the devil you know

The Devil You Know

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And sometimes, on a bright and sunny Friday morning, when everything should be going your way…  there are going to be lawnmowers.

This morning I was playing tennis when the devil showed up. This is not some metaphorical devil. This is the devil in my mind. The angry, frustrated, and hyper-me, who was getting handed a muscular defeat at the hands of a younger, more fit, man. And after taking the first set, we lined up across the court from one another, when the riding lawnmower from hell showed up and parked itself, snarling and running, for 20-minutes, on the exact corner of the court, just beyond the fence, where I was trying to gather my strength and attention to give a more aggressive and forceful fight for the second set.

I know, it was just this guy’s job. But, he drove the loud beast right to the corner of the court and then left. Of course, he left the machine running, as he went off to find something or someone. He left me with a buzzing growl in my head, in my ears, on the tennis court. My opponent and I could not hear each other. We resorted to hand signals and shouting. And the growl grew more and more defining inside my head. I glared over at the empty lawn machine, roaring, and going nowhere. Sitting on my heart. Suffocating my will to win.

What Is This “Devil” That You Are Referring To?

So, let’s just say things are going great. And, they are going badly. All at the same time in my life. And as I’m trying, this morning, to rally my internal support and courage, this innocent lawn man shows up and sits his loud machine on top of my tennis morning. For the first 5-minutes, I struggled. For the next 5 minutes, I complained and joked about the situation. The entire group of 4 side-by-side tennis courts was affected. And then, as if by the devil himself, another lawn man shows up, on another snarling machine, and drives over and parks next to the first one. So, now we’re doubling the painful growl. And I am losing both the tennis and my proverbial shit.

Over the course of the next 10 minutes the two lawn men, walked around their machines, they were doing something with a chain. They buzzed around a bit, as if in circles, and continued to sputter and buzz in my ears. I was now losing 3-0 in the second set. And then something changed. And the second lawn man hummed off to another part of the large lawn he was mowing. And the first lawn man, my arch-nemesis at this point, began driving back and forth along the fence beside the court. In my mind, I asked, “Are you seriously going to mow this same patch of grass ten more times?” He only did eight passes before moving off around to another part of the facility.

And there was quiet. I could still hear the humming as they buzzed around the lower courts. I rallied and still lost 6-3. And the day, came back into focus. I congratulated the young man as I was catching my breath on the bench at the side of the court.

“I’m sorry I got so upset by the mowers,” I said. “Yeah, it’s okay, they were loud.”

I Can’t Talk About What’s Bothering Me, Really

It’s personal. This struggle of mine. This derailment of my beautiful long-term plans and my beautiful morning. And the devil did show up in my life. In the form of a snarling dog that was preventing me from getting into my home. And in a rock concert that represented a demonic torture service. And, ultimately, in the form of a person who has been working to erase me. In the end, sometimes the devil wins. Sometimes, we’ve got to fold our cards, let go of our winnings, and concede defeat. The devil is cunning and baffling. He has many allies. And his most powerful weapon is indifference.

The lawn man didn’t know or care about my tennis match. He was doing his job. And he had a set amount of time to spend mowing the public tennis courts. And if he “mowed” the narrow patch next to court 1 for 25 minutes, no one was going to care. He was putting in his time. He was doing his job. And he was pushing my anger and frustration to the limit.

So I Lost

Today’s match was a tiny metaphor for my life at this moment.

I have lost. I am still in the arena. And I will recover, prepare, and take on another opponent next week.

And, even as I was losing my mind this morning, as this lawn man was driving his insanely loud mowing machine over and over the grass right next to my head, I was okay. I was sad. I was frustrated. I was losing. But I did not break. I eventually began laughing at the absurdity of the situation and my powerlessness.

I could not make the lawn man turn off his machine while he went looking for something. I could not make the “eraser” even shake my hand, nor look me in the eyes. And as painful as it was, I had to let the devil, the lawn guy, and the other guy win. I had to concede my struggle. I had to give up. I am having to let go in a way that is both sad and triumphant.

I lost the match. I did not lose my cool. No matter what the “devil” is up to in our lives, it is our responsibility to take charge of our own actions and reactions to others. And then, we must take care of ourselves. We cannot manage anyone else’s life. We cannot take responsibility for their healing, their troubled journey, and their freakish animosity. We cannot do it. We can only manage our own lives, our own journey, and our own happiness.

And when we have done the very best we can, given trying circumstances, and fought to the very last point, it is okay to accept defeat. And in defeat, learn the lesson of the day. The lawnmowers are going to show up in your life. You cannot control them. But you can control your response to them, by taking responsibility for yourself, and ultimately, taking care of yourself.

The devils will show up in our lives. And we are the only ones who can take care of ourselves.

Ultimately, the devil that inserted himself in my relationship also won. His victory, however, was at the compliance of my then-girlfriend. She let him be a bastard and continued to support his animosity toward me, while still claiming to love me. WTF? It was a toxic situation that I could not comprehend. I’m not used to having an enemy. I hope he’s swimming in his own bile.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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