Friday, October 9, 2015

It was a Wednesday afternoon when I walked into Starbucks that day nearly six years ago. I stood at the bar, waiting for my drink, when the barista politely asked me what I was up to that day. As it turns out, I was en route to the airport at that moment…about to catch a flight to Italy with my husband. After a brief minute of chatting, the barista handed me my coffee and wished me a nice trip. “But then again”, she said “why wouldn’t you…your life is golden!”
I’ll admit…the gold star was nice. But at the same time, the words knocked the wind out of me. She wasn’t being rude. She wasn’t being sarcastic. In fact, she was being totally genuine. And that’s the part that really took my breath away.
Because here’s the thing…
This lovely girl saw me for all of five minutes a day. Usually all dressed up on the way to my full-time job at one of the country’s most prestigious art galleries. Or with my camera in hand to photograph two people in love. Or, yes, on my way to Italy for ten days to celebrate my anniversary. This is what she saw. Therefore, this is what she knew.
And truth be told, there is darkness in this kind of knowledge. Especially now, when so many of our connections happen only five minutes at a time…fully filtered and perfectly hash tagged. In our defense though, it’s not entirely our fault. That battle we’re fighting…those rough days were having…they don’t tend to translate very well when you have twenty people in line behind you for coffee or a hundred and forty characters to spell out your day.
Honestly, what was I going to tell my barista?
“Yes, we’re flying to Europe. I just miscarried our baby…we had a terrifying health scare…I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder…and we’re feeling pretty far from God right now. So, yeah, going to Italy seemed as good a place as any to just run away from our life and justifiably eat gelato twelve times a day.”
No. I wasn’t going to tell her this. Because shocking total strangers into oblivion is a bit harsh and cruel. Especially when she’s the girl in charge of making your coffee every day.
But I did spend the entirety of that flight wondering; about our sense of authenticity…our collective vulnerability…our polished identity. And it made me feel like a total fraud. Because I’m not any of those things that this girl sees on the other side of her coffee bar.
If I showed up one morning, wearing my most ragged and scarred self…it would be a very different girl staring back at her [and she would likely feel inclined to serve me alcohol instead of coffee!]…
Because I was bullied a lot as a teenager.
I’m afraid of thunderstorms.
I spend an absurd amount of time worrying about what other people think of me.
My biggest challenge in life is letting go of people. Even if they hurt me.
I hide behind my humor for fear that people won’t accept me without it.
I feel like I have failed as a daughter.
I try to avoid big groups so that I won’t feel like the invisible one among it.
I'm insanely self-conscious of my smile.
I feel like I’m an easy person to walk away from in life…and it haunts me on a daily basis.
I almost always operate under the assumption that I care more about everyone else than they do about me.
I unfollow people on Instagram if their life seems too perfect because it makes me feel inadequate.
I feel like a terrible mother pretty much all the time.
I hate emptying the dishwasher.
Every day, I’m afraid that my husband is going to wake up and finally realize how much crazy he married.
I thank God for every day that he doesn’t!
I don’t like to try new foods…so I travel with my own jar of peanut butter.
I want to write a book so badly that it hurts. But I’m afraid of people telling me that my life was never worth telling.
I struggle, every single day, with feeling like I’m enough. Skinny enough. Funny enough. Good enough.
And I cry. A lot.
I highly doubt I would get a gold star for any of this. But, now, six years later, I do know one thing for sure; that even with all of my frailty…all of my fears…and all my faults…none of those things make my life any less golden.
Scars tell stories. Scars mean survival. Scars mean you showed up for the fight instead of running from it.
And we’ve all got them…even the sweet girl serving my coffee. She’s fighting her own battle…defending her own front line…struggling in her own way.
And maybe it’s not about collecting gold stars for the perceived reality we give the world on Facebook…but it’s about the purple hearts we get for living bravely among the real one.
Because life requires guts…it requires bravery…and it requires vulnerability.
So, buy your coffee…wear your scars proudly…and carry on, dear soldier…
You’re not in this battle alone.

     This story resonated with me. Here is a woman who admits to her vulnerability. She is authentic. People we interact with all day long have no idea what our unique stories are. Most aren’t interested, the majority don’t care, but too many judge. This story is the reverse of the stories we hear or the experiences we may have had. Usually, it’s the crabby person or the angry attitude that draws our attention, not the soft smile. Regardless, the masks we wear rarely reveal our true selves. 

     In this digital age where emotions are played out in tapping or caps or emoji-code, little attention is given to authenticity. I remember a friend of mine saying to me years ago, “You need to read The Velveteen Rabbit. It’s all about being real.” I was very offended. I assumed this person thought I was fake or superficial, and I was neither. Whatever I said or did that made him make that comment sent me into serious introspection. I never did find out what he was implying, but I made sure that when my grand-daughters were old enough to read, they had a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. 

     Some people show their emotions openly on their faces, in their body language or in actual words.  Others hide behind jokes, rambling, storytelling, dissing others. The description we have heard all too often in the past couple of years is, “He was a quiet, soft-spoken guy who kept to himself.” These words described terrorists and mass murderers. The interesting thing is that we are less likely to judge the person who does not call attention to himself, and he is the one who needs the attention. 

     They (whoever “they” are) say that judging is human nature. I find that difficult to swallow. Does this mean we come out of the womb with the judgment gene, and criticizing others just comes naturally? I don’t think so. So where does it come from, why do some people always feel judged and others delight in judging? In my humble opinion, parents teach children judgment in a few significant ways. First, they model it. Comments like, “Did you see how fat Mary looked in that dress?” or “Boy, they sure flaunt their money. I wish we had money to flaunt.” A child hears such comments and learns to scrutinize, compare and evaluate. The parent never said, “Johnny, go ahead and judge people; it’s human nature.” Johnny learned anyway. Secondly, parents compare siblings to each other and to their friends’ children. When they say, “Sally was voted Homecoming Queen. She is so beautiful.” A bar is set:  Queen or nothing. Beautiful or ?
Finally, parents sometimes say things like, “Now you need to exercise more, honey, and lay off the chips. What will your friends think if you don’t look fit and pretty?” This tells the child that the opinions of others contribute to her self-definition. She thinks, “If my friends don’t approve, then I have no value.” 

    Parents do the best we can. We don’t have degrees in parenting. No one teaches parenting. We learn how to parent by watching our own and either using them as models or rebelling against them for whatever reason. One of my former students said to me the other day, “I don’t want to be in a marriage like that of my parents.” I remember saying, “I don’t want to scream and holler like my mother did.” Well, guess what? It’s not easy when we are wired from birth to behave and react in certain ways. It is strange that sometimes the best parenting can result in a negative result. The bottom line, however, is that so much of who we become begins at home.

     Authenticity is an admirable trait. Authentic means, to me, being real—accepting who we are, being grateful for our positive traits and accomplishments and recognizing our flaws, but not letting any of them define us. 

     The next time you walk into a coffee shop and order your latte, think about this young woman who was so courageous to put her story on face book and share the raw. I truly admire her, as she gives us all pause to reflect.