Although he is more comfortable with his body than most people, The Best Man is not in the habit of walking around naked. It’s just not something he does. So I was a little surprised when he walked into the living room starkers one morning and sat down next to me on the couch. He put a blanket in his lap and we started chatting like we always do. And eventually he said something that prompted me to say, “I love you.”
And he said, “That’s good, because otherwise I’d just be a naked man sitting next to a woman who doesn’t love him.”
Somebody has to write a country song about that. My truck’s broke, my dog died, and I’m naked with a woman who don’t love me.
We’ve laughed a lot about that since then, taking it further with things like “Otherwise, I’m just a woman scrubbing a toilet for a man who doesn’t love her” and stuff like that.
But the original event has stuck with me because it’s like so many human predicaments, and not just romantic ones. You take a chance, make yourself vulnerable, it just didn’t quite work out like you planned and there you are – naked with someone who doesn’t love you. What do you do then?
Somehow, this has happened to me on more occasions than I care to admit. In my younger years, I would often leap without looking. Then I learned to look, but still tended towards leaping rather than not. What I’ve realized since is that the problem is not with the leaping, it’s learning how to land and how to find your way after that. But now I’m veering off into a different metaphor, so back on topic and on with the story.
Once I was courted for about three years to work somewhere. They loved me, my spark, my enthusiasm. I was perfect. Join us, please, please, pretty-please. So I did.
And I fell in love: with the work, the kids, the families. I’d never felt so at home doing anything in my life. I threw myself into it heart and soul. This was my calling. I could do this for the rest of my life. And by all reports my enthusiasm was catching because not only was I happy but the kids were happy and the parents were thrilled. It was perfect.
But however perfect you may think something is and no matter how many other people agree with you, there are always those who see things otherwise. In this case, it was an Unlovely Rita whose goal seemed to be children who never ran, never sang, never laughed too loudly and always pushed in their chairs. This was completely opposed to my philosophy of raising creative, confident, independent and self-sufficient children – a messy process but an ultimately rewarding one. Unlovely Rita took a different view. She reminded me of that old sitcom Nazi who used to say, “Order! Ve must have order!” Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against neatness and pushing in chairs – it just will never be my first priority and never something that I will get heavy-handed about.
The kids did a lot of independent work and whenever someone finished something we would announce it and everyone would cheer. Unlovely Rita hated this and demanded that I put a stop to it, right now. I objected and from that point on was treated like another unruly child who had to be taught the lesson that we lived in a world where quiet equals good and cheering is frowned upon.
Unlovely Rita was soon joined by Unlovely Rita #2 and there were several years of constant pressure to change my priorities and focus more on discipline because I just had to face the fact that these kids just weren’t as wonderful as I thought they were. How were they ever going to learn the important lessons of life if I was always sticking up for them? And what was wrong with me that I couldn’t see that?
And so there I was – naked with people who didn’t love me.
What do you do then?
I tried being rational, pointing out the substantial rise in test scores and other tangible measurements of student progress, which were impressive if I do say so myself. They didn’t care. I was a lightweight optimist who didn’t understand the harsh realities of life and my kids were lazy, undisciplined hoodlums who needed to be placed under rigid control immediately. The whole thing was just too energetic and alive for the cynical, world-weary Ritas.
And I puzzled them and irritated them more and more as time went on. Life was hard and serious, didn’t I understand that? And that the kids kept doing better, well, that was just a fluke. It had to be, right? And they frequently and snidely made their views known. The Unlovely Ritas loudly and publically joked that anyone as cheerful as I was in the morning (or after a long day at work or pretty much anytime) should be sedated, smothered with a pillow, hit on the head with a baseball bat, or otherwise physically restrained and forced to be less sunny. Of course, they were just “kidding” – ha ha.
I tried being nice. The class was productive and happy and did not seem unruly or undisciplined to me, but they were free to take any disciplinary actions against any student they felt was violating the rules. They never did, they just kept complaining.
I tried brushing it off. I tried ignoring it. I foolishly pretended that there was no real malice on their part.
Eventually there came a point where things were going so well that Unlovely Rita just couldn’t stand it any more and felt compelled to intervene in my area in a major way. Many others agreed with me that Unlovely Rita was totally out of line, but no one was willing to rock the boat. I realized that if I was going to try to remedy the situation, I was on my own. That so many others agreed with me but weren’t willing to take a stand was intimidating. So I chickened out and backed down. And like an idiot, I quit.
In retrospect, this was a mistake for many reasons, the most important reason being that Unlovely Rita eventually ended up in charge and this wonderful place with it’s innovative philosophy dwindled and died. I should’ve stayed and fought for my principles. Instead, I chickened out and disappointed myself and a lot of other people. And I’ve done some cool things since, but nothing that I loved quite that much.
So what’s the point here?
You have to be willing to be wholly and completely yourself regardless of the circumstances. You have to be true to what you believe about the things in life that are important even if there are people who dislike you for it. You have to be real or suffer the storms brought on by your own lack of integrity.
You can’t be afraid to be naked. You know, sunny side up.