A few weeks ago I was riding with GE and the kids. Sophia at 5 is in that pre-reading stage where she recognizes some words and was curious about any accumulation of letters we passed driving through New Braunfels. “H-O-B-B-Y-L-O-B-B-Y. What’s that spell, Mommy? S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G. Mommy, what does that spell? R-T-E. Does that spell something? W-A-L-N-U-T. Is that a word? Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” I took over the role of translating letters into words.
At bedtime, in the way a 5-year-old imparts family secrets, Sophia whispered that her mommy doesn’t know how to read. I told Sophia that she needs to work hard to learn so she can help her mom read to Travis. (“I’ll try, Nana, I’ll try,” she told me solemnly.)
A plaque on Pinterest reminded me about Sophia and GE. It read: “I’m not totally useless. I can be used as a bad example.” Ha! I could hear GE saying “Don’t be like me, Sophia. I never learned how to read.” Our mother used to tell us she was a 2nd grade dropout so we’d figure out our own solutions to math problems. That’s unspiration for you.
Just like inspiration pushes us to greater heights as we try to emulate a lofty figure, unspiration makes us move in the opposite direction as we try to distance ourselves from our bad example’s bad ways. It works. Even though I knew my mother wasn’t an elementary school dropout, she unspired me to master math so I could at least help my future children do pre-algebra.
Unspiration drives me as often as inspiration. The last time I took a carload of newly sober women to an AA meeting, we stopped at Stripes to get soft drinks and saw a man outside the store talking to the ice machine. A whiff of the air around him and we made instant eye contact with one another. “He’s drunk!” hissed one of the women. The man was still outside when we got into the car and I intoned, “There but by the grace of God go I.” The car was instantly quiet as all 4 of my riders reflected on the truth of that statement and our unspiring example.
Arrogant? Self-righteous? Probably. That’s the way of unspiration. It might set the bar low, but it provides me a benchmark that I don’t aspire to achieve. I’ve used it on my children when they were little. “You do not want to act like that little girl!” I would say as I pointed out a poster child for toddler anger management in full tantrum. Alternately, my children might have been an unspirational poster child for some other mother.
I stopped by the big HEB on Saratoga in Corpus Christi and there weren’t enough checkers. The lines at each checkout were incredibly long and self-check wasn’t working. Needing only 3 items, I got in the line with the “10 items or less” sign. Other shoppers in the line were either not reading the sign or not following the 10 item suggestion. Two of them were too busy texting to hear the total and finish their credit card transaction. After waiting for the clerk to ring up a couple of basket loads of groceries, I got close enough to the register to see that the checker was in training. That’s not my personal assessment; she was wearing a tag that ID’d her.
(Just my luck) I could feel my ears getting red. (She’s not even saying anything to those people. She could tell them to get into another line.) I started heavy breathing until I was near hyperventilation. (Oh. My. Gosh. What’s the matter with her?)
It is at this point that I run the risk of saying something that results in amends to the person I’ve insulted, but the man in front of me gave me a snapshot of my potential bad behavior. He started slamming groceries onto the conveyor, making sure the checker knew about his displeasure before he verbalized it loud enough to bring the attention of those around us.
I was unspired to swallow my frustration. By the time I listened to his tirade, it was easy for me to smile and ask the clerk how her day was going when it was my turn.
I’ve unspired others myself. I love singing. While I know the lyrics of most songs that I like to sing, I have a loose interpretation of melody and enjoy changing the key at least twice in every stanza. My function in a church is to unspire those around me to raise their voices loudly in song…to drown out my voice. I have no problem with that. I’ve been told that when you sing at church, you pray twice. I figure I might be getting quadruple prayers with my vocal unspiration.