Do not be your dorky self. Do not make a scene. Do not call attention to yourself. Do not show your feelings. Do not, under any circumstances, act as if you matter.
I don’t believe in any of these dictates.
I don’t believe in living life as if I don’t count.
I don’t believe in accepting whatever anyone else wants to dump on me.
But I sometimes find myself living as if I do believe those messages and dictates. As if I have no choice but to take whatever is being handed to me. When I feel insecure, when I feel alone, when I am anxious for people to like or love me, I revert to behaviors which, instead of making me more lovable just make me easier to take advantage of. To disregard. To hurt.
The other night, I was on a social ride sponsored by a local bike shop. We were riding to St. Paul for ice cream at Izzy’s, second-best ice cream in the cities (sorry, but Sebastian Joe’s remains number one in my heart!). We were a large group, and were asked to ride in pairs. I fell into place alongside my friend, Kate. As we rode, we got on the subject of body image and how it can impact every part of our lives. If we let it. If we choose to accept all of the cultural messages we receive. Kate told me that she had a “come to Jesus” moment in her own life.
“I realized, this is what I’ve got. Short of surgery, I can’t buy a new face or body. So I’ve got to be down with the ones I have. And anybody who tries to make me feel bad about that will just get the five fingers of death!” (she brandished her fist in the air to emphasize this point).
As we crossed into St. Paul, we faced the dreaded Marshall Avenue hill. I’d never ridden it before, but those who had warned that it was a tough one. I was feeling good, had been enjoying the ride and conversation, and I’m good at riding hills thanks to RAGBRAI. So while Kate waited to take the hill with her partner, Victoria, I forged ahead. I charged up the hill, passing friends and fellow riders. When I reached the top, I was winded but felt great – for about thirty seconds. And then…horrible, unbelievable pain whapped me in the head. I have never felt anything like it. My head felt both as if it was being squeezed in a vice and as if it were coming completely apart at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. Several friends rode up and, as they passed, asked if I was ok. At first, my indistinct answer was, “I don’t know”. But as the pain continued without abating, it became “I don’t think so” then, “NO”. I wasn’t ok.
As I stayed put, trying to breathe through the pain, the ride sponsor stopped beside me. He sat quietly and patiently while I tried to figure out what I might need. Kate and Victoria rode up and stopped, their faces full of concern. Then two other friends rode back from further ahead to see what was wrong. I was frightened. And I didn’t have a clue if the appropriate response was to shake it off or ask for an ambulance to be called. But what I focused on, what I was worried about, was that my “emergency” was interrupting everyone else’ good time. I didn’t want them to miss their ice cream, or have to stop having fun on my account.
So I insisted we move on to Izzy’s. I got off my bike and locked it up, and realized that Kate and Victoria were planning to stick with me. Victoria said, “If we’re bothering you and you’d prefer us to give you your space, just let us know.” But the last thing I wanted or needed at that moment was space. I don’t really remember waiting in line for ice cream or what we talked about. I was just doing my best to appear completely normal while feeling nauseated, in pain, and scared. Every time I made eye contact with Victoria, I knew she knew that’s what I was doing. As we got our ice cream and tried to exit the shop, our way was blocked by a bunch of guys who were just coming in the door (the line snaked halfway down the block outside). I stood there wondering how to make my way out, when Kate stepped up and just calmly said, “Gotta get through here, dude!” and the crowd parted with ease, apologizing for blocking the way.
Such a simple thing. The three of us burst out laughing on the sidewalk. Kate proudly repeated her line, “Gotta get through here, dude” several times, enjoying our response to her directness. And then she said, “Jen, you have to be more like that. You have to stop caring and develop an attitude. ‘Hey, I’m sorry if my health crisis interrupts your trip for ice cream, I can’t care about that right now – deal with it, dude!’ That’s what you need to say. And if anyone has a problem with that, you know what to do…”
In unison, we both lifted our fists and said, “Give ’em the five fingers of death!”
The Mary Lambert song, Secrets, is posted for two reasons. As a dedication to Kate and the great conversation/life lesson, and as my new theme song! My past theme songs, Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me” and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” were also aspirational. I love the message of Secrets: namely, that you shouldn’t hide yourself inside – be who you are, without apology or shame.