I attended the local storytelling group again this month. The theme was “Changes of Heart.” I really struggled with coming up with something for this one, and ironically, I’m the one who suggested the theme! It seems that I rarely change my mind about things once I’ve formed an opinion.
I wrote three different stories for it, and after rehearsing the first two, I was totally unsatisfied. I hated them. And if I didn’t like them, I figured the audience wouldn’t, either.
Finally I settled on the one below. If you can’t, or don’t want to, listen to it (but I promise you, it’s so much better live, with the audience feedback), then below is the transcript I rehearsed. I think I might have left a few things out in the spoken version due to nervousness, but other than that, it was pretty much the same. Let me know what you think!
My mother always wanted to go to college. But when she was 17, a German u-boat torpedoed her father’s ship in the North Atlantic, and all chances of her furthering her education sank with him.
Because of that she was never confident about her intelligence, but make no mistake, she was extremely smart. She used to go to the library every week and bring home a stack of books this high. Anything she could get her hands on. Our little public library had to start requesting books from other parts of the state because she actually devoured the county’s collection. I wish she had lived to see the internet. She’d have loved it.
One of my earliest memories is the time she took me to get my first library card. I must have been about 4 years old. She squatted down in front of the entrance and said to me, “Whenever you go into a library, you can go anywhere in the universe.” I remember thinking, “Woooooow.” To this day, I always get butterflies in my stomach when I go to the library.
My mom may not have been able to go to college, but one thing she was able to do was reinforce in me that I was an intelligent person. While other mothers were telling their daughters that they were pretty and charming, she was telling me that I was clever and perceptive. And because of that, I never doubted my brains. I knew that if I wanted or needed to learn something, I was perfectly capable of doing so. That’s a pretty valuable tool that she gave me. I’ve used it throughout my life.
But she might have gone a bit overboard. Because while I have a rock hard confidence in my intellectual abilities, when thrust into a realm where appearance is important (and unfortunately there are a lot of those), my esteem has always crumbled like a sand castle in a high wind. I was never even taught the “girly” stuff, like how to wear make-up or what hair products to use. (Although I have to admit I never asked.) But still, that’s pretty amazing, because my mother was absolutely beautiful.
So, during the first part of my life, I spent a great deal of time comparing myself to others, and judging myself to be physically lacking in one way or another. I knew I’d graduate at the top of my class, but I also knew I wouldn’t be prom queen. It was, I believed at the time, a painful fact that I would just have to live with.
Then one day in my early 20’s I went to a job interview. During the meeting it was disclosed that if hired, the guy conducting the interview would become my immediate supervisor. This was a problem, because this guy was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I remember going home that night and thinking that if I got the job, I probably shouldn’t take it, because I’d have a really hard time maintaining my professionalism with him.
Well, I did get the job, and I did take it, because I really needed the money. But I was so nervous about the situation that it makes me laugh in hindsight, because I hadn’t been there more than 5 minutes before he said to me, “You know, you were my third choice. You wouldn’t even be here except that the first two people decided not to take the job. So now I’m stuck with you.”
I mean, what do you say to that? Thank you?
As the weeks wore on, I saw him belittling people in staff meetings, squelching any and all forms of innovation, taking credit for things he hadn’t done, and blaming others for his mistakes. In other words, he was the boss from hell.
But you know what? I’m glad he came into my life because one day he caused me to have an epiphany. (Don’t you just love a good epiphany?) I remembered that at one point I thought this guy was good looking. But now when I looked at him, all I saw was ugliness. I couldn’t even imagine what I used to think was so attractive.
I know it sounds cliché, but it took that guy to teach me that beauty is NOT skin deep. In fact, your skin is the very least of your beauty. Your real beauty comes from who you are, and how you treat others.
Now I see beauty through a completely different lens. If you are a super model and you throw your cell phone at the maid, I’ll find it very hard to see the beauty in you. You can keep your catwalk, honey, because I’d much rather gaze upon the Nelson Mandelas and the Mother Teresas of this world.
And thanks to my mom, I know that I could have held up my end of a conversation with them, too.