Last night I was at the school carnival. It was my daughter’s last cake walk as a student there. No more duck ponds; we’re even bored by the 5th-6th grade dance room. She and the other 6th graders now tramp through the building like giants in Munchkinland. When she was in preschool and I was so excited for her to start Kindergarten that I took her and her even littler brother to the carnival, only to be overwhelmed by posses of 10 and 11-year old boys rough-housing through the hallways, and gaggles of girls in make up laughing their way hysterically up and down the stairways. Insiders with a secret.
Seven carnivals later, I felt just as much an outsider last night. I took up my role as a door checker in one of the classroom activities and remained there all night, thankful for a niche but still feeling like the oddball who wasn’t laughing, the mom who hadn’t donned lipstick, the introvert stuck in the Fun House.
“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.” – Ram Dass
Everyone else seemed happy, in line, of a sort, part of the crowd. Everyone else seemed comfortable with the kids’ high energy. Everyone else seemed ok with the sideways glancing, cell phone-clutching pre-teen set.
This morning I woke up to a text written from a friend at 1:20 AM. She apologized for not finding me at the carnival. She explained that she’d planted herself in the gym and hadn’t moved because she’d been too “overwhelmed.” I was so thankful to know that someone in another part of the building had been experiencing this too that I exclaimed thank you over my morning mug of tea.
We forget that we are not alone in our feelings of oddness, loneliness, awkwardness, shame, sadness, shyness, quietness. (Name your -ness.) We are all weird. We tell our kids that it’s ok to feel what they’re feeling in part because someone else is surely feeling it, too. But then we isolate ourselves; we forget this is still true when we’re 30 or 40 or 50. I remember my grandmother telling me about the dining room in her the independent living center where she has an apartment, and the dynamics sounded like nothing so much as junior high. There are still cliques when you’re 80.
How many times have I interviewed someone and after I admitted to something potentially shameful in my life – a transgression, a darkness – they’ve suddenly admitted to the same? Yes, I had an affair, a cocaine addiction, a suicidal brother, dropped out of college, hid from my kid, thought I was going crazy and googled “panic attack,” abused my ADD meds, had an abortion, drank too much, threw up too often.
I love the scene in Silver Lining Playbook when the two main characters – both awkward and angry and outcast – meet at a dinner party where they’re supposed to be “good,” then much to their hosts’ discomfort start animatedly comparing medications. Most of my closest friends are people with whom I have had a similar exchange – a moment when things transport from the pleasant and the accepted to the out-loud acknowledgement of, yes, me too! Part of it is recognizing a fellow traveler; part of it is recognizing someone else who is brave enough to put their stuff out there. And I totally remember those moments of trust and openness – where we stood on the side road near the duck pond when she told me this or the moment on the playground when she told me that.
Authenticity is the sticky place where friendships are made and trust built. We feel alive there. And though it’s scary, it’s also surprisingly safe – a space where others are honest builds more honesty with ourselves.
Two examples of this from recent life. My partner and I have been tiptoeing around each other a bit lately. Or just as bad – throwing clumsy boulders. We’re too raw and exhausted to sit down with the necessary silence to ground ourselves and to be present for one another. But this weekend he was away and we used chat and email – the mediums of our first days. Nothing long or dramatic, but in that simple space of type on screen we were able to put down honest words. I could feel more truth than we’d had in some time. Each of us breathed into the recognition and acceptance and, yes, the safety of knowing that the other was fully there. I know I felt renewed connection to his authentic heart and voice.
And this: I wrote a paragraph about who I am as a writer the other day. It was work-related and the kind of thing that I’d usually craft with a bit of gloss and an eye toward appearing professional. I was surprised when this sentence landed on the page: Representing the authentic voice is a guiding goal. I was equally surprised when I thought, “Heck yeah!” and kept it there. Daring to let the mala beads or the tattoo or the scar show under shirt collar. Daring to be.
confinement of your aloneness
that does not bring you alive