I’ve always wanted to be a better person.
As a child, I prayed for God to make me one. Growing up, I admired other kids. Happy, well-dressed kids. It was as if they had an aura to them. A continuous light that followed them, glowing all around. Like the light contained inside a fire fly, or a spotlight that’s held on a lead character in the school play. My friend Amy was one of those kids. I always wanted to be invited over to her house. Her family had been a part of our small town for generations, and in our community having her last name meant something. Her house always had the good kind of food in the pantry. Chef Boyardee pizza mix in the cupboards and Oreo cookies on the shelves. Amy didn’t seem to understand why I wanted to come over to her house, but I never wanted her to come over to mine. It got awkward after a while, and we stopped hanging out as much. I can see why now. Kids have an innate sensibility when it comes to relationships.
Amy could probably tell that I wanted to feel included. To have a family and a house like she had. My longing to fit in was so strong it must have been overbearing. It probably felt weird. So it was easier to ignore that weirdness and move on to another, better adjusted friend. I’m pretty sure Amy’s parents noticed, too. I’m guessing they wanted Amy to have good influences as friends. Not the transplant kid who came from divorced parents and lived in a rental home.
In the absence of my friendship with Amy, I started to look for other places of connection. This was hard, because I already felt not good enough. I’d already become a kid that none of the other kids wanted to hang with. I was an odd ball. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so my mom would get me hand-me-down clothes from the neighbors down the street. I was excited to wear them because they were really nice and expensive. So it was hard when those neighbor kids, who were older than me and the previous owners of the garments, rode the same bus. They made a point to let everyone else know exactly where my clothes came from. If it wasn’t hand-me-downs from the neighbors, it was hand-me-downs from my older brother. I often wore boy jeans and t-shirts to school. Definitely not helpful with the previously mentioned bus situation.
All this changed when I found a way to create a new home and new identity.
My grandmother had a subscription to Good Housekeeping Magazine. Inside it was filled with glossy images of houses that were well-manicured, filled with tidy spaces and beautiful people. “This must be what ‘good’ looks like,” I thought to myself. The word good was even included in the name of the magazine. All I had ever wanted to be was good, and now it seemed I had found my breadcrumb-laden-path that would lead me to my destination.
On visits to grandma’s house, which only happened once or twice a year, my main objective became to confiscate pages from her stash of Good Housekeeping Magazines.
I become a connoisseur of beautiful people and houses. Spaces that were well maintained, clean and inviting. I’d sneak away and with precision, I’d rip the pages out. I’d perfected my technique. I left no dog eared paper trails and my process made no loud tearing noises. When I was done nobody seemed to notice what was missing. I’d carefully place the magazines back on their rack and hide my contraband images under in the bottom section of my suitcase for safe keeping. By the end of my stay, I had collected page after glorious page of beautiful people and homes. I had created a virtual world for my childhood soul to inhabit.
Once I returned home from grandma’s, a new routine began to emerge.
After school I would run upstairs to my room, close the door, and take out my visuals. I’d spill them around me in a giant semi-circle. Then, I would assemble them with precision. When I was done, I sat quietly, observing the patterns, shapes, and colors the images made. I imagined myself with deep steel-blue eyes like Lady Diana, and with the long blond hair of the Romance Novel Heroine. I crafted a house with soft pillows stacked on buoyantly lush couches, and walls covered with soothing, earthy colors. I would picture myself with my new body in my new dwelling and feel safe.
I felt like I had found my home. I had transformed myself into something good.
Somehow, sitting inside the space that I had made, I understood things were going to be okay. I had constructed my own home, made from a scaffolding of imagination. I no longer felt lost or alone. I felt like a good person. I felt loved. Deeply, fully, loved. As odd as it sounds, looking back I think that something met me there in my childhood bedroom. Something that gave me the skills I desperately needed to get through that season of life. Something gave me a heart to continue on.
This skill, my childhood survival technique of imagination, followed me into adulthood.
Everything I imagined in that collection of images I’ve made happen—I have a home and a family—a family so wonderful that I can’t even tell you in words the depth of my love for them.I did not realize it at the time, but protecting myself as a child had a cost. What I built then keeps me from love and being seen by the most important people now.
It comes into play in my marriage. If I don’t change, I will leave a legacy to my husband and children. They may never fully know me like they should. Like they deserve.
I have to take my armor apart, and I’m terrified to do so.
I've enough experience at this point to know when I'm terrified, often it means I'm getting into the process that I need to grow and move forward. It's terrifying, but it's where the good stuff is. I’m going back to that girl and holding her with steady, strong, arms. I’m thanking her for that piece of childlike wonder she held for me for so long. I tell her she did a good job. That, just as she believed, we turned out okay, and now it’s time to change.
I’m not praying for goodness anymore. If anything I’m praying to keep my raw edges and tender spaces that I’m uncovering. That scaffolding I’m disassembling becomes a bridge that leads me to the vulnerable spaces of others.
We find each other. We share our stories.
Every time we do, we bring more wonder back into the earth. We cultivate more of the good that has gotten distorted or just plain forgotten. We rework it and put it back together. Piece by piece. Word by word.
I think if there is any value in human suffering it is this:
That we can meet each other in our experience and when we do, it doesn’t make the suffering go away, but it does create love and peace where once only pain and aloneness resided. I think all of us can hold onto that piece of childlike wonder, and let it transform us into adults who can create a different, more vibrant and alive world. I think this is where the best, most life giving work comes from.
I believe this is possible. It has become possible for me. I know it can be possible for you, too.