They are handed to us, and we simply put them to the side, let them simmer and almost forget about them. Then one day, a crisis, a random comment or a moment of self doubt triggers the memory, and we are reminded that we are infinitely wiser than we once were.
I had one of those moments last week.
I was out with a group of friends who met for dinner, drinks and a strategy session. A friend of ours with two young children is facing a tough diagnosis and the fight of her life. We all want to help and were developing our battle plan.
But as often happens when a group of women get together, we also talked about ourselves and our own battles. One was dealing with a daughter whose behavior has recently involved entanglements with law enforcement and an on again/off again criminal boyfriend. Another has a child who is fighting drug addiction and yet another is dealing with a mother with dementia. After the discussion had evolved from our problems to therapists and solutions, someone said, “I don’t need a therapist, I have girlfriends, and if they can’t accept that I’m imperfect, then they are too busy trying to hide their own imperfections.”
And that’s when my lesson hit me.
Years ago, when I was still counting my daughter’s age in months, my children and I were invited to the first birthday party for the son of a colleague.
I felt obligated to go even though I didn’t want to. The child’s mother did absolutely everything right. She was working full-time, and her older children were excelling in their activities. She cooked a real dinner every night, was always making crafts and had been sharing details for days about the decorations and the cake she had made for her son’s party.
At the time, I was relying on my husband to cook most dinners (for the record I still do), and I hadn’t made crafts since Girl Scout camp. We’d been advised to take my son in for a developmental screening, and I was in no mood to listen to other parents talk about their amazing children. I just wanted to ignore the rest of the world and walk my dogs in the woods. I was sure that going to that birthday party would simply leave me feeling inadequate. And, initially, it did.
But then, I discovered something. When looking for the bathroom, I accidentally opened the wrong door. Inside that room was my lesson.
I could barely open the door. I could only push it in enough to see that the room was crammed almost to the ceiling with clothes, books, toys and other stuff. The room looked as though someone had taken every loose item in the house and shoved it into the room so no one could see it. The woman holding the party wasn’t nearly as organized as she wanted everyone to think, and she was trying to hide her imperfect housekeeping skills behind a closed door.
At that moment, I realized everyone has some kind of mess in his or her life. Some of them we create ourselves while others are simply a result of the complexity of relationships and personalities. Some of us leave our doors partially shut to some people and wide open to others.
But the only meaningful relationships in our lives are those in which we trust ourselves and others to leave the doors open.