A few months ago, I was walking through the Newark, NJ airport and saw an older woman with bleached white hair, bright red lips and blue eyelids. Her clothes clung to her like a second, sequined skin. My judgmental mind began its work by saying "What is she thinking?" and a smile crept onto my face.
It was at that moment that I literally felt an energy surge in my brain. It made me half dizzy. In an instant, I envisioned the people who loved this woman smiling and saying "That's how she is!" Their faces held the warm amusement many of us carry for those we know and love. The adoration felt is made stronger, in part, because of eccentricities like fake white hair and blue eyelids.
My mind shifted in that moment, the smile on my face grew wider, and I felt love for this woman too. My judgments were replaced by an awe of the uniqueness of this human being and the way she chose to present her physical body to the world around her. For the rest of the day, I found myself walking through the sea of bustling airline passengers saying to myself "I love people." And I meant it.
I thought about the people in my life who I have defended because they are misunderstood and I did not want them disparaged. I thought about the people in my life who understood me and probably have defended my character to others despite a flawed exterior. I thought about those I have judged or shook my head at and how wrong it was to do so.
No matter who we are, we all have someone that knows us and loves us because we are all worthy of love. Even those behind bars after committing horrific crimes have people who mourn the hole left by their leaving society. If everyone has a person or people who can see behind the exterior and love, why can't we all give each other that courtesy? That day, I walked around the airport admiring the shapes, the emotions and the humanity of everyone around me. I was in love with people that day. I wish the spell was a permanent one.
I think of that day often and remind myself of the lesson learned. I work to quiet my judgmental mind and embrace the unseen in others. This works, of course, with varying degrees of success. Sadly, it hasn't been working very well at all when I turn the perspective on myself.
I am single now and have been dating for a few months. It is my new belief that there are few things in life that can make you face your humanity like dating in your late 30's. Illness, obviously, would be first on the list but dating is a close second.
For those of you who are in relationships and haven't dated after the age of 32, 33, let me just say that it is a whole different ball game. The players carry heavy bags of hurt/expectations/logistics that were not nearly as big years ago. Instead of becoming more open to people's differences, daters become more closed and rigid, rejecting potential love for any minor transgression in an email, life circumstance or body type. I am not an exception to this rule, unfortunately.
This harsh world of "are you good enough for me?" causes a self-conscious person like myself to turn inwards and evaluate. Last night, I wrote a long and heartfelt post about the pain of dating and how it can impose a break down on my self-esteem. Seconds after I posted it, I removed it. Why? Because it was too vulnerable. Because it was too human. Because I feared if a potential dater read it he would have an easy reason to move on to the next potential dater. I was ashamed of my humanity and could not bear for you to witness it.
I wish things were different. I wish that more people would assume the best before looking to pick apart the flaws. I wish more people wanted to understand rather than judge. I wish more people would assume everyone worthy of love before deciding they aren't good enough for their love. I wish we celebrated our humanity instead of tried to hide it.
Today, I feel these things more acutely because of being single and dating at 37. But these things are not new, either. How many of us strive to put our "best self" forward at work, in social settings, or in a new relationship of any kind? Doesn't "best self" really translate to an unwritten definition of what society has deemed to be a desirable person? So we hide our bawdy sense of humor, we gloss over our grief, we feign interest or disinterest...the list could go on.
What's my point? Am I suggesting we revert to childhood where we have no filters and wildly express emotion even in the middle of a grocery store? No. There is something to be said for the awareness of an adult who recognizes they are not the center of the universe and behaves accordingly. There is also something so appealing about the person who knows how to be real and vulnerable, even in the face of disapproving eyes.
As I move forward through this humbling experience of dating later in life (and walking a lifespan tightrope, I might add) I will strive to find the strength to be who I am. If illness has taught me one thing, that is resilience.
It is these lessons of illness that carry me through the struggle of dating. I know that I have the capacity to be knocked down over and over, brush myself off and resume forward motion. I know that, even when it hurts like hell, I can trust myself in knowing I will be ok; this too shall pass. When I get knocked down, when it hurts like hell, I will continue to choose to remain vulnerable in the pursuit of what I seek. I, again, find myself thankful for the gift of CF. It has not made life easy and that is precisely why I trust myself in the face of difficulty.
As for you, I love you. You and all of your hidden and unhidden eccentricities are what make life on earth such a vibrant, interesting adventure. My eccentricities may butt heads with yours and this might make friendship unlikely but I love you anyway. You are worthy of love. All of us are. Now, I just need to be brave enough to keep believing that for myself.