My thoughts are all over the place today, flitting here, darting there, from dark and muddy places as dreary as my sodden yard to joy-inducing, light-filled bright spots, as beautiful as sunshine through blue and amber glass.
I wanted to write an inspiring January note for you all, some wise words on motivation, an encouragement about how to stick to a plan, or how to set and achieve goals, but instead I find myself dwelling on a little thing that, the older I get, seems not so little after all: the power of a kind word.
I learned this lesson personally when I was fifteen or sixteen or so. Picasso has his blue period; I had my black stage. For a long time I dressed in black from head to toe, and wore heavy kohl eyeliner. “Goth” wasn’t really a thing yet, in Terrace, at least, but my clothing was dramatic enough to single me out sometimes. I’m still amazed at some of the responses I got to such an innocuous thing as wearing all black—but this is not about the rotten stuff people say and do. It’s about the shiny, lovely things.
My mom and dad hated my “ghoulish” attire and makeup, thought it was at best inappropriate for a young girl (who should wear bright “happy” colors) and at worst “sluttish.”
I loved my black wardrobe for many reasons—and still gravitate to the shade—and I don’t think you have to be morbid, obsessed with death or depressed to revel in black . . . but I was depressed. Sad. Lonely. And I will admit that some days, maybe I was sort of saying, This is me. I don’t fit in. See?
(At this point, I have to stress, you cannot and should not assume anything about a person’s mood or morals or anything else by what they wear. Usually clothes are just clothes, fashion—and despite my confession above, the biggest reason behind my clothing choices was esthetic. I just loved black.)
Anyway, I’d had a bad weekend to top off a bad week that topped off a bad month that—okay, I guess I could just say I was feeling low. I was at church with my family, the service had ended, and I was being subjected to after church “fellowship” in the foyer. My mom, for reasons I now think I understand, yet still don’t make sense, decided to publicly nag me about my clothing again. Yes, it felt awesome, as humiliations and conflicts always do.
To this day, I remember my outfit with fondness. It was quintessential 80s Ev: Black spandex leggings. Black pointy-toed ankle boots. A black tank top with an off the shoulder, long black sweatshirt. A boxy black denim jacket. I’m sure my hair was a blow-dried mess, and may or may not have had some purple in it. My eyes were pointed like a cat’s.
I looked rad. But also out of place in the room of equally 80s fashionable—yet polar opposite of “alternative”—ice cream pink, mint and yellow sweaters and polo shirts.
Regardless of how much I liked what I was wearing and felt good in it, I was hurt and angered by my Mom’s vented disapproval and obvious embarrassment about me.
Suddenly, a twinkly-eyed woman with short gray curls piped up, “You don’t like Ev’s look? Really? Whenever I see her I always think, wow, she looks so flamboyant!” She proceeded to add that she’d read the newspaper and noticed I’d made the honor roll, adding a cheery, “Again. Good for you!”
Conversation rolled on and I escaped—and I’m sure she had no idea that her small comment turned on a comforting light that only grew brighter with the years: Someone will like you, whether you’re a bit different or not. You’re okay.
Twenty-five years later I still recall the power of that moment and the gratitude I felt for her kindness. She saw me, not just my exterior.
We all live with varying degrees of insecurity, doubt, worry, fear. . . . No one needs more criticism or condemnation. We all could use a quiet, I see you—the real you. I like you. I accept you.
And who knows? Maybe a casual, encouraging word we give off the cuff will end up being the light that gets someone else through some dark time.
Wishing you a year of kindness—to yourself and to others,
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“Uncomplicated Kindness” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 28, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”