About once a month on a Sunday night we all go over to Mom’s for waffles. It’s all pretty informal—we use paper plates and cups, and the adults just eat on their laps while the youngest children eat at the table or counter. There’s no pulling out all the tables and table cloths, no setting out plates and silverware, no messy pans to scrub. The only things to clean up are the bowls Mom mixes the batter in and the forks and knives we use for eating. The hardest part is getting all the sticky syrup off the counter. All in all, it’s a whole lot easier than a big Sunday dinner, and it still serves the purpose of getting the family together.
At our last waffle night, I was at the counter putting peanut butter and syrup on my waffle. (Yes, peanut butter. It’s really good—you should try it!) The great-grandchildren, all of whom are my grandchildren, were seated at the table and suddenly began to laugh uproariously.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Oh, Marjorie’s dead,” was the answer.
Marjorie? Who in the heck is Marjorie? And why in the world is her demise so funny? Well, come to find out, Marjorie is my three-year-old granddaughter’s imaginary . . . um . . . I don’t know quite what to call her. You see, Marjorie is an old woman with glasses. The last part of that description is visual. Every adult who told me about her made circles with their thumbs and forefingers and then put them up to their eyes like glasses. My guess is that is how my granddaughter always described her.
So I asked my granddaughter, “How’s Marjorie?”
Thinking maybe Marjorie would be resurrected, I asked my granddaughter about her the next day. “She is already died,” she answered, the tone of her voice definitely conveying the idea that Grandma was kind of slow on getting the picture.
We have no idea where in the world the name Marjorie came from; there is no one on either side of the family with that name. Why my granddaughter would create an imaginary an old woman with glasses who was mean to her and tried to get her in trouble is an even bigger mystery. But then, this is a three-year-old who described somebody as “feisty” to me the other day. You never quite know what is going to come out of her mouth.
As I’ve thought about it, I have come to the conclusion that I, too, have an imaginary Marjorie who is mean to me and tries to get me in trouble. She is that incessant voice in my head that tells me I am not now nor will I ever be “enough,” whatever that means. She gleefully reminds me of dumb mistakes I’ve made in my life, things I hope no one ever finds out about because I would be really embarrassed if they did. She tries to convince me that I am defined more by my weaknesses than my strengths. And she works overtime trying to get me into emotional trouble by inducing me to listen to her and believe she is telling me the truth. Thirty years ago, she was the voice of hopelessness and despair that caused me to want to end my life. Marjorie is definitely not a friend.
The practice from Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks is “See the Good in Yourself.” The authors describe Marjorie’s mission in the following way.
Each of is us is like a mosaic, with lots of lovely tiles, some that are basically neutral, and a few that could use a little—ah—work. It’s important to see the whole mosaic. But because of the brain’s negativity bias, we tend to fixate on what’s wrong with ourselves instead of what’s right. If you do twenty things in a day and nineteen go fine, what’s the one you think about? Probably the one that didn’t go so well. (p. 29)
Picturing my life as a mosaic made me realize that Marjorie is just one aspect of the broader panorama. For some reason, considering Marjorie this way made me think of the Where’s Waldo? books, only the title of my story is far too often Where’s Marjorie? I spend more time searching in every nook and cranny of my mind for imperfections than I do enjoying the good things that are also a part of me. At least when you go looking for Waldo, he is always smiling when you finally find him. Not Marjorie. When I track her down, her expression is one of disapproval and disdain.
I think my granddaughter was right to kill off Marjorie. None of us needs her negative nattering rattling around in our brains. Life is already challenging enough; focusing on the things we do wrong makes things harder, not easier. This doesn’t mean we disregard our mistakes and discard our efforts to become better, it just means we ignore the voice that says only a complete idiot would make such a dumb blunder in the first place.
Marjorie, rest in peace—if you can. I’m going to go look for Waldo. He likes me.
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