What happened? Well here, have a look for yourself:
Scenario 1: I'm enjoying brunch au terrasse with a friend. The food is perfect, the day is spring-fresh, sparkling, the company convivial, the conversation genuine and engaging. Out of nowhere, my friend reaches over and grabs my hands.
"You need some cream, Kathryn. Your hands are dry." She says this as she soaks them with lotion.
I override my reflex to pull away to smooth the slathered lotion (and from where did this little travel bottle materialize? I missed that...) into my hands myself. Instead, I let my friend pamper me: I decide to feel pampered. It's rather nice, I decide, to let someone else massage lotion into my hands.
"I know, I'm so dry--it's the swimming, the chlorine," I explain. "I can't keep up with it." Why I'm explaining, I'm not sure. It doesn't bother me that my hands are dry. In fact, I hadn't even noticed.
If it all stopped there, I think that would've been the end of it, but it didn't.
"And your arms...," she says as she works her way up them. I've shed my jacket, so they are bare now and soaking in the morning sun. She looks pained while she does this, as though I have sustained some injury unbeknownst to me that she will now nurse. She casts a quick glance around the restaurant:
"I feel funny doing this here, but..." Her self consciousness is brief; she quickly returns to her task.
"You're not wearing sunscreen," she states with a grimace.
However startled I was by the unexpected skin treatment in the middle of brunch on a busy patio surrounded by other diners, I am even more startled now. I know I applied sunscreen to my face before walking to this rendezvous, but she doesn't. And yes, it's true: my jacket is off now, my arms are taking a little sun.
"How do you know I'm not wearing sunscreen?" I ask.
"Because you have wrinkles!" she announces, straight as toothpicks.
A blur of ego reflexes what are you talking about!?, I don't... occur and, thankfully, pass. Instead, I move to set the record straight.
"I have sunscreen on my face, and I apply creams at night, and... if I have wrinkles it's because I'm smiling all the time."
Again, I'm not sure why I'm explaining, given I'm fine with my appearance. Yet I am irked; it's only later that I will realize why.
Scenario 2: My mother is a widow, just over a year now. She's so far been successful at keeping her spacious six-room ranch house and property up, but she's needed a good deal of help.
It is a lovely Sunday in April. The sun has shone brilliantly, warmly for several days. I have been mostly busy with work and other commitments. This day, this glorious, perfectly pristine day, all--and I mean all--I want to do is be out in it, greeting the new blossoms of cherry, azalea, magnolia, forsythia, drinking in their fresh, sweet scents. But I have promised to join my Jewish sister for her family Seder. And I have agreed to stop on the way to give my mother a hand: she has a new list.
With just the hour or so that we have, it is a matter of working down the list, crossing things off as I go. But before long, I am feeling very slave-like. She is snippy, really harsh, and I don't like it. I think, This is what I get for helping? I say, "You might think about treating the people who help you better; otherwise they're not going to be so motivated to help."
She huffs a bit, but it is only five or ten minutes later that she has readied a retort.
"I think you oughta give an old lady who's lost her husband room to be in a bad mood."
"No," I say, "that's no excuse for being mean." And by the way, she's not an old lady.
Mean. What do I mean 'mean'? Well, short-tempered, grouchy, callous, demanding, ungrateful, irritable, justified--and uncharacteristically so. But beyond the whip-cracking 'do this, do that' delivered with an edge was this:
"Your hair looks awful again, dry." Scowl.
She had given me the gift of this information, in similar fashion, the weekend prior as well. I'm not any more pleased about it the second time around--not because of the content, I realize later; I'm happy with how my hair looks, and it really doesn't bother me that she isn't.
So what is it that bugs me, even after the fact?
Scenario 3: Seder. I'm lending my sister a hand with the hors d'oeuvres, making a salad and dressing from scratch. Her friends arrive, and I click with the husband right off the bat. We converse congenially, playfully. Before I know it, to my surprise, he's informing his wife that I write, teach writing.
"Did you know...?" he asks her.
"No, I did not know that," she answers.
I am bumble-bee'ing around the kitchen.
"But that's not all I do." Counter to fridge to cabinet to table to counter, I slip in the front hall, buzz on over to my purse for a brochure, a card.
"I am also a Clarityworker." I tell them in casual "elevator" form what that is then add:
"I also have a business called Love's Freeway."
"Love's FREEway!" the husband exclaims. He continues to seem genuinely interested.
I hand him the card, and he takes it with a decided "Hmm."
Later, I see his wife reading from the insides of my trifold Clarity brochure. Neither comments, not then or later, about any of my enterprises, and I'm fine with that. I feel their genuine interest, or curiosity at least, and I appreciate it. No comment is called for. I am neither selling nor bragging. I have nothing to prove, only something of myself to share with someone who appears interested in it. Still, somewhere in the middle of this, my sister speaks.
"My bohemian sister...!"
She has interpreted me in this way to various friends of hers on other occasions as well, so I am not surprised by her comment. I think I smile when I hear it, but otherwise I say nothing. Yet again, I don't realize until later that I am affected by her words. I'm tired of them, I realize. It's not that they get under my skin like they once did, no. It's just that I'm simply tired of them. Tired, I guess, of the impulse that has her feel like she has to say them.
Let me be clear: it's not what my sister, my mother, my friend have said that unsettles me. It's that they're saying it.
It wouldn't even occur to me to interject "My conservative sister...!" when she interacts with my friends. So I wonder what has my sister interject in this way. Is she embarrassed or something? I'll just have to ask her.
But never mind that. Here is what I'm pondering, really. Isn't it enough if we are, each of us, comfortable with ourselves? No one here means anybody any harm, I know. Yet comment, reaction: neither is called for really, no? Ultimately, I see my puzzlement is this:
Why do we presume?
It's one thing to solicit one another's opinion. Beyond that, can we just let things be, without imposing commentary? Even in such trivial matters as skin and hair care and the random comment about another's lifestyle: can we let others be?
I made it to the park on Monday. The magnolias, the cherries, the scilla, the daffs, the stream: they've got this letting-be down clean. They made no comment on me except to reflect the renewal, the elegance, the pure beauty, however perfectly or "imperfectly" formed, that is Life expressed-- that very same Life of which we humans are a part.
We would never think to tell the blossoming tree, "You should have done it differently." And that clear, gentle, trickle-of-a stream: what could it ever do to embarrass me?
Can you imagine such freedom within our human family?