How many of us can look back on our lives and marvel at how lucky we have been? I do hope that it’s tons and tons of us. But I also know that tons and tons of us cannot marvel because life has not been lucky at all.
Even with all that luck, something eventually comes out of the blue that changes the trajectory of the rest of our life: some turning point that can be something so seemingly small, but yet can make the difference in how we see ourselves in our own eyes.
THE FOUR-EYED NERD WHO DREAMED A DREAM: A Cautionary Tale
When was my turning point? When I was in third grade and didn’t pass the school nurse’s vision test. At age 8, I had my first pair of glasses – clear, pink tinted frames – and I thought I was cool – until I got home and saw myself in the mirror. For more than 50 years, it changed how I viewed myself, how I conducted myself, and how I made important choices.
I would wear glasses of various shapes and sizes, depending on the fashion, as my eyes changed frequently during my growing years. The picture (above) is my senior class picture, with the iconic cat’s eye shaped glasses. So cool. So nerdy.
No one knew how ugly I felt. No one called me “four eyes,” or used any other insult, but I was conscious of all the beautiful classmates that surrounded me. And I felt “less than.”
I began to pretend a confidence that I didn’t have.
I was evidently born with some moxie, because I charged ahead anyway, trying to overcome my looks with “personality.” I had lots of musical talent, so I was often in front of my big high school in one assembly or another: singing or accompanying or directing. Visible, but always keenly aware that glasses meant homely. I was a nerd who wanted to be cool.
I managed to become part of a big group of kids who were active in school: you know, cheerleaders and athletes and generally gorgeous people who could maybe make me look good…most with plenty of money for the best clothes and the attending confidence of the well heeled. My family were more humbly situated, but I didn’t let that stop me. I wanted so badly to be popular.
So I borrowed my personality from my friends. Who were definitely cool.
Can anyone relate? I’m told that everyone is insecure in adolescence. I still find it hard to believe that. I was hugely insecure, but that moxie gave me the power to hide it as I acted my way through junior and senior high.
I was voted one of five top senior girls in my class of just over 600. That didn’t cure me. I was voted most talented senior at my senior class banquet, and that didn’t save me. I was still not “good enough” in my eyes to satisfy my sorry four-eyed little girl hunkered down inside. I would always see homely. And nerdy.
I kept trying to sound and look and behave like the girls I so envied. The popular ones on whose coattails I was hanging. I was part of the group – they included me liberally – but I always feared that at any moment, they’d discover just how much of a fake I really was.
The ruse continued in college. I was still borrowing my sense of self from those I saw as the “popular” ones. There were more wonderful friends and sorority sisters, yet I still was running hard to keep up.
In 1963, after college, I got my first pair of contacts. And I was the new wife of the most highly regarded young man on my college campus. And he chose me! Still, I carried around the personality of a young woman who was a nerd but wanted to be the popular cheerleader in a new circle of friends.
Authenticity would have to wait. So would any more glasses! The contacts would stay put for 50 years. I rarely went outside without them. They helped, but a borrowed personality is hard to shed.
The urgency for authenticity would finally make itself known when, at age 33, I had a miscarriage and slipped quietly into a post-partum depression. It would lay the foundation of a new life that could be called, Real Life. That was when I began to grow myself into the real me.
When we are trying to be something or someone that we’re not, we can think that we’re getting away with something. Maybe others sense the game, but the only one that’s suffering is ME. I am so lucky that my friends stuck with me anyway, to this day. Which says volumes about what good people they are. Luck can be a saving grace sometimes.
The journey from insecurity to authenticity is a long one. It doesn’t happen overnight. We take three steps forward and two steps back. Hopefully the energy of pretending a false confidence begins to run out. And we are nudged into the places and the attitudes that make a real difference – that bring us home to ourselves. Slowly, slowly.
My roles as a pastor were pivotal, even as I felt inadequate to some of the tasks. I have been held powerfully and loved deeply all these years by the congregations I’ve served, despite my limitations. It’s always a surprise to me. Just enough insecurity still lingers.
I have not walked alone. None of us needs to do that.
Two cataract surgeries and submitting to glasses once again have been a kind of test. I’m happy to say that I’ve passed it. It turns out that the big changes that happened inside all these years have been the graces that have made my elderhood the most authentic time of my life.
I am still kind of a nerd, but I’ve reclaimed the word and made it mine!
And I’m very okay with that!