Monday, September 15, 2008

The Book's Covers

(This was originally written in January, 2008)

So many times we think we know someone, based primarily on the impressions we get right off the bat.

What do you see in the pictures above? At first glance you can create a scenario that fits with the different looks each picture portrays….A girl with a kid: how cute…an elegant graceful dancer…a pretty face…

What is curious is that very rarely do we bother to scratch the surface to find out for ourselves what really is in that book. We are content to come and go from our comfortable homes to our comfortable, if sometimes inconvenient jobs, barely noticing the ebb and flow of life around us.

What would it be like to get out of that bubble, to reach outside of that comfort zone and really, really get to know the neighbors, the coworkers, the friends? I find it interesting that it is so easy to ask, “How are you?” and hear, “Fine,” in return, as the expected answer. Recently, I got out of the script and held on to the hand I had shaken, and followed up with, “No, really: How are you?” The response was tears followed by a truly meaningful exchange.

One of my daughters, has helped me realize how important it is to look beneath the cover of each and every person’s “book”. The surface can only tell so much, but it isn’t until you actually take the time to open the book that is the person, that you can know anything about it’s content.

Like most, she went through her ‘awkward’ phase: twelve years old, with a short haircut growing out, she wore a bandanna on her head most days. At times, she resembled someone fighting a case of premature baldness, at others someone exotic. The hair grew out and the braces were put on. I am not quite sure, exactly, when it happened, but she became the proverbial butterfly coming out of the cocoon. I would love to say that she suddenly emerged this beautiful, confident, graceful young woman, but I would be really stretching it. My daughter has fought the typical ‘coming of age’ angst. One day everything is smooth sailing, the next is a tumultuous raging storm. One day we would see clean, dare I say, matching lovely clothing, the next she was going to school in the same outfit she slept in the night before. Which portrayal is the ‘real’ person?

Right now, the girl you see above in the Vera Wang couture dress is in Nepal. She is staying in a place with no heat. She is trying to recover from altitude sickness and an ear infection while preparing to venture off with 6 other people to some mountain villages in Nepal, on foot – sometimes hiking up to 7 hours each day. The single backpack she took with her on this two month leg of her journey did not contain clothing warm enough to be living like she is living, so today (whatever day this was in her part of the world) she was going to try to purchase a thermal shirt and leggings so she might be able to stay a bit warmer. The girl with the pretty blue eyes and the dark hair was happy to have gotten a shower yesterday: her second in the ten days she has been in Nepal. It is hard for me to imagine this girl being the same one who wondered about the wisdom of leaving her hair straightener in the US when she left home in October.

This is the same girl who, at the age of six, asked why Mother Teresa was on the TV news when she died. I told her that Mother Teresa was a special person because she took care of the people who were hard to take care of: the people who looked bad and smelled bad and had no one else. That six-year-old looked at the pictures highlighting Mother Teresa’s life flashing before her on the TV, mesmerized. “Maybe one day I could be like her,” she said. That is the girl in the baseball hat holding the child.

Which picture best portrays this daughter of mine? I would have to say they all do. She is beautiful, artistic and compassionate, but you won’t know that unless you take the time to open that book. What good books have you read lately?

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