When Brent was in middle school, he played in a soccer league against other middle school boys from all over Knoxville. There was one boy who stood out amongst the rest for his level of trash talk and general obnoxious behavior. Brent couldn’t stand the guy. This guy eventually moved away for a year for his dad to teach at a university in a different state and Brent was relieved to be rid of him…or so he thought. The next year, Captain Trash Talk came back to Knoxville and enrolled in Brent’s high school. Fast-forward almost ten years later and that guy was one of the groomsmen in our wedding.
We make so many quick judgments every day about people and situations. We get stopped at a red light and pull up behind a slick SUV with a bumper sticker that advertises a private school in town and another one that says “Seaside” in a confident, understated font. Without even looking at the driver, we know that she’s wearing stylish sunglasses, has very white, straight teeth, and—depending on the time of day—either expensive work-out clothes because she’s meeting with her trainer or expensive jeans because she’s meeting her best girlfriends for lunch. At the next light, we are behind an older model Subaru wagon. This one has more stickers than bumper. They include one that advertises a local tattoo parlor, one that says COEXIST with each letter representing a different religious faith, and another one recommending that you should shoot your TV. This driver is on her way to a rally for animal rights or to get her eyebrow pierced.
This is what we (meaning me) do. We think we know people based on the face value of our first impression of them. It’s like racial profiling without the specific parameters of race alone—although that does often play a part in our initial assumptions about them. It’s unfair to the socialite or the hippie or whomever it is I see and it’s also unfair to me because I may prevent myself from meeting a new BFF. Considering this topic has got me thinking about how people view me. I think I know how I put myself out there to the world but my intended persona may not translate to others in those first five seconds that we’re introduced the way I’d like.
It reminds me of an old movie I saw years ago. It’s called The Enchanted Cottage. Robert Young plays a war veteran returning from battle with extensive scars on his face. He avoids his family and fiancée because he thinks his looks are too gruesome for him to marry or have any kind of normal life. He sequesters himself in an isolated cottage—the location for his now-canceled honeymoon. Dorothy McGuire plays the homely maid at the cottage. (The makeup people really went to work on this actress to make her plain but not repulsive. Apparently, the easiest way to do this is to give her bushy eyebrows. They are out of control.) She’s shy and beaten down by a world that values looks over just about anything. Over time, she quells his anger and he builds up her self-image. As they fall in love, they begin to see each other as beautiful. By the time they’re married at the cottage, they’re both perfect-looking in that 1940’s movie, soft-lighting kind of way. When they invite friends to come and see them after their marriage, they’re horrified to learn that these changes in their looks can’t be seen by anyone else. They have a very good friend who is blind. He comes to visit them both before and after this startling realization. He explains to them that our eyes can deceive us. When we look with a heart full of love, the features on the outside can change.
Oh, how I wish I could see people in this way! How I wish that I would care more about projecting an image that reflects love than worrying over my own blemishes or frizzy hair or frumpy minivan. When I meet someone new—maybe a mom at my children’s school—I’m meeting an adult with a history. She’s suffered heartbreak and disappointment in some form. She’s also had lots of really good days full of sunshine and smiling faces and people who hug her and tell her she’s great. (Hopefully more of the latter than the former one.) She’s got a talent that I don’t have even if she doesn’t know what it is yet. She’s got a story to tell and it’s fascinating. Everyone does. She’s been “writing” it for years. She may come across as confident but there is some hidden fear—a worry that lurks in the shadowy corners of her daily thoughts—that would knock her down to her knees in an instant. She may seem meek and ordinary but there’s at least one thing in her life that she’s really proud of and if you can figure out what it is and get her talking she’ll light up the room with the sheer excitement in her voice.
Every person that God places in my path today is a gift. He’s saying, “Look! Here’s another one that I love! Please take a second to get to know this one because she is different from every other person you’ll meet today. I know she’s got some prickly quills you have to get pass to really start to understand her. (In fact, Gabriel and I call her Miss Porcupine. Oh, the inside jokes I have up here in heaven with the angels…A-hem, anyway.) But if you can get her talking about her kids…Man! Her face just transforms. She’s beautiful!”