Vulnerability: Getting Behind the Mask

I recently had brunch with girl friends. We drank mimosas, sat outside under the trees, laughed, and celebrated just being in each other’s presence again. It was deeply nourishing and satisfying. And more than that there were some refreshing and honest conversations. One began, “I don’t know how you women with children are still married because if I have to clean up cat vomit off our new carpet one more time while I listen to my partner snore, so help me!” Another began, “I’m just going to say that it was awful because I find that if I don’t we’ll just have these conversations about how brilliant and lovely our children are and we’ll start by lying to others and end up lying to ourselves.” And let me just say that statements were so freeing. They were the balm my weary soul required. 

The bold honesty of my fellow women just opened me up, cracked and jostled the persona just enough so that we could really talk. We could have those deep dark conversations about what it has been like to be human and alive throughout this pandemic. It has not been good. And it has been hard and there is a lot of bitterness that we feel guilty expressing or sharing because everyone else seems to be living this idyllic existence. We presume others caught up on their reading lists, home schooled their children, and reconnected with their spouses throughout this global pandemic. 

We know that reality is shaped differently. We know know this because we see it in our own homes, and yet, for some reason we suspect that this pandemic has been easier for others. Easier for those without children. Easier for those with more resources or those who planned ahead and booked vacations, or those who hired nanny’s, or sent their children to private schools where in-person classes never stopped. Easier for parents who were both working throughout the pandemic. Easier for those who’s parents did not live with them. Easier for those who had groceries delivered. The thing of it is that none of this pandemic was easy for any of us. We collectively have suffered, endured, and lost a lot. And just taking a minute at a table surrounded by compatriots and battle weary gladiators, it felt good to see and be seen. 

It felt good to admit our shortcomings and confess our fears and challenges. It felt good to embrace the chaos and own the reality instead of pretending that the illusion is real. We got to take off our masks and reveal our weaknesses to one another and we all felt better for it because then we could laugh. We shared what we could, we kept it light. But we also kept it honest. We gave of ourselves, our hearts, and our humor. We laughed big and hard and the women brunching at tables near ours commented on how jealous they were not to be included in the conversation. 

What a gift to be at the table. What an honor to be surrounded by brave and proud warriors. What a joy to know that I am not alone in my failings. Each of those women gave me hope and comfort and a shelter from the storm of reality. We could admit our weaknesses and we could build each other up. We could forge new bonds and rekindle connections. We could be our most authentic selves and be celebrated for it, not ridiculed or shamed for not portraying the perfect image the world wants. What I celebrate is an act of tyranny. A rejection of the illusion that we are all perfect, that we are taking all of the garbage the world throws at us and making it into homemade dinners and family game nights. We are parking our children in front of screens and baking frozen pizzas so that we can sit silently in the same rooms as our partners scrolling on our phones because that is all we can manage and that is enough. We are all just doing our best and we are enough.

Out in the Cold

I just stood outside in the cold for an hour – and it was glorious. I ran into an acquaintance while out and stopped to chat under a sporadic and flickering street light reminiscent of a horror film. Having not seen her in nearly a year and living in the midst of covid there was much to say. But more than what was said there was an incredible feeling of being seen, making connection, and communing with another human being. At any other point in life I would have rushed through the greeting, dancing on the fine line between polite pleasantries, a comedic back and forth, and end scene. Now, these commonplace moments are not so common and I cling to them desperately. 

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” And he’s absolutely right, I’m just sorry it took a pandemic for me to learn it, although in fairness, don’t we all learn this lesson post-retirement anyway? This fact has been right in front of us all along and I for one, have been completely annoyed and ignorant of the beauty until covid struck, and took all of my other, “more important,” things away. 

The beauty of farting around is something my Dad has known all my life, as I have been told on several occasions, on the bus, in line at the grocery store, “It must be so cool to have him for your Dad.” And I agree, because I love my dad, and I’m not a monster, who disagrees with someone in line to buy produce? Isn’t that one of the unspoken societal laws we all agree to in civilized society? We make small talk about weather, compliment each other’s nails or hair, and ask where did you find the oranges? As if they were not located in the same precarious pile they have always been in for eons in every grocery store since the beginning of time. And would be impolite to deny such simple pleasures and conversation. But the beauty of seeing a kids jersey and asking about the game, noticing a harried parent and offering a word of comfort, or seeing a cake and offering a “happy birthday,” that’s the connection piece my dad has known all along.

I learned this basic truth standing in long lines at the post office with my grandfather. At 19 I was bored and annoyed to inch up a foot just to get closer to the surly clerk in order to ask a question that easily could have been answered with a Google search. My grandfather looked forward to these trips – To The Post Office – as if he were visiting an old friend. He always left with extra stamps, many that would never be used, extra bins and priority shipping containers that he would delight in bringing back with precious cargo the following week for customers who purchased items from his small business. The man loved to chat and would ache for the opportunity to talk someone’s ear off. Now that’s an exaggeration because the person in conversation with him was fascinated and engaged… his children and grandchildren were dying slowly on the nearest bench, willing the time to pass, this moment to end so they could get to whatever we thought was only slightly more important or interesting. We didn’t listen to the stories, we’d heard them so many times, and yet, now that he’s gone, I wonder what his opinion was and what he said to get a reaction or make a friend, or a sale.

Because I now take unspeakable joy from the interactions I share with friends and strangers alike. I value the moments, cherish the time, and I stand in the elements in a darkened parking lot as my toes freeze one by one in the 32 degrees with pleasure. Sitting in my car now, as each one prickles with anger at my behavior and comes back to life I feel grateful and truly alive. The strange realization creeps in, like a dog on hardwoods, we were always supposed to enjoy these interactions. We were always supposed to take the time to chat. There is nowhere more important than here and there is no-one more important than the one we are with right now. This is what it means to be alive and engaged with life. Standing in a church parking lot, talking to an old friend for so long it hurts, farting around and feeling enraptured with joy at the opportunity to do it.