This Bud's for Me

I've been studying these marigold blooms in the evenings on my fire escape, when my children are in bed, the dishes are done, and the light is still hanging on a little longer.  When I saw this bud, I thought, that's me.  It's easy to compare myself to friends unfolding in their splendor all around me; it's effortless for me to make it mean that I'll never catch up or I'll never get there.  I'm growing too slowly, or I'm not the blooming kind.  These thoughts do not have to be sought out or invited into my company--they loiter always in the corner and butt-in at will. What does take effort is to look at how far I've come.  Out of the seed, up through the soil.  It's an act of attention to notice the stem and its strength, the leaves I've grown to sustain me.  It takes faith to see the tiny tips of orange peeking out and to trust that my own kind of beauty is coming, and that I will unfold in my own time.

How to Look Good and Be Alone

Yesterday my friend, Christiane, and I talked at length about engaging with our communities.  For both of us, there have been times when we've been more engaged than others, and here are a few things we discovered about this:

  • It's easier to invite people to help us if we're in the midst of a Big Event than it is when we're just experiencing every-day kinds of difficulties or needs.  You can say things like, I'm planning a wedding, or I'm finishing my PhD (Christiane), or I'm moving in a week, and you feel more confident that your request will be seen as legitimate or understandable under the circumstances.  But what if you ask a friend to come help you with the kids while you clean the house for company and she arrives and says it already looks clean to her?  Your reaching out for help won't feel legitimized or understood, and if fact you may feel embarrassed that you imposed unnecessarily.
  • We often worry about seeming too needy for asking someone to contribute something to us, yet we would happily oblige the same request from a friend.
  • We respond to the previous fear by either outright hiding or just "not bothering" our friends with our struggles, which creates the image that we're doing better than we are.  Sometimes we do this because we think we're supposed to be able to handle our load without assistance, whatever that load may be.  Sometimes we do this in an attempt to manage our image so we can look strong and capable, like we have it all together.
  • The more we try to tough it out on our own, the more distant our friendships become.  Our friends might decide they aren't needed, or feel shame about their own struggles in light of our fake competence and they may drift away.  If I really think about it, it probably brings my friends great satisfaction when I let my weaknesses show because it probably humanizes me and helps us both see our common ground.  We all have joys.  We all have struggles.
  • We're going to now call this way of being I just described, "How to Look Good and Be Alone".

Togetherness, however, requires a different way of being. I used to worry that if I had local friends, they would have needs that were inconvenient for me to meet.  I have found this to be true in a way that surprises me.  Sometimes things are cut-and-dry, like, No, I can't pick up your child at school today because I'm across the country on a trip today.  But when I can do something and it just seems inconvenient, for now at least those inconveniences lie in the "I'm Busy Looking Good and Being Alone" category, and exchanging looking good for togetherness actually leaves ME being the one who was rescued, in the end.  It reminds me that being just as I am and just as I am not is enough. 

Being loved and being together free me from all kinds of unnecessary striving. The double standard mentioned above is still in my head, so to help myself re-program I'm going to write little notes to myself and post them around my place.  I'm going to pretend my best friend just confided in me that she's struggling with asking for help and I'm going to write down the very true things I would say to her.  Things like:  You can ask for what you need, or,  Your needs are not too much.  Then I'm going to hang them up and receive them as things that are just as true for me as they are for my best friends or for my children.

These are my first steps in recovering from "How to Look Good and Be Alone".  I'm trying to recognize each baby step I take and feel proud of the journey.  I started by confessing these things, first to my friends and then to you, so please use the comments section if you want to say how these things or others affect you.