Sunday, June 1, 2008

Inside Out

What you see isn't always what you get.

Take a loved one who recently had a heart attack. When we heard the news on Wednesday that she was in the hospital after having suffered a heart attack, we were shocked. This is someone who is the picture of health - a spry, fit woman who walks daily even during Maine winters. She's not someone you'd ever describe as "faint of heart." I couldn't imagine her in a hospital bed surrounded by a maze of medical tubes. But she was there. I know because Dave saw her. He's been by her side all weekend and is flying back this evening. He wanted to be with her since a lot of his family is in Greece right now gearing up for his sister's own version of a big, fat Greek wedding. (We're not able to go for various reasons, namely because traveling to a remote, Grecian fishing village with two kids under 4 is best reserved for masochists or maybe Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt).

Our family member was lucky because the damage was not extensive enough to require surgery, so she left the hospital today. When Dave said good-bye, she was resting in her bed with her beloved dog curled beside her. She has strict orders to take it easy for the next week. After that the doctors said she has to figure out how to reduce stress in her life.

This is easier said than done. Especially for a Type Aer like this family member. She admitted to Dave that she does too much. When someone asks her to help out with a bake sale, for example, she doesn't just make a batch of token cookies, she whips up an assortment of made-from-scratch treats that make Martha Stewart look like an amateur.

She tries to be everything to everyone.

"Sound familiar?" Dave asked.

Hmmm...Maybe just a little.

In fact, when I first met this family member while Dave and I were still dating, I immediately clicked with her and thought, "Oh, wow! She's one of my kind!" Besides sharing my love for reading and writing, she was a planner. She was punctual. Oh, and the OCD in me absolutely loved the way she organized her home library by author.

But for her being one of "our kind" had its drawbacks. When you're used to being generous and efficient, going 100 mph all day, every day, something's gotta give and in her case it was her heart.

Of course, I doubt anyone would have suspected she was stressed. Maybe her husband. Maybe a really close friend. I certainly didn't think of her as someone who seemed stress. Not by the way her witty emails always sounded. Not by the way she laughed freely. Heck, she's the one who told me I should do a few yoga stretches every night to unwind.

This got me thinking about the way others come off to me as well as the way I'm perceived by others.

I immediately thought of a friend of mine who is the most beautiful (inside and out), faithful woman; yet, she's crippled by shyness. In fact, when I first met her, I thought she was extremely full of herself and that was why she couldn't stand to talk to me. It wasn't until several months later when we started chatting after Mass that she confessed to me that her intense anxiety around other people made it very difficult for her to meet friends.

I couldn't believe this. Why would she have any problems making friends? She was smart, lovely, and funny. It just didn't make sense to me that she was afraid to put herself out there.

Even now that we live far away from one another, I'll find myself wondering, "Why hasn't she called me back? Why can't she send me a quick email?" I have to remind myself: Because she can't. Because she's terrified of making that call, of clicking "send."

Because what you see isn't always what you get...

Then I pick up the phone again to give her a ring and lo and behold, she answers and we have a wonderful conversation and she thanks me profusely for being understanding and for keeping in touch and I think, next time I won't be so obtuse with her or anyone else.

I'm doing pretty well until I'm on the interstate lugging around precious cargo and some car speeds up behind me and starts tailgating and I'm looking in the rear view mirror, seething. "What a jerk!" I think and I really, really believe that the person driving that car is evil, the spawn of Satan himself. Chances are, he's probably a reasonably nice person who has driven in one too many Atlanta rush hours to keep his sanity and patience on the road. I'm not excusing reckless driving, but I am saying that making global judgments based on a brief encounter on the highway with someone probably isn't the best expression of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

You've got to dig deeper to find out what drives a person to behave a certain way. We're not two-dimensional characters playing the standard good guy/bad guy roles.

God made us a little more complicated than that. But that doesn't mean I don't sometimes try to fit the role I think I should play.

To those outside my close inner circle (and those who haven't read some of my past blog posts), I'm good at playing the part of the proverbial bubbly blonde (except I was never in a sorority, although I was in Beta Club in high school and some honor societies in college with Greek in their titles. Oh, as I've confessed on this blog before, I can't do a cartwheel, so cheerleading was out of the question. I did teach aerobics in college though. But I go again, making global assumptions about bubbly blondes). I've also got the role of self-confident, happy mom who sometimes writes down pat.

Yes, to casual friends, I'm the at-home mom who manages to shower daily (Ha! I'm on an every-other-day schedule, but I do brush my hair every day.). To fellow churchgoers, I'm the faithful Christian who's there every Sunday (and I am there, physically anyhow, but sometimes my mind is about as antsy as the preschooler and baby next to me).To the grocery store clerk, I'm the mom with the patience of Job who allows her preschooler to help put items on the conveyor belt even when she has a bad case of the dropsies.

In some ways, my "public self" is like a Hollywood starlet on the red carpet, all put together and flashing her pearly whites despite her personal life being in shambles. In truth, my personal life is quite functional, and most of the time I am fairly happy and am managing everything (even daily grooming) just fine. But even when I'm not feeling all chirpy (or clean) or even when I'm in way over my head, I'm afraid to reveal what's going on inside of me. Why? Because I don't want to be seen as weak.

The irony is it takes strength to let go, to let God into your life by accepting your limitations, to rest on your bed with your dog for an entire week not because that's what the doctor ordered, but because it's good for your heart in more ways than one.

The Catholic Church recently celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (May 30). The Sacred Heart is a symbol of God's endless love for us all. Similarly, the Immaculate Heart of Mary symbolizes her maternal love for her son and for us all. It also reveals her interior life, her joys and sorrows, her perfection, her acceptance of God's will. What's in her heart as well as in her Son's was reflected in their lives. In other words, they lived their lives from the inside out. When it comes to Christ and his Mother, what you see is most definitely what you get. No guesswork required, no room for wrong assumptions. How refreshing.

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