Appearances. They can be deceiving.
“Appearance: noun. :the way that someone or something looks. : a way of looking that is not true or real.” Def. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 20 July. 2014.
Upon cleaning my cluttered kitchen counter my thoughts returned to earlier this morning. I had sat in church observing the different families that return, week-after-week. By habit, we tend to sit in the same spot: fourth pew, in the middle section, from the very back row. It is always interesting how people react when someone new is sitting where they usually sit. Sometimes they are flummoxed and unsure how to proceed (although the vast majority of our church is wide open). Others get annoyed; feeling ownership to the hard oak bench that is theirs alone.
We spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on appearances.
My family spends an hour or so on a weekend, working together to pick up our home to make it look presentable. I lament my white tile floors and countertops; longing for hardwood and stone. But to whom am I trying to present a beautiful home to? As I scrub bathroom sinks and water plants I realize that organization is more important to me than appearance. I want to know where everything is in my home and at work; to not waste space. To weed through junk and keep things that can be useful.
I want everything to have a place of its own.
I put the watering can down and immediately came upstairs to follow this train of thought. To see it in black and white. Because that’s really what I long for…to know where I belong. To not feel that I am wasting my time and space, adding clutter and distraction. I want to know that there is a place that is mine, alone.
Appearances deceive me. The hardwood floors and stone, the material things, the plastic quick fixes and fashionable clothes have lured me away from my center; steering me away from my true north. Geographically, the Earth’s true north, along gridlines of longitude and lattitude, is the north pole. But the magnetic north is where a compass arrow points to (somewhere in north Canada); fluctuating with the Earth’s core. It can change position with the magnetic fields.
As a young girl I would daydream; concocting fantastic and wonderful adventures of the larger families, who sat next to my own, in church. As an only child I watched the siblings, creating stories in my mind of the busy and exciting lives they led upon leaving the church’s bland and austere doors. It always caught me unawares when these idealized families disintegrated from divorce, mental illness, affairs or sibling squabbles over valuables after funerals. I was naive and my young mind could not fathom artifice or the art of deception. They always appeared happy. Normal.
I find myself, even this morning, imagining the secret lives amongst my fellow parishioners. The large family of seven kids with the daughter who sings off key, each week. The beautiful, regal older woman known for her hats; who volunteers as a hospitality minister every third week. We are getting to know the family who sits behind us; discovering common ground in our husbands and children. And the mom in a family of four whom we’ve dubbed the church fashionista; always turning heads in her various styles of dress. Everyone appears pious and respectful within our church walls. But who are they outside of the edifice of our place of worship? Who are they really? I wonder what my own appearance exudes to others.
Recently my sister-in-law happened to mention a family who are customers of hers…a family with seven kids who attend our parish. Within five minutes she came to the realization that this family knew who we were; always sitting two pews behind us in a vast church of over five thousand families. She had shared antidotes of her nephews’ antics and they were curious; full of questions about our family of five and relayed knowledge about themselves. It is always interesting to reconcile people to their appearances and first impressions. I am always wrong!
My older son, just this week, shared a quote from his beloved sixth grade teacher; who also taught his younger brother this past school year. I had chastised these boys; assuming they had understood the instructions I had given them. After my anger had simmered, my son made the simple statement.
Ninety-nine percent of the time your assumption is wrong. If you don’t know, ask. Never assume.
Appearances. Assumptions. I relayed this statement to the group of women in our bookclub as we talked about ideal families. In January 2010, at our formation, we all had initial impressions of one another based on appearances. The natural inclination is to impress, to dress your best and so we all raised our bars to the woman in our group who always wears high heels and stylish dresses (never pants). We would appear worthy of one another’s company. We were intellectuals, weren’t we?
And four and a half years later, we continue to discover and dismantle our assumptions. Heels and dresses can reveal an inner vulnerability and depth most people aren’t allowed to see. Sometimes the person who appears to have the most friends is the most lonely. The woman whose life appears perfect can feel abandoned and disillusioned. The busy and successful career can bring dissatisfaction and unfulfilled dreams.
As I tidied up my kitchen I realized something. Something important. I am most happy with my home when everything is put in its place. I don’t need gleaming appliances or travertine tile to achieve contentedness.
We all search for our place to belong. Our journey, on this Earth, is to discover our true north; to organize our thoughts and things to create our space and mark our place. Cluttered piles, broken shards and changes are never ending; waiting to be picked up, swept up and duly noted.
I am comforted to have others traveling on my same paths. The joy in the journey is not in having things fixed, upgraded or tied up in pretty little bows. I was grateful for the moments of clarity I was given throughout this weekend. I hit the save button, thoughts on digital white 1080 dpi resolution. It isn’t my home’s appearance, nor my own, that matters. What matters most is to be understood.
My girlfriend emails me the quote from her Al-Anon literature.
“My serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance.”
Gone are the A’s of appearances and assumptions. Aritifice. In their place: Affirmation & Acceptance. Authenticity.