On my way to the cafe, fifteen minutes late, I told myself I’d walk in, greet my friend, apologize for being late, then settle in for an Americano and good conversation. No reason to explain why I was late (a harrowing experience losing track of where I parked my car along with my self-dignity and self-confidence resulting in a tearful call to my husband to help me find my way again. Pitiful.).
As soon as I opened the door to the cafe, I saw my friend seated and waiting: gorgeous as usual, composed, elegant. And I do mean gorgeous. She once joined me and a group of my students at a play one Saturday night. The following Monday when it was time to discuss the play, the only thing my students wanted to talk about was my friend. Was she a model? Was she an actress? Was she famous? Would she be famous? How had I met her?
I’m not exaggerating.
Anyway, I’ve spent many moments of my life aspiring to be more like women like her, trying to look sleek and composed. It’s not like I’m a total mess or anything, but “sleek” is not a word you’d use to describe me.
Imagining a graceful entrance to the cafe was my attempt to be more “composed” and elegant.
The second after I said my warm hello, however, I gushed to my friend, “I’m sorry I’m late! I lost my car! I couldn’t find the right parking garage after my meeting downtown!”
Yep. No glamour or elegance here. Just raw honesty. And, the great response from my friend. Graceful as ever, she said “We all have our flaws,” putting me at ease, and continuing with a story about another person we know who could not find his way back to his own office after lunch one time.
A few days later, while meeting another friend at another cafe, I ordered my drink and began confessing to my friend before I even sat down, “You know how I quit caffeine for over three years? And now I’m back? Well, I thought on the drive here I’d just order tea, or at least de-caf, but I just ordered an Americano, not even a single, a double, and regular, not de-caf…”
Completely unruffled by my whirlwind confession, she gestured for me to sit and said, “There you go again, Trista, showing your humanity.”
I felt so accepted and relieved by her comment, I ended up telling her the story of my lost car!
Then, there was yesterday. While driving home, a craving for chocolate chip cookies took hold of me with ferocious urgency.
I thought I was being mindful by making myself drive home and make cookies rather than stop by the bakery on the way home. (I even forced myself to drive a different route to avoid temptation.)
While the first batch baked, I ate about one-third cup of the batter (you can do this with vegan cookies). By the end of the day, I’d eaten about ten cookies, maybe twelve.
I just embraced it. I didn’t promise myself I’d do better today (in fact, I just chowed four more). I didn’t scold myself for such indulgence and gluttony. Then …
This morning I went to yoga. The teacher greeted me and asked how I was, and, you guessed it, I gushed, “I ate twelve cookies yesterday [I didn’t mention the batter], so I don’t know how I’m going to do in class today. I might be hyper, or I might crash.”
She smiled and turned all of her natural beauty in my direction, smiling bath-tile-white teeth, resting her hand on her slender hip, her softly curled pony tail gliding off her shoulder, and she said with wide-eyed earnestness, “I was craving chocolate chip cookies yesterday too!”
She continued, “But I didn’t have anything like that in the house, so I poured a bowl of chocolate chips,” and here she gestured with her hands to describe a bowl the size of a shot glass “…and ate those.” She said this as if that satisfied her.
It was then that something shifted in me, another level of acceptance.
I recognized that a shot glass of chocolate chips would have come nowhere near satisfying me. I would have refilled it ten times over.
More importantly, rather than wishing to be other than who I am and wishing to be more like I imagined her life to be, one of perfect self control, I turned toward the mirror to set up my mat, smiled at the other women hearing the tail-end of the story, noted their lean limbs, and accepted myself standing there in fuzzy socks that can only be described as Cookie-Monster-blue, shedding little blue puffs all over the studio, black tights that end mid-calf, exposing stubbled skin before the blue sock, and all kinds of curves and heft you don’t think of when you think “yoga,” (but maybe you do when you think “twelve cookies”).
So, here’s what I’m hoping. There’s this character on Call the Midwife named Chummy. She’s tall, big, gangly, and kind of a mess–always trying to do the glamorous thing but ending up covered in mud (once, quite literally). The thing is, those of us who watch the show LOVE Chummy! She’s so herself. She can’t help it; she’s too tall and too earnest to be anything but who she is (kind of like Julia Child), and that puts everyone else at ease.
I’ve known a few people like this in my life. They tend to be very outgoing, whereas I am not, but they’re so unapologetically who they are, not trying to tone down their voice or fit into a pencil skirt, that they leave tons of room around them for everyone else to be themselves too.
Do you know what I mean? Are there people like that in your life? I’m hoping that maybe, in this path of acceptance and mindfulness, I’ll discover that I’m Chummy. I’m the one unable to be anything but my flawed self, exposing my humanity. Maybe my confessions about a lost car and lack of willpower will help others breathe a little easier, judge themselves a little less. Maybe?