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September 28, 2010

Everyone likes to feel unique, special, different.  It’s why teenagers adopt such distinct(ly different) clothing styles — so they can all be different together, I guess.  I’ve never had any insecurities in this regard — probably because my parents did such a spectacular job of raising all their kids to have a healthy self-esteem, or perhaps because there is something missing in my psyche that ought to provoke the eternal  question, “Do I fit in here, do I really belong?  When will ‘they’ catch on to me and kick me out?”  I joke that “they” are going to take away my feminist card because I am in the epitome of a traditional marriage, or my Texas card because I really and truly do hate to shop, but those are only jokes, and that “they” would take away my magic card that entitles me to anything I set my sights on has never occurred to me.

Even when we lived in Japan, set apart by language, appearance, size, custom, fashion, and probably fifteen other things that I am not even aware of, I never felt the stigma of “other.”  Surely myself and my family were as gaijin as we could be.  Yet this never bothered me as it did some of my friends.  Japanese culture is famously polite and welcoming, and we never sought to be anything other than strangers in a strange land.

Moving to Texas has been harder. I’ve gotten the junior high-esque shoulder a number of times.  My mom-friend, a dyed-in-the-wool Texan, kindly explained it to me, “It’s the way you talk, fast, like a New Yorker.  It makes them uncomfortable. They can’t help it.”  Also, as a stranger-mom I met in the park unkindly said to me, when I explained that I had just moved from Tokyo a month ago and did not know anyone in Dallas, “We all went to school together starting in the same preschool, all through college. Our moms went to school together too.”  At that point, I shrugged it off and stopped looking at houses in that neighborhood and started looking in the great neighborhood we live in now.  But I never felt stigmatized.

Three years ago, about this time of year, I had just finished chemotherapy,  I hadn’t yet had surgery, nor radiation, and I felt kinda okay.  It was a gorgeous day, and Chris and I decided to take the kids to the park.  After a few minutes, I began to panic, so I told him I was walking  home.  I didn’t make it.  I stopped instead to see my neighbor Nan, a very old lady who is the wisest, kindest, and most direct person I know.  I could barely make myself understood, I was crying so hard, but eventually I got the words out, “Everyone at the park was so happy, and normal, and I felt like the fat kid at the beauty pageant.”

“I know, dear,” said Nan. “I’ve felt the same way.”

I stopped crying.  “When did you feel like that.  You haven’t had cancer.”

“After my husband died.”

“You don’t feel that way any more.  How did you get over it?”

“I made myself LIVE.  And you will, too,” she said, and fixed me with her EYE.  I love Nan.

I remembered this episode last week in chapel.  My kids’ awesome school has chapel every Wednesday morning, and every time I go, I remember why I am so glad that we wound up at that school.  As usual, a few moms were sitting together chatting including my beautiful friend who has just finished treatment for ovarian cancer.  My beautiful friend looked beautiful, as she always does, with makeup and cute clothes and a matching scarf on her head.  I should point out that the whole time I was in treatment, and after, until I felt better, I wore old stained sweatshirts and mismatched sweatpants, sunglasses, and a ski cap. No one would ever have called me their beautiful friend.  I was about to join my friends when I noticed on the other side a woman whom I like very much, but do not know very well, sitting by herself.

The mom who was sitting alone experienced a family tragedy last year.

I didn’t even think about it. I went and sat next to her.  Not out of pity, or sympathy, but because it felt natural to me.

I hope I didn’t intrude.  I don’t think I did.

From → Uncategorized

  1. As far as I’m concerned, you will always be my beautiful friend.

  2. Anne Slater permalink

    One thing that my minister says at least once a month from the pulpit is “The best present you can give another person is your presence.”

    You gave the best.

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