“Only your real friends tell you when your face is dirty.”
– Sicilian Proverb
Most people have episodes from their lives that they would rather not talk about. I’m not talking about serious issues like the trauma of heartbreak or professional failure – although naturally most folks don’t want to dwell on those topics either. I’m referring to those perfectly harmless and yet potentially embarrassing past experiences that we strive to keep to ourselves, even as we delight in recalling similar events in the lives of others.
Many of us persist in the desire to white wash over the less than wonderful moments of our lives. Why is it that we worry so much about purely trivial matters? Will our family and friends mock us if they discover our phobic fear of clowns and squirrels? Will they continue to remind us, decades later, of the time we tried to make brownies and forgot to add flour? Will they make us feel stupid for accidentally tying the car doors shut when we secured the Christmas tree to the roof of the car?
Yes. They most certainly will. They will repeat the information with relish to anyone who will listen. They will tell these stories over and over, and submit them to Reader’s Digest for the whole world to read. They will drag out photos of you sporting that bad perm from the 80s every time the family gets together. When you show up for your high school reunion, everyone will take the opportunity to remind you of the day you dove into the YMCA pool and your swim suit top came off. You could be old and gray, and still people would want to discuss how you managed to get a failing grade in Beginning Typing – not once, but twice.
That’s okay. You’ll get over it. You’ll learn to laugh at yourself, because it really is funny. You don’t have to take it personally, because you can realize that the stories are told with love and laughter…and because you have quite a few stories about them to tell as well. Often, these shared stories take on a life of their own, becoming richer and larger with each retelling. They become a sort of living history, a testament to the time you’ve known each other.
These stories are told by people that have known you, all of you, even the part of you that walks into closed sliding doors and chokes on your own spit, and yet, they still think you’re pretty awesome. It’s good, actually, to hear these stories. They remind us to lighten up a little and learn to accept ourselves just as we are. We can be confident, not because we’ve maintained a spotless public persona, but because we’ve learned to be at ease with ourselves. Our image becomes less idealized, but far more interesting, far closer to who we really are.
Because really, when the serious stuff does happen (and it happens to everyone), who do you really want to turn to? Not the people who only know the best of you. Not the people who have only seen you dressed up, hair curled and lipstick perfect. When the bottom drops out of your world, that’s when you seek out the people who know and love you, even the supposedly unlovable you, the you who once cussed out a hapless McDonald’s cashier because she shorted you on your change and then wouldn’t make it right. You want the people who share your story – your whole imperfect story – the people who truly ‘get you.’
The best part? The best part is this: those people, the same ones who spend thirty-five years teasing you about the time you decided it was okay to substitute olive oil for vegetable oil in an apple cake recipe, those people are the ones who hold you up in the midst of chaos. Those are the people who fight your battles when you’re too weak to fight them yourself. They hold you close, let you cry, and clean you up. They pull you through heartache and loneliness. If you get fired, they help you find a new job – a better job! If you get lose your way, they show you the path. When you can’t seem to find the will to comb your own hair, they pull you out of bed and give you a makeover. When it seems like the whole world is against you, there they are, standing with you, pushing back against those who would seek to keep you down.
And when it’s over, when the storm has passed, do they remind you of your mistakes? Do they tell you that you brought this mess on yourself? Do they say “I told you so”? Do they berate you for your poor decisions and tell the whole world how you screwed up – again?
No. They most certainly do not – because those are the people who love you best.