In the afternoon, yesterday, I got together with my best friend, Mu, at our (now) favorite meeting place. It's called a bistro but it should have the word cafe in its name. It's a quiet place with leather arm chairs pulled up to circular small tables. We usually sit by the window, split a sandwich and drink coffee, and talk till the cows come home (or until our cell phones ring and one of our kids is calling us).
She and I connect without trying. We have little in common, really, except our way of looking at things. We want to grow. We want to see each other develop her strengths and abilities. We are on such the same wave length that we surprise each other continually with our intersections of action and thought.
"I want you to listen to this husband and wife radio show, Lu" she told me in between bites of the grilled zucchini and turkey sandwich (that was her idea). Mu is always thinking about my writing and speaking. "The wife has a book she's just written. You can find it on the New Release Shelf at the library."
She told me the author's name and I interrupted her with "I just got that book out a couple days ago! I'm reading it right now!" Mu only has to think a positive strategy or idea and I'm already picking it up on my subconscious radar.
I can't tell you how amazingly "simpatico" we are in each other's company. It is so different than when I am with my extended family- even though these people have known me for over forty years. How can this be? How can I be so loved but misread by people who have known me longer and seen me go through more things than Mu has in the six short years she has known me?
I went to pick up my daughter at my parents' house last night. Both my sisters were there, my one bachelor brother, my visiting niece, my one nephew just returned from Italy. I grabbed a few bites- for my supper- of left over potatoes and gravy, after having thrown a spaghetti dinner together for Bill and Alex back at home.
As I ate a few bites I listened to the joking and the teasing going on. One sister was bragging about her dance ability and then getting teased about how she dances like an American rather than the Half-Latina she is. I was sure they would aim for me next, bringing up my embarrassing disco dancing past, which is probably the reason I so draw away from trying to get into the ballroom dance scene that half my family is into. I don't want to add any fuel to their fire.
These family members know my awkward childhood scenes, my erratic dating history (of course one sister was sketchy on the details, remember?), they know my college days of confusion but not the inner pain, and have seen my entrance into marriage and motherhood. They're sure they know me well.
I have never been more sure, though, that they do not know me as well as they think they do. Or if they do know me, then who is that silly, falling, failing person they keep calling Lauren?! I don't recognize myself when they depict me. It's not that they're trying to be mean, but their depiction of me is skewed a bit to my weak side.
My recent revelation is that the person we are (the person we become) is the person who is given grace, and then more grace. That's why my husband knows me so differently than my parents and siblings do. When I met him, when I got to know him, I asserted any part of me that I wanted to, any boldness or opinion that might never have surfaced before, growing up. I tested the waters, so to speak, to see if I could come out of hiding when I was with him. I dared to speak my mind- because he couldn't tell me that's not who I was! The Lauren that came out and declared herself was not a surprise to my husband but was a bit of a surprise to me. I'm still getting to know this bold woman with a history of fear.
In Lori Smith's book, A Walk with Jane Austen, (http://www.austenquotes.com/)she writes about her self identity and her relationship with her parents, as she thought about Jane Austen's relationship with her own family.
"Necessarily, as children and parents, our perspectives on each other are slightly skewed. In some ways we see each other better than anyone else because we have the closeness of everyday life in which to observe every fault and every goodness, but the faults are more apparent somehow. In some ways, we get into patterns of thinking about each other, and its hard to get out of those ruts and see each other as we really are."
Oh, are the faults more apparent! That's all we seem to know of our siblings- their faults, their embarrassing moments. How many times do you go to a family gathering and have your siblings rehearse all your strong moments of glory and accomplishment?! It doesn't happen.
The contrast of what I have when I'm with Mu and what I experience when I am with my family is drastic. While I love my siblings and my parents, I do not always learn to love myself more when I am with them. That's the plain truth. I'm not so much disappointed with them as I am aware of this unsettling truth. I am just becoming aware of this dynamic- that if you're looking for great grace to grow, to be upon you, spend time with a good friend who "sees" you. That friend could very well be a sibling or a parent, but more than likely it won't be. With a parent or sibling, "there is always an undercurrent, which we try to read and interpret and sometimes ignore- all these exhausting perceptions."
Sometimes we long for our family to speak better of us, to speak about us with an eye on the future, and not always on our past when we were small, both physically and emotionally so. If you want to grow, stretch out and expand your horizons and your threshold for change, love your family, yes; but find someone who can handle you becoming someone they have not yet known.
Because "a friend loves at all times" and this kind of love is a love that copes with you becoming, growing, maturing, and developing. This kind of love is not for the faint of heart or for those who love to remember you in the past.
If love perseveres and "always believes the best", then love has to consider the present and the future. Because the best is yet to come.