Sunday, July 13, 2008

At arm's length

Remember junior high dances? Ours were most often held downtown at the Youth Center. Music played in a darkened room, and often--most of the time--there was more standing around than dancing. The girls would line the walls in clumps, waiting for a boy to come ask. But the boys, who were still so-o-o young, kind of goofy, and shorter than the girls (well, not me, but I was remarkably small in those days), couldn't quite make it across the great expanse of floor alone. Not when those girls traveled in packs, and turned their faces to giggle every time a boy approached. The ping-pong table out in the hallway held far more appeal. One knew the rules, playing ping-pong. The Beve reminds me that he spent all his junior high dances in the hallway, beating other comers at table tennis. Too bad too, because tall (!), 'cute,' athletic Beve was a catch in our junior high. I know plenty of girls who would have been glad to dance with him--including me, and I certainly didn't have my eyes trained toward the not-yet-the-Beve in those days.

My friends usually all ended up on the dance floor closer to the beginning than the end of the dance, dancing with some gangly romeo, while the adult supervisors came around to keep them at arm's length,--a literal ruler was used measure that they stood 6" apart from each other during slow dances. That's just who my friends were--pretty, popular, with something in them that drew boys. But I didn't get asked to dance much. If I did, it was usually by some boy I really didn't want to talk to, let alone dance with. Whatever my friends had, I didn't. Being left on the edges of the room was humiliating and, to be honest, boring. It didn't take too many brains for me to decide staying home was preferable.

But the experience of those dances taught me something. In fact, all of junior high, with its inexplicable pairings (why did that smart girl like that ridiculous boy? And how could that really cool boy, so witty and fun, like that silly girl? And why--yes, the ultimate why in those days--didn't any of those boys I liked look beyond the surface to discover my worth?) helped this education: No one would be attracted to me by my looks alone. By my looks at all, I thought then. I had to find another path to relationships. Any relationship. I determined that I couldn't bear to to dismissed by something as superficial as the way I looked. If I was to be disgarded, it had to be because I was known. Really known. And that meant opening my mouth and being transparent. By the revelation of my self. Judge me on the basis of my real self, and if you don't like me, fine. And I meant to do the same with others. Get to know the truth of them, not pay attention to what the outside looked like.

This has caused me to become what the Beve calls, "A compulsive communicator." An open book about my life, and drawn to real communication in every conversation. When I was a young mother, surrounded by our chublets all day long, I'd sometimes get together with other young moms and their kids. But many times the conversations would be about sewing curtains, craft projects, recipes, fashion. And I could only tolerate a certain amount of it. I'm a fairly good seamstress, have made a craft or dozen along the way, including more curtains than could cover the windows in this well-windowed house, but I get impatient with conversations about them. "Don't talk about it, just do it," my 'other mother' (the Beve's mom) used to say, and that's how I feel about such things. That is, I don't want to dwell in the shallows. I want to know and be known by others. I want my relationships to be Kingdom-centered, or Kingdom-bound. One way or another.

But here's a secret: By being this way, this open, and committed to revelation, I get to hold certain things completely to myself. No one thinks to look further than I'm willing to share, because I share so much. And this is like having it all, I think. I can have my privacy, and still have the kind of relationships I believe in. Secret places, where I am completely safe. It's like a carefully crafted arm's length.

But that's the rub, isn't it? There really are no secret places. Not really. God knows exactly who I am, what I am. Before a word is on my tongue--before I open my mouth to reveal whatever it is I have chosen to share, He knows the whole story. He knows what I say, and what I don't. I can't keep Him at the carefully crafted arm's length where I keep others. Even if I refuse to tell him, HE knows:

"You have searched me and you know me," begins Psalm 139. "You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely...my frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place."

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