Yesterday I sat at a cafe writing briefly before I went to an exercise class. Across from me sat a young woman. I looked up a few times perplexed by the grimace on her face. Flashbacks of a girl I knew in middle school who bullied me and my friends came flooding to my mind. Arms crossed, standing by the lockers with her white Reeboks and acid washed jeans, she looked like she was sucking on a sour lemon and was ready to cause some damage.
I brought my attention back to my coffee and journal but still felt the weight of a lingering stare. I smiled at her (I really wanted to say it’s okay. I am not judging you. I am nice. I am not a woman who judges, but sometimes I do, no matter how hard I try.) But she did not smile back. Then I said, “Hi.” She did not respond and, in fact, got up from her seat and moved to the counter to wait for her drink.
Again, I had memories of being in high school and college and here in Tampa and millions of places in-between, of moments when I tried to connect with another person; a mother at a park, a student in a yoga class, a friend through a text, a man getting coffee, but the person on the other end wasn’t feeling it. Or not feeling it in the same way I was or expected.
Sometimes these missed opportunities for connection leave me feeling like a golden retriever. I just want to be acknowledged, and if I don’t get a pat, I walk away with my head down and tail between my legs feeling dejected, disappointed, and glum.
Today when talking to a dear friend, I had a beautiful epiphany. I realized there are fragmented bits of myself that I really don’t like. And the connection I crave and acceptance I yearn for from others, which is at once very real, has more to do with my need to connect to all the parts of me. And to unify those parts I dislike with the ones I do. These unlikable pieces include but are not limited to: the little girl who says inappropriate things at dinner tables, yacht clubs, and the like, the teenager who gets shamed for inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings, the hyper and impulsive comedian who isn’t really that funny, and the grown up who still struggles with being liked and not fitting in.
Obviously people are going to continue to say and not say things and do or not do things that are going to piss us off from time to time. But it is not their problem to fix it if we get hurt, as flippant as it sounds, it is ours. We have to build up resilience so we can stay true to our spirit whether that spirit resembles a golden retriever or another breed or species.
This spring I ran into some friends at a music festival. The day was abundant in beautiful weather, live music, and sunny faces milling about. When I walked over to say hello to a group of people I know, one of the husbands appeared a bit befuddled, exclaiming, “You’re so…happy.”
This memory came to mind during a skype call with a like-spirited friend and classmate who asked me, “How do you stay light and happy when it often feels like the outside world is trying to bring you down?”
I have thought about this the last couple days, and the answer I have come up with is that I take time to meet my own needs and not rely on other people to make me feel good about myself. I must speak my truth and be honest about my feelings, values, and goals even if they are not popular. And I need to remember that even when others don’t appreciate the light I have to offer, it is not my responsibility to dim it but instead to burn brighter and shine more brilliantly. Let the words of Marianne Williamson ring in your ears and warm your heart:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Marianne Williamson from A Return to Love