Pencil Skirts and Sweatpants
We arrived home from Winter Park, Colorado yesterday afternoon. We left two days ago, made it to Hays, Kansas the first evening, and then finished the trek yesterday. We were all incredibly antsy those last miles. We were also, as luck would have it, stuck in Friday afternoon traffic. The last thing any of us wanted to do was stop by the post office on the way home.
(Aside: I absolutely love living on a one-lane gravel road. Also, I absolutely hate the fact that we don’t have a mailbox, which just seems to me that it should be an American right: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a mailbox outside one’s front door.)
Despite the fact that we didn’t actually want to stop at the post office, we did, partly because I knew there would be bills to sort through (ugh), and partly because we don’t have a big box at the post office, and I didn’t want our friendly mail people to get cranky at the fact that they had to keep cramming mail into our teeny tiny $76-a-year allotted space (What??? You don’t pay for mail to literally be delivered to your front door and I have to pay for mail to be delivered three miles away???)
We got the mail. I sorted through it in the back seat (Amélie was driving). There were some bills, some junk mail, a jury summons for Matt (he doesn’t know this yet because the poor guy is still on vacation, and yes, I opened his mail, which I think is probably illegal).
There was also a card from someone I love very much. I sat with it in my lap for a while and didn’t open it for a bit. I’m not sure why. I so looked forward to opening that card, and I think I wanted to savor the moment.
Finally, I opened it. I’m not usually one for sharing personal mail, but here (sharing with permission) is what the card said:
Hi, Jill – One of the cool things about reading your recent posts is that in your vulnerability you demonstrate your strength.
I have watched you navigate some of life’s biggest bumps. I am ever impressed that you walk humbly, but open-eyed, with your God. I am happy for your honesty.
I have been blessed by your care. To sit with you at supper there has been a great joy!
Love & a hug,
And then, I kid you not, my tangled-up soul breathed an immense sigh of immense relief.
Ann is a dear friend to me, but she’s more than a friend. Ann was my therapist when I was in graduate school at Kansas State University. I will never forget the first day I met her. I was desperately (desperately) stressed out. I didn’t want to ask for help, but finally I did. A few days earlier I had mustered up my courage, picked up the phone, and called the university counseling office for an appointment. I sure wasn’t going to show up looking vulnerable, though. I can’t actually believe that I remember what I was wearing that day, but I do. I strode into her office wearing a white blouse, black pencil skirt, and black high heels. I sat myself down in her chair, crossed my legs, slung my backpack to the floor, clutched my ever-present water bottle for security, and suggested, when she asked why I was there, that maybe I was a little stressed out and anxious. Literally the only thing I remember about that session is that she asked me, “Do you always dress like this?” I suppose most college students showed up for sessions in sweats and a t shirt, and I waltzed in looking like I was ready to close a business deal, and sure, I had taught my Expository Writing class that day…but still.
No, I answered her, I don’t always dress like this. But the truth is this: inside I was always dressed up like that, always in my white blouse and black pencil skirt and black high heels. I couldn’t look weak. I couldn’t look vulnerable. I always had to smile and succeed.
Ann was then my therapist for the rest of my graduate school days, and while I am pretty sure I eventually showed up in her office with my body wearing sweats and a t shirt, it took me a lot longer to let her see my soul dressed in anything but a white blouse, black pencil skirt, and black high heels.
Eventually, though, I sat in her office and let the darkness leak out. As Ann said in her card to me, she absolutely has “watched [me] navigate some of life’s biggest bumps.” Ann was my therapist when I walked the darkest path of depression I had ever walked. Ann was my therapist when I ended up spending ten days in “Ground West,” the psychiatric wing of the local hospital. Ann was also my therapist when I walked into her office one day and shyly, happily told her that I was pregnant with Amélie, which, while joyful, became a pretty big, you know, literal bump.
Amélie was born two months after I graduated with my master’s degree in English, and by that time we had navigated different terms in our relationship. Our paths naturally crossed in other ways. I genuinely loved her (and, now that I think about it, I suppose she must have genuinely loved me), so after a long conversation about how our relationship would change, we became friends instead of therapist/client.
I graduated from K State 16 years ago, and the fact that we have visited her in Maine and that she has stayed at my house for two weeks each of the last two summers attests to a relationship that has definitely moved beyond pencil skirts to sweatpants.
I will be honest, though.
For most people, I have a hard time showing up in sweatpants instead of pencil skirts. When I was living out my ten-day-stint in the psychiatric unit of Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan, Kansas, every new patient that arrived thought I was an employee there, not a resident. I may have been falling apart on the inside, but I sure wasn’t going to look that way on the outside.
And the truth is, I’m still that way. There are a few people I (sometimes) let see me in sweatpants instead of pencil skirts, but honestly, most of the time, I want you to see me in that pencil skirt. I want to look like I have it all together.
The thing is, though, is that I value deep, open, honest relationships, and I love it when people show up for me wearing sweatpants instead of pencil skirts.
The thing is, though, is that it works both ways: I have to show up wearing sweatpants, too.
Many of you who read these posts are my friends. I hope and pray you feel safe enough to show up at my doorstep in sweatpants. I hope and pray that I have showed up in sweatpants for you, too (at least metaphorically if not literally). If not, next time we are together, send me inside straightaway and tell me to get out of that pencil skirt and into sweatpants. And please know that you, always, always, are welcome to wear (both literal and metaphorical) sweatpants around me instead of pencil skirts.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but the world seems to be falling apart all around us. It’s a mess out there, dear friends. Just this week, precious people lost their lives because a white nationalist thought it was a good idea to get rid of some Mexicans (Christ, have mercy). Just this week, precious, terrified children came home from school to find their parents deported (Lord, have mercy). Just this week, at some point, you probably felt alone and scared and just wanted to be known for who you are, messiness and all (God, have mercy).
We need each other. We do. Oh, how we do.
Please. Please. Open up your heart to embrace with loving acceptance the next person who staggers into your life, broken, afraid, alone, and wearing (literal or metaphorical) sweatpants.
And please. Please. Please. Open up your hearts to those with whom you feel safe showing up broken, afraid, alone…
…and in sweatpants.
Behind the scenes conversations that went into this post….
Me (phone call to Amélie, who is at a friend’s house): Where is the nail polish remover?????
Amélie: Don’t hate me. I have it.
Me: OK, but where are the cute nail polish colors Grandma got you for your birthday?????
Amélie: Um, don’t hate me, but I have them.
Me: Just don’t even bother coming home.
Amélie: OK. I love you. See you later.
Me: Love you, too. See you later. Bye.
Me (to Matt): Amélie took the nail polish remover and nail polish and I really needed them so I can paint my toes for a picture! Also, I need to run downstairs and get my dirty sweatpants out of the laundry.
Matt: I’m just going to assume that I am going to understand this conversation some other time.
Me (to Matt): Hey, would you please read this newsletter before I send it out?
Me: Let me know when you get to the part where you need to see your mail.