Today I saw an elderly woman, sitting in a restaurant, who reminded me of my mother. A one-dimensional woman. A paper doll with perfect pearls, a navy suit and well-coiffed hair pasted on. Like mother, she seemed more concerned about how she looked—and how people perceived her—than how she perceived and interacted with those around her. Like mother, I suspect she missed out on the best part of life: Really getting to know another human being.
In order to get to know someone, we have to be willing to be vulnerable.
Most of her life, mother battled low self-esteem and depression. I think the two may have been related. While mother never told me this, I believe her biggest fear was that someone would discover she grew up a poor girl, of divorced parents, from a small town in Tennessee. She was a girl with two dresses: the one she wore and the one she washed and ironed to wear the next day. It breaks my heart to think about that little girl, and the woman she became. I wonder if anyone ever told her how special she was?
Instead of listening—really listening—to what someone else was saying, mother was always figuring out how to present herself in the best possible light. I now believe that’s why she didn’t listen to much of what I said. She was too busy thinking about what she was going to say next and how she would fit in.
It must have been a terrible burden and a full-time job; one that didn’t allow her to relax or let her guard down. It also didn’t allow her to discover her true self, or anyone else’s, including mine. Perhaps the saddest thing was that mother was a smart, attractive woman. Other than her insecurities—which were everything to her—there was nothing she needed to overcome.
She was a girl with no college, but she became a model, a buyer in couture, manager of a retail store and President of Toastmistress. Even so, I think she feared someone would discover she was an imposter, and she belonged in the backwoods of Tennessee.
I wish I could go back in time and tell her she was just as worthy and important as the little girls with lots of clothes and whose parents were married. I would tell her the best love affair we can have is with ourselves. If we don’t embrace the things that are special about us, how can we share, or project, those qualities to others? I would tell her that which we project, we draw close to us.
Like Viola Davis’s character in The Help, I wish I could kneel down beside that little girl in Tennessee and tell her, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Is there someone in your life who needs to hear these words? Perhaps it’s you. Is there something in your past you need to release? Until you love yourself, it’s going to be difficult to love someone else.