Today has not been my day. Everything that could have gone wrong practically did. Very upsetting day at the doctor’s office, followed by an even worse experience with the lab lady who tried for decades to take my blood only to then call me just as I was pulling in my driveway to say that, so sorry, there was a clot in the sample she’d finally managed to obtain…. and I’d need to return to let her poke, dig and otherwise bruise me some more. To top it all off, my iPhone, to which I am sorta attached, slid out of my back pocket when I went to the restroom and landed in the toilet. I rescued it, and it sorta works… all except the phone part. I can still access Facebook because, somehow, AT&T just knew that THAT had to be saved. I can still text and my phone still vibrates. But it doesn’t call out anymore, nor does it have any sound at all. Not a good day.
Midway through this chapter, I was driving on the interstate and turned on the radio to drown out my own thoughts. “The Song Remembers When”, a song by Trisha Yearwood that has always been a personal favorite, came on. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, sobs began racking my entire body. I cried for a solid ten minutes…. not the normal Tiffini cry but the shoulder-shaking sobs that reek of sadness and of being terribly overwhelmed. Eventually, a red light stopped me and, while waiting for it to turn, I happened to glance in the rearview mirror. I couldn’t tell you what was behind me, though, because I didn’t really see it. What I saw instead was the mirror itself…. the glass.
I thought about how easily glass is broken and how, when it breaks, it shatters into dozens of pieces, many of them so tiny that you have to use a broom to get them all up. Any one of those tiny pieces, though, can cut you. Grab at the smallest piece of glass the wrong way and it will make you bleed. When put together, things made of glass are beautiful. Glass vases, glass plates, glass slippers… have you ever thought about glass slippers? Every girl on the planet, at some point in her life, has dreamed of sliding her foot into a glass slipper that fits perfectly. It would shine. It would make pretty little tapping noises as I danced my way across a moonlit balcony, lost in the gaze of someone I love.
The thing is… a shoe, any shoe, that was crafted out of glass would hurt terribly to walk in. Plus, if you slipped, tripped or stumped it on a sidewalk, it would break and tiny little pieces would undoubtedly cover your foot. Which would also hurt. Running down concrete stairs wouldn’t just make a glass slipper come off, it would break it. In fact, it would probably break the one on the foot too, which would have made Cinderella fall and break her ankle. Glass is fragile. Most things that are beautiful are.
The most beautiful thing I can think of is the human. For every discouraging, sad or tragic act broadcast on the news, for every awful thing humans are capable of doing to one another, there is a positive counterpart. For example, two young girls, one in TX and one in KY, with Down Syndrome were surprised when wonderful young men asked them to be their date for the prom. In Florida, a woman forgave the man who killed her daughter. When his friend died from cancer, this man, an amateur, honored his friend by running 100 marathons in 100 days. Strangers smile at each other every day (how many smiled at you today?). Despite all our flaws, the human heart is full of compassion and empathy and love. When it comes right down to it, I truly believe that most people do not want to see another hurt, emotionally or physically, and will step up to the plate if asked. At every corner, we beat the odds. Every day, someone does something for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do. We hurt each other—-but we also love one another. What’s more… despite being hurt, we continue to trust and believe in kindness, justice, truth and faith. Despite all the logical reasons not to, we continue to have babies and raise them in caring environments full of laughter, hard work and dedication. We endure economical stress, childhood abuse, divorce and a ton of other social issues and still… we joke, we laugh, we smile, we voluntarily get out of bed. What a beautiful masterpiece the human being is.
Just like glass.
Like glass, we appear strong. We hold demonstrations. We buy firearms for our homes. We stay in school until we’ve become as well-educated as we can be. We won’t let anyone tell us we’re weak or inferior. We juggle the world on our shoulders, refusing help all along the way. The “I can” spirit that so defines America motivates us and makes us believe we’re made of some sort of extra tough cloth. We can withstand a couple of fly balls hitting us and remain standing. Strength has become our trademark, and for good cause: we are indeed strong. But, just like glass, we’re also fragile. One ball, thrown with just the right amount of force, can shatter us into a thousand pieces just as totally as it would a window.
I’ve lived my life believing that, armed with nothing but a smile, I could survive. My smile is nothing extraordinary. Actually, it’s rather common. But I’ve always believed that as long as I can smile…. things will be okay. If I smile, someone will smile back, thereby changing a hard moment into a tolerable one. When I was young, my mom told me: “If you’re smiling, it’s hard for someone to say something mean to you.” I never forgot it. “I can smile,” I thought. And I tried it and found that it’s true. People are less likely to be rude, they’re less likely to insult you, they’re less likely to attack unnecessarily, if you smile at them. Being polite and friendly accomplishes a lot more than brute force. Sometimes a simple smile can change a person’s entire outlook on life. I know because I’ve been on the receiving end of some miraculous smiles. But smiles can also break a heart.
Smiling in the face of pain shows strength but it can also become a way to hide from the pain. Every time I smile, I tell myself, “I’m okay.” But what if I’m not? What if I’m hurt? What if I’m scared? What if I’m exhausted? What if I’m lonely? I used to think that admitting to any of these feelings not only made me weaker but, worse, selfish. I didn’t see what good it did to tell someone what I was going through if that person couldn’t change it. All it did, I thought, was burden the listener. It was better, I reasoned, just to deal with it. To “grin and bear it.” You’d be amazed at what the human being is capable of juggling with a little bit of sheer will. Ultimately, though, we all eventually crack. Eventually, something random shatters our well constructed walls, something makes us lose our balance, and control slides from tired hands.
It’s not selfish to say, “I am hurt.” It’s human. Admitting need makes us vulnerable, balances our strength with humility and grace. Our fragility makes us all the more beautiful and precious. I learned early on how to hide tears…. I can cry lying right next to someone without that person ever knowing I’m crying. I know how to turn the air on full blast in the car and aim the vents directly on my face to camouflage an entire trip’s worth of tears. I know the tricks to breathing—how to swallow tightly to regain control of sobs. And I can smile, maintain easy and light-hearted conversations, even when I am destroyed on the inside. Only in the dead of night, under the cover of night with my pen, do I allow myself to process, examine and deal with pain. I’ve always thought this was the self-less thing to do. I’ve always thought that it was the right thing to do, because it releases others from obligation, concern and burden. But if the smile isn’t real, if it’s just covering up a raw wound… I’m hiding more than the problem from those closest to me… I’m hiding me.
If you owned the most beautiful piece of glass in the world, would you hide it? What about your daughter’s drawing? Would you refuse to stick it on the fridge just because it had a little water stain on the corner edge? Do you refuse to cheer on your favorite sport team if they lose a home game? Of course not. We all know that “life” happens. We’re connected not only by the triumphs, not only by the patriotic songs and cultural traditions, but also by pain. When we share pain, the bonds we have with one another grow stronger. When we share pain, we open up the most cherished possession of all: our hearts. When we share pain, we grow and in so doing shine forth a bright light. We often win alone… the promotion, the book deal, the weight loss, the prom dress, overcoming any addiction… all of these things are battles whose victories we claim for ourselves. When we triumph, the personal victories gives us another ounce of confidence. But it doesn’t deepen our bonds with other human beings…. not like pain does. It isn’t, therefore, our most special or beautiful moment. The most precious lifetime moments are those that are shared. When we admit defeat, when we cry in the open, when we don’t smile… we’re offering another the chance to hold out a helping hand and we’re giving ourselves permission to experience the warmth true connection brings, we’re giving ourselves and those who help us the gift of a genuine and heartfelt hug.
Glass can be glued back together again, given enough patience and time. When reassembled, it doesn’t look the same. There are cracks where once there was a smooth reflection. But the reassembled glass is more beautiful than the smooth one, for every crack in the reassembled one holds a memory of time spent caring over the final result. Every crack is a reminder that I cared enough about the glass to meticulously reassemble it rather than sweep and toss it. We’re the same. Once broken, we may not ever be the same again. There will be cracks we can’t smooth out, sharp edges that sometimes poke and pain us. But when we’re brave, when we choose to ask for help, when we show the broken pieces and ask for help in re-assembling them… the resulting kindness from others changes our lives. Sometimes it’s a slow process— all the shattered pieces takes time and patience and understanding—but we must remember that it’s a gift we give not only ourselves but also those who offer us the helping hand. Sometimes instead of trying to be brave, instead of clinging to the “I can” motto as though it’s the only option… I should remember that it’s okay just to be me, whoever that is on any given day. It’s okay to laugh even if no one else gets to joke. It’s okay to walk barefoot everywhere I go. It’s okay to home school. It’s okay to write long blog posts. It’s okay to like country music. And it’s okay not to smile.