Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Problem with Isolation

It began with a Season of Busy. There was exhaustion and errands and doing the bare minimum, just to survive, and barely holding it all together.  But, it was okay -- I knew it was only for a season and that I would be back to being a person and a friend and a part of my community.

It started with a letting-go of always needing to explain myself... always needing to come out on top... always needing to be right.  It was an acknowledgement that sometimes explaining myself just made it worse, and couldn't I just be content with what I could and couldn't change? I think it was healthy.

But then, there was the week where everything that came out of my mouth got twisted by other people to mean something that I hadn't intended. And some of that I probably deserved... I am not always as pure in intent as my ego convinces me that I am. --  But some of it was not.

I began to defend myself... explain myself...  and I just took a breath and I thought, "Is this really so important?"... and I just let it be.

The problem with that was that I let it be publicly... but I internalized the hurt that came with the misunderstanding. I felt wounded -- and instead of dealing with it, I sucked it inside and let it fester.

The truth was that I was tired of feeling like people were just looking for something to argue with me about... and so I did what I always do.

I tightened up my edges. If I didn't say anything, then no one could find anything to find fault with. I couldn't get wounded.

So I pulled inward. Inward and inward and inward. The problem is that once you start pulling inward, it can be hard to stop.  So, you just keep retreating and retreating.

It stops people from finding fault with the things you say or do, yes.  But once you retreat as far as you can go, you begin to realize that you have completely isolated yourself.

And completely isolating yourself is very lonely.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Wrong People

Today, I was at lunch with one of my teenagers. She confided that she'd stumbled across a journal she kept when she was in elementary school, and it was "SO DRAMATIC."

I asked for an example, and she said, "Well... I was kind of sad and wrote that I thought you had to be perfect all the time for people to like you."

"That's interesting...  what do you think about that now?"

She paused for a minute and answered thoughtfully, "I don't believe that now...  I just think I wasn't talking to the right people."

And I thought that was quite wise...

Sometimes when the world seems like it's against us and we believe all the negative things about ourselves, maybe we're just not talking to the right people.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The One Who Was Invisible

I spent a lot of time in Seattle earlier this year. Errands had me returning there again and again, which is outside of my norm.  I'm a suburbs girl.

But I ended up making the best of it... doing what I needed to do, throwing it all into a day's outing, walking around town and smiling at as many people as possible. I made it a game with myself.

Pick at least one person on each block... See them. Smile at them. Say "hello." Find something that would make their day just one iota brighter than the moment before I walked into it.

I'm not sure that my mom loved this game. I think she imagines that I'm always in my house, and the idea of me running around "the big city" by myself all day... talking to strangers...  I'm sure that gave my overprotective momma fits.

But, looking back, there is one that I missed...  and I have regretted missing him ever since.

One of these afternoons, I was walking the mile back to my car, flashing my ever-so-winning smile at anyone I passed. I'd tarried too long at the pier, so of course I was cutting it close on getting back home in time to greet my kids on their return from school. On the way, I passed a man.

I couldn't tell you how old he was, but I want to say young-ish.  I couldn't see his face, but there was something about the way he sat that said 20s to me.  But who's to say?

He sat crosslegged on the sidewalk, his back against the wall... but hunched over his own lap.

He had a coat draped over his head, and he sat staring at the ground below him.  Or napping? I don't even know.

I slowed down to read the piece of cardstock he had sitting beside him on the ground.

"I Feel Invisible."

and I didn't stop.

There are lots of reasons.  I was late. I am a girl alone in downtown Seattle. He could have been a deranged lunatic. He could have had a knife or a gun. None of those are unwise reasons.

so I didn't stop.

But I should have. I really should have.

Me, who tries to be deliberate about making it a practice to see people...  Someone begged me to see them, and I walked right on by.

I will always wonder what kind of changes could have been made in the truth of his sign if I had looked past my fears and just bothered to stop.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Night I Should Have Just Gone Home

If you had said it to me then, I would have argued and denied it. Vehemently, even.

But, looking back from where I sit now -- for when is our vision clearer? -- you could have been right.

I wasn't supposed to be there that night. Not in that courtyard. Not down that alleyway. And yet, I had gone. I had crept down it silently, keeping to its shadows. No one could know for it was forbidden.

Not to everyone, but to me. And so I was the mouse, the vermin.

I couldn't say now why I had felt compelled to go. Why hadn't I just left well enough alone? Done what I was told? I should have gone home. But curiosity had me by the tail and wouldn't let go. I didn't want to be part of it necessarily - I just wanted to see it happen.

The alleyway opened into the light and I skirted its edge. I could have withstood the consequences of recognition, but it was easier without them. So I drew my cloak close and joined the edges of the crowd.

He was already at the gate, holding court-- he on his side of the gate, the crowd on ours. There were sighs. Women swooned.

It was a bit surreal to see him in life -- like a picture that had jumped off the page when you looked away and now suddenly wouldn't return from where it had come. I was too far away to hear the words he said, but the music of his voice reached me on the wind.

There was a spell in the timbre of it.

Soon, another from the Court emerged into the courtyard and the mob followed, like dogs after the scent. The corners of his mouth turned up with a glint of sardonic humor and he made his way back to the Castle doors.  The mob would come again as they did every night and, when they did, he would weave his spell once again.

I didn't follow after the mob. But I didn't leave either. I found myself alone, hands wrapped around the steel of the gate, wishing to speak but afraid to utter words. Someone called his name from afar and he turned to wave them away until the next moonlight. But, his eyes caught mine instead, and he stopped.

It was too late to run. Anonymity was no longer mine. I was still the mouse-- but the mouse that had ventured across the kitchen floor and was now in the sights of the housecat. He smiled as he returned to the gate, his guard following in his shadow.  I didn't know what to make of that smile. When he spoke, I could feel the music of his spell float around me and I shook my head to ward it off.

I understood how he held the mob in such thrall. It wasn't that he was handsome, though this was what was said. It was that he was so utterly charming. My mother had taught that a charming man was a dangerous man.  That a man who oozed charm always knew what to say to turn your head at the right moment from the things that you should be looking at. That a man who knew what to say could never quite be trusted to mean what he said. In everything that passed after, I would always wonder who I was speaking to -- the charmer or the one who lay underneath.

Maybe they were always the same.

He lied to me that night, and not for the last time. You will hold that against him. Maybe you should, though I will rush to excuse him. It wasn't a lie meant to harm, but to shade a truth that might have wounded. A lie is like that sometimes. It feels like kindness, but...

If he had fed me the same lie today, I would have called him on it and we would have laughed. But, I didn't see it or I chose to ignore it... or I just didn't know that I could do anything different.

I must admit with chagrin that his spell worked on me that night, despite my convictions to the contrary. I should have known. As we spoke, I forgot who we both wore. But the guard cleared his throat and looked pointedly at my hands still clutching the railing of the gate, too near to his charge.

I lowered my eyes and stepped back, chastised. I had forgotten that we were from very different castes, very different worlds. His spell, his laughter... they had made me forget and the spell he had woven nearly crashed around me with the remembering. He glanced behind him with annoyance and stepped up to the gate himself, leaning across it as he quickly re-wove the magic.

I felt a flush of gratitude toward him in that moment as I listened to his voice.  And while I would have denied it then, that was the moment I began to love him.

Perhaps the spell still holds sway. Perhaps it is better that way.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

I'm a Superhero

I have a hidden talent.

I didn't used to see it as a talent. It was just a thing that I did, that I liked to do. But, over time, I've begun to recognize it as a talent.

Not just a talent... it's my superpower.

For years, I've had strangers stop me... usually old men (it's less creepy than it sounds... I think older people just care less about being weird)... and they would say, "I just had to tell you that you have the most beautiful smile."

I would say my thanks... but I sort of always thought it was the kind of thing you'd say to be nice to the overweight girl.  You know how you say... "Well, she has a really nice personality..." when you couldn't say she was gorgeous and svelte? I thought it was like that...  and so I appreciated it, but I always thought it was a cop-out compliment. The best someone could come up with when they couldn't come up with anything else.

But... as time has gone by, as my body shape has changed, as I've grown in self-confidence...  I still get the same comments.  But more, I've begun to pay attention to the power that a smile has -- and it does. It has great power -- but you have to mean it.

It isn't enough to crinkle your face into a uptilted moon. Your eyes have to mean it. You have to want to earnestly pass on a little bit of joy to someone else, even if it's just for a moment.

What I believe is that most people desperately want to be seen. In a world where it is ever so easy to hide in our phones and our computers, where we rush from place to place, where we're absorbed in our own busy -- more than ever do I believe that most people want to be seen for who they are, want to be appreciated for who they are.

Sometimes a smile is just that... a smile, and then it's over. But being willing to smile at strangers and to really see people opens you up to the possibility of more. I believe people want to be seen because I've seen what happens when people feel seen.  And all of a sudden, you find yourself in conversations with people you've smiled at because they grasp at being seen like a hungry child. Before you know it, a smile has turned into an exchange, and an exchange turns into a conversation, and they walk away from that one smile... seen.

And so I don't think of my smile as a second-rate compliment anymore. It's my gift. And so now I find myself looking for places to use it.

Because when  you have a superpower, you have a responsibility to use it for the greater good. Isn't that what superheroes are for?
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