Several months ago, New York Times Best-Selling Author, Rachel Macy Stafford, graciously granted me permission to post an excerpt from her book, Hands Free Mama – A Guide To Putting Down The Phone, Burning The To-Do List And Letting Go Of Perfection To Grasp What Really Matters, on my blog. In the piece, entitled “You’re Beautiful,” Rachel rather humorously recounts a post-work-out, could-I-possibly-look-any-more-disheveled-and-unattractive-than-I-do-right-now encounter with a total stranger – a young man nearly half her age – in, of all places, the greeting card/suntan lotion aisle of a local drugstore. If you haven’t had a chance to read the post (http://tinyurl.com/kdlxoff), I urge you to, because, to hear Rachel tell it, it was an “ah-ha” moment that transformed not only her life, but now likely (and quite literally) the lives of tens of thousands of other women, who, like Rachel, were inspired by it to “search for beautiful” in themselves – some for the first time.
The problem is: While I am acutely aware of their power and importance, I’m a little “hard of hearing” when it comes to messages of self-acknowledgement, let alone of self-love, and “harder” still in the accepting department. In fact, those who follow my blog with some regularity know that I came into this world wired in a way that makes it very difficult for me to see what objectively I know to be the substantial good in me (http://tinyurl.com/l2sl2rf) – and my upbringing did little to nurture a contrary mindset (http://tinyurl.com/oqv73cb). If anything it did just the opposite – emboldened my inner critic, left me perpetually questioning my loveability, fostered a deep-seated fear of rejection and abandonment and fueled my misguided quest for perfection. Combine that with the fact that I am a man, which makes any discussion about perceiving myself as “beautiful” awkward at best, and you can start to appreciate the trouble I had fully connecting with Rachel’s CVS experience.
That is until last Saturday morning’s walk! It’s worth noting that, due a recent move, I had to change my walk route, transitioning out of the neighborhood sidewalks that surround a quiet 9-hole golf course in Coral Gables and onto a mile-long walking/jogging path at the Kendall Soccer Park, which itself is quite serene at 6:15 a.m. on a Saturday. In fact, if the first several weekends are representative, there are only 3 of us who venture out that early – an older Asian woman, who is adorable, but insists on walking on the “wrong side” of the sidewalk; a retired British gentleman who politely tips his cap to me with a cheerful “good day” each time around; and a 20-something autistic young man, who walks with his dad and a care-taker and has greeted me with enthusiasm from the day our “paths” first crossed less than a month ago. I always do my level best to return his energetic “Hi! Hi!” which usually begins when we’re a good 25 yards apart, while his dad and caretaker do theirs to try and keep him out of my path.
Fortunately, this past Saturday, they did not succeed! The first time around we passed with our usual cheerful greetings – me with “Good Morning!” him with “Hi! Hi!” But as we approached each other the second time, heading in opposite directions, he stepped away from his dad and caretaker and moved briskly towards me. His dad was obviously very concerned, but for some reason I wasn’t. Instead, I opened myself up to whatever the next moment had in store. Initially, I thought a hug was in order. Turns out, he had other ideas. He reached up, put his hands gently on each side of my cheeks, looked me straight in the eyes and with a smile as broad and as radiant as the breaking dawn said simply, “You’re Beautiful!” “Thank you,” I responded, as I caught my breath, “so are you – so are you.” As we separated, his dad hurried to apologize. I would have none of it. “No need to apologize,” I said smiling. “It’s all good. We were just having a moment.” And with that, me and the tears streaming down my face continued on our way.
I stopped believing things happen randomly a long time ago.
Truth is, there were lots of reasons for me not to get out of bed on Saturday morning and I’m sure even more for my friend. Six weeks ago, I also would have told you that it was beyond improbable that we would be living where we’re living now, let alone that I would have discovered and be walking at the obscure park where I am. Add to the mix the fact that this encounter happened the morning after an awards banquet honoring my giver’s heart, where I struggled mightily to absorb an outpouring of love and support that left me in tears before I could even get to the podium – words I was still struggling to process that Saturday morning – and only one conclusion seems possible: Maybe someone realized that? Maybe that someone knows a thing or two about people like me – the doubters, the ones who have difficulty taking other people’s word for it – the ones who struggle to embrace a truth everyone else sees so clearly . . . their truth.
Maybe I met that “someone” Saturday morning. Maybe it was the same guy Rachel met in the drugstore.