I was out to dinner with a dear friend one recent Wednesday night at a super casual local hang. We were deeply involved in our usual gab fest, while we sipped our white wine and slurped our $1 oysters, when a young woman walked by our table. Picture a platinum blond, with a big, bright red pea coat adorned with a fur hood, a full mask of make-up, sky-high heels and an enormous designer bag.
We couldn’t help but glance over, our gab fest hitting a small, silent pause.
I, without much thought, quickly launched back into our conversation, when my friend interjected in a whisper: “I just don’t understand people…I mean, who does she think she is?”
Now before I go on, I must say this dear friend of mine is someone who I wholeheartedly love and respect. Everyone has the right to see the world through the lens they choose. It is a free country, after all, and we’re all entitled to our opinions.
But I digress. Because my friend’s comment really fucking triggered me.
Let me back the truck up for a minute. Actually, let’s back it up to my childhood.
You see, I had the extremely good fortune of being raised by a really amazing mother: a mother who raised her children in an affluent suburb but worked as a high school teacher in the inner city. She was fiercely committed to constantly shedding perspective to my younger brother and I that we lived a privileged and blessed life and to always treat every one equally and fairly.
I remember driving past the massive, mansion-like houses through the neighborhoods of my hometown when I was little. I was sitting in the back seat of my mom’s beaver station wagon, my five-year-old brother beside me.
“Mommy! Mommy!,” he said, “Look at those houses! They are sooooooo big!”
I even more vividly remember my mother tipping her head back slightly over her shoulder towards the back seat, imparting:
“Now you know Douglas, those houses are just houses. They don’t matter much and they shouldn’t impress you. You want to what to know what really matters? The people who live inside those houses, who probably have families just like ours. That’s what matters.”
But perhaps my favorite piece of wisdom my mother ever gave me came when I was a teenager. I believe it was this piece of wisdom that has shaped me more as a person, a woman and a professional than anything else.
We were at a north suburban mall, having lunch in the fancy food-court when a woman, who could be described similarly to the woman my friend and I watched sashay past our table on Wednesday night, walked by. I don’t recall the precise words I said, but I commented to my mom something along the lines of how ridiculous I thought she looked. My mother responded by saying:
“Well, Jessica, when that woman got dressed this morning and looked at herself in the mirror before she left her house, she thought she looked good. And you know what? That’s all that counts. Remember that.”
And that I did. From that day forth, I have strived to never look at anyone and label him or her as “ridiculous” or “audacious” or to have “poor taste.” Or question who do they think they are because they happen to stand out. I am not saying I’m perfect and have never caught myself judging, staring a little too long or formulating a story or an opinion about a stranger based on what they look like. I am not holier than thou. I am fucking human, too.
But I am telling you that I genuinely try not to.
Because the truth is this: everyone is that woman in the red pea coat.
We are all trying to do our best, be our best and look our best. All of us. And I would bet you a power ball ticket that woman in the pea coat has just as many insecurities as you and I. And EVEN MORE importantly, I guarantee she has just as many kind, loving, good intentions and inspiring attributes as you do, and anyone else you know and love for that matter.
However, it’s those intentions and attributes that we don’t see.
All we see is the red pea coat.
And the heels WE think are too high to wear on a Wednesday night, for God’s sake. And the platinum blond hair that WE would never ask OUR stylist to create. And the mask of makeup that WE would never spend OUR precious time dealing with. And the big expensive bag WE would never waste OUR money on… and on and on.
It’s all stories.
It’s all separation.
It’s all fear.
It’s all ego.
It’s all so not necessary.
It’s all a choice.
So I’m going to challenge you to do a little exercise. Let’s call it “The Suzanne Game.”
I challenge you to catch yourself next time you find yourself going to down the rabbit hole of judgment. To catch yourself in the story. I challenge you to stop imagining what she may have spent on that bag, or why on earth would anyone ever dye her hair that blond or WHO DOES SHE THINK IS?
Instead, stop the separation.
Imagine that girl has a job like yours, friends like yours, fears like yours and dreams like yours.
Imagine she’s you.
Because, girlfriend, she is.
I gotta’ give a shout-out to my beautiful friend for the inspiration behind this blog. You should know the two of us ended up having an enlightening, constructive and healthy conversation about judgment over that dinner. (PS – a true friend is one who can put you in check. A truer friend is the one who can embrace it.)
And a final shout out has to go to my mom, Suzanne Zweig: you’re the most inspiring, badass babe of them all.
With no stories… only love,