been thrown together in desperation. Now I wanted a white flag that was an act of deliberation.

“Will you make a white flag for me for my birthday?” I asked Sarah.

“What kind?” she asked.

“Big enough to be noticed on the porch. Sturdy enough to be outside. You can choose how it looks.”

As soon as I spoke those words, I worried, What if I don’t like the way the flag looks? What if it simply isn’t what I envisioned? What if it’s too large or too small? Then I had to laugh at myself: I wanted control over everything, even the shape of my surrender!

The morning of my birthday, Sarah put a long pole in my hands. It was spray-painted gold, with an elegant carved top, and held a beautifully proportioned, dazzling white flag. The flag was aesthetic, dramatic, and elegant. Slowly I walked outside and hung the flag near my porch light, where it was fully visible yet sheltered from the rain. The flag tilted a little to the right. I climbed onto a chair to straighten it, and by the time I climbed down, it tilted again. I tried again, perfect, and yet, the moment I stepped off the chair, the flag became askew.

Then I realized, the flag was already working, reminding me to flow with imperfection, to enjoy what was offered. I saluted my crooked flag and went inside to make a birthday wish.

Deborah Shouse

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