There is only one reason I’m writing tonight. One of my young bloggers has been faithfully publishing her blog every week. Her most recent post was so inspiring she had me wiping at tears. Her writing is raw, honest, and a glimpse at the gifted, brilliant insightfulness of a teenager exposing worries that burden me still at twice her age. I’m writing because it’s who we are, not just what we do. It’s how we process brokenness and make sense of it.
This bright young girl is no Disney princess. She writes under her own pseudonym: Star. And a star she is. This week, my parents rented a lake house so that their children and grandchildren, normally scattered along the eastern coast, could find respite under the same roof and make memories together. While driving to play golf with my father, one of my brothers, and Charming, I read Star’s blog, and these key male influences in my life faded momentarily to the background.
Star admitted that she worries what others think of her, that she wants them to see her as beautiful and smart. In her blog, she tells stories about the characters that she’s created in her books, and how those characters reveal varied parts of her own personality… the star qualities and Achilles heels. She owns her passion and her temper, her power and her weakness. She concluded this post by asking, “What do you think of me?”
I commented on her post with something my mother has told me time and again, something her mother used to tell her. Eventually, people will see you for who you truly are. I wholeheartedly meant to encourage her by passing on this bit of wisdom; yet, when I turn the advice inward, I realize that what I am most afraid of is that people will see me for who I am. Hot-tempered and impatient. Broken by past hurts. That in the time living alone since my divorce, I’ve already become an old maid.
I cherish my routines and my solitude. My house is spotless, not because I am a neat freak, but because clutter distracts me from accomplishing what I need to get done. I’ve become accustomed to living by my own agenda, and you can set your watch by my sleep schedule. In the comfort of my own home, I am at my best. No children to invest in, I tend instead to my garden. To put it plainly, I’m used to being alone and calling all the shots.
Again, I’d say it’s not because I’m ultimately controlling, but rather that I’ve been forced to make decisions that, for others in my family, are shared ones. My three brothers are all married now with children. Their choices, made as parental units with their wives, reflect the needs of their families. They share the responsibilities of life and financial decisions, as it should be.
But I’ve been on my own for a long time now. Even during my marriage, I found myself faced with the reality of making the tough decisions. When I finally told my husband that I wanted a separation, he responded, “I trust your judgment.” Our divorce wasn’t even a choice we made together, and he may have trusted my judgment, but I rarely do.
This week at the lake house, I see only too clearly what I have become. There weren’t enough bedrooms for everyone, so as the only single child, I was awarded a creaky futon. It’s the kind of choice made for the good of the family that makes perfect sense. My brothers, their wives, and their children need space and privacy. And truth be told, I wouldn’t want a room of my own if it was at the expense of any of these cherished family members.
Still, it feels like a sledgehammer to the defeated sense of what I’ve built with my thirty-three years of existence. Even with Charming along for the family adventure, I still feel like the odd woman out. And my unexpected post-divorce solitude served as the breeding ground for that old maid I fear I will become to rear her ugly, selfish head. I’ve become far too used to space and privacy, to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, to the comfort of knowing what to expect because I live alone and make all the expectations. Sharing a house with five kids and even more adults, my normal approach to daily life was naturally challenged.
As soon as I’d posted my comment to Star’s blog this morning, we pulled in at a country club for nine holes. The four of us packed our clubs into two golf carts and started out par for the course. On the first hole, I outdrove the guys, and they made sure to encourage me with that little fact as I finished the hole at least four strokes over. My ex-boyfriend taught me how to golf, and we had our own system for attacking a course. We’d take our time, usually nursing a hard lemonade and a cigar over a few greens.
My father, my brother, and Charming are much better golfers than I. I only know the rules that my ex taught me, and I found out today just how little I know about golfing etiquette. Emerging from my inexperienced golfing bubble found me floundering. It was more than a little embarrassing, stroke after stroke, trying my hardest to apply all the techniques I’d learned only to top the ball, miss it entirely, or feel the full force of my swing return angrily to my shoulder after hitting a chunk of grass several feet.
The worst moment came in the fifth hole when I squared my shoulders over an iron and Charming told me that I should center my feet around the ball. “But I was taught to put it in the back of my swing,” I retorted quickly. It occurred to me then that I’d been doing it wrong for three years. In that moment, I wanted to surrender the club and just give up. I wasn’t good enough to be on this course with them. I should have stayed home with the ladies and helped with the kids instead.
Charming was not swayed by my bad attitude or my discouragement, and he put the pressure on. I followed his advice. “That was your best swing yet!” he told me. The game improved after that. On the sixth hole, a Par 3, I drove to the edge of the green, chipped it in, and set myself up for a putt just a few feet from the hole. For the first time in my short golfing career, I had a shot at making par. I lined up carefully, took my time, processed a mental checklist, and went for it. The ball went straight into the hole, then rounded the rim and landed on the other side. I was disappointed, but it was still my best hole, and I felt good about having come so close.
We all start out in life par for the course. We all have the potential for a perfect game before we start. Life happens, and we do our best with what we’ve learned to make it a good game. Sometimes we end up in a rut and get used to our ways and our methods, often finding out we were doing it wrong all along. If we’re lucky, we get mentors that care enough about our wellbeing to help coach us out of the sand trap. If we’re lucky, the people we look up to are willing to take the time to teach us the etiquette lessons we missed somewhere along the way.
Like Star, I care what other people think of me. Like Star, I want them to see me as beautiful and smart. I’m afraid that all these years on my own have hardened me into a self-centered old maid of routine independence and that a week in a lake house with my family will blow my sequestered cover.
A five hour game of golf taught me a life lesson I desperately needed today. With our clubs secured in the trunk as we headed back to the lake house, my father said, “Laura Joy, in golf, we only remember the good hits.” Like Star, I have my faults, and I try to own them as much as my strengths. Writers are inherently self-aware, and our words are most effective when they’re honest ones.
I didn’t want to write tonight, but I needed to process my own brokenness. And right before I did, I opened up to Charming down by the dock about this fear that I have become a girl whose family loves her because they have to. He didn’t just tell me it wasn’t true. He reminded me that I would Star tell it wasn’t true. And I would mean it.
Because when we commit to loving another human being, and that love is real and grounded, we choose to focus on the good hits. That’s the secret. And maybe for me, the most important take-away from today’s nine holes is that I need recognize the good. In spite of all my botched attempts, I need to love myself like I do Star and all my other young bloggers. I see the best in them, and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the rest of the world will see them for who they truly are the way I do.
We all have the potential for a perfect game before we start, but we have the shared human experience of falling short of perfection early on. If all we see when we look at our lives are the times we swung and missed, like me, we’ll be tempted to give up on the fifth hole. But if we expect that failure is a part of the game, and we listen to mentors like my dad and Charming, there’s a perspective shift.
The people who love us have a way of looking past the faults at the good hits we make. Self-acceptance might begin by doing the same for ourselves.