Last night I went to the local grocery store and saw that Mary had dyed her hair. I was a bit surprised. Mary never struck me as the hair dying sort. The cigarette smoking, beer drinking with her family sort, yes. Mary works overnights at the local grocery store and she kind of intimidates me. She’s not like the nice, cheery ladies who work during the day. Mary doesn’t look at you and she doesn’t care if you found everything you were looking for. She wears prescription sunglasses inside, is thin as a rail and moves like a man. I always think she hates me but I’ve watched her with other people and either she hates them too or that’s just the way she is.
I always try to talk to Mary. I hate how unfriendly people are around where I live, so I make a point of talking to people when I’m out. It’s my little protest. And I just think it’s right to be friendly. However, I’m actually pretty shy and easily intimidated. So when I run into someone like Mary I have to work up the nerve just to say “hi” and ask how it’s going. I don’t always make it. I feel like she’s so fiercely determined not to look at you and keep her mouth set in a straight line because she doesn’t want anyone to talk to her. But if I don’t even try to talk to her, I’m convinced that she thinks it’s because I’m a stupid, fat cow who thinks she’s to good to talk to a person like her. Which right there is a good demonstration of why it’s not healthy to try to put yourself into the head of a stranger. You’re just making crap up.
Last night, it was a little busy and I watched the man in front of me awkwardly try to make a couple of comments to Mary while she barely glanced at him and didn’t move her mouth from its straight line position on her face. I didn’t say a word as she rang up my purchase. I wanted to comment on her hair – it was so obviously a big change for her. And I know that she knows me. But I just handed over my $20, took the change and went out to the car. Where I realized that I had forgotten to get dishwashing soap. Which, of course, was one of the items I had gone to the store for to begin with.
This time I had the easy open of saying, “you always forget the one thing you came for, right?” Mary kind of nodded. “I see you colored your hair. Do you like it?” (Here’s my good tip for the day: ask someone who’s just changed something about their physical appearance if they like it. Most people will be glad to tell you and then you have a better conversation than if you just tell them it looks nice.)
And Mary actually talked with me. She told me she liked her hair. I said I liked it too. And she told me that it came out of a box and her daughter did it. I wish I would have asked about her daughter, but instead we talked about the one time we’d each paid to have our hair dyed and it wasn’t worth it. She even kept talking after handing my change back to me. I left and I found myself hoping that the conversation made her feel good. Because that’s what I really want – for people to feel good about themselves when they’re around me. Or at least that’s the theory. In reality, I mostly want people to walk away from encounters with me thinking nice things about me. Because nice theories aside – that’s what it’s really all about for me. Ask me why I write and I can tell you that it’s because I want to share things that have been helpful to me and I hope that they help you too. Or to offer the world an alternative picture of God that is truer and better than they usually see. And I do want those things. But really, my unruly heart wants you to read the things I write and think, “she’s so smart. She’s so funny. She’s so good. What an amazing person.”
It’s not that I don’t care about you. It’s just that I’m still a bit of a child and I care about me first. I’m fooling myself if I think it’s not true. The problem, as I have discovered, is that when I want you to think well of me, not only is my focus in the wrong place, I’m placing myself hostage to you. What if you don’t think well of me? What if you see right through me and know that I’m just trying to impress you? What if you’re not impressed? Not only is this way of thinking childish in it’s focus on me, me, me. It’s a way of making yourself a prisoner to what everyone else thinks. Even worse than that – most people aren’t going to come right out and tell you what they think, so you become a prisoner to what you imagine they think of you. It’s an awful thing to do to yourself. And one that I know I’m not alone in doing.
I’ve been trying to stop both thinking of myself first and holding myself hostage to what I imagine other people think of me for a while now. So, I was a wee bit proud of myself last night when I walked away from my little conversation with Mary thinking about her rather than me. Maybe I’m finally growing up a bit. Because, again, it really is about me, isn’t it? Ha!