Do you ever look at other people and think: They’ve got it made. How I wish I had that beautiful house, those perfect kids, that nice car, that gorgeous hair, that svelte body? I have had such emotions throughout my life. When I was a child, I envied girls with straight hair and kids who were allowed to go on sleepovers. In high school, I wished I could be like the popular cheerleaders, who had all the cutest boys fawning over them. Even as an adult, I have had occasion to envy others who seem to have it all together.
What parent has not gnashed her teeth when she saw the perfect family lining a pew at church – four shiny kids wearing dresses or polos and khaki pants, not a hair out of place (meanwhile feeling chagrin as she licks her hand and tries to smooth her son’s unruly cowlick and subdue a rowdy toddler). While I am engaging in an epic battle with my kids, I feel certain that my neighbors and their children are quietly discussing the weather and kissing each other on the cheek.
Living in a picture perfect suburb sometimes convinces me that I just can’t measure up. I want that life of confidence and ease that I see when I peek over the garden fence. But the older I get, the more I realize that everyone, young and old, pretty and homely, rich and poor, has issues and imperfections.
Nothing made me realize this more than an experience I had about 10 years ago. I attended a women’s retreat at my church one fall weekend. We were welcomed and fed, and the atmosphere was warm and friendly. I recognized many of the women I would see regularly at Mass, in town running errands, on the sidelines of a soccer game, or at my kids’ school.
Then some of the women got up and took turns telling their personal stories. To my shock, one attractive, professionally dressed woman told about her marriage struggles and subsequent divorce. Another shared her health crises. Yet another woman wrenched our hearts as she described the loss of a young child. As each of these women pulled off the mask of suburban perfection, their bare hearts revealed the same insecurities, shame, loneliness, and heartbreak that I have at times felt myself.
In one of my favorite novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, a major theme is repeated. Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” After that weekend, I learned not to judge the people I saw from appearances. I learned to be kind to people. After all, who knew what they might be going through? And most importantly, I learned to be grateful for who I am and for the things and people in my life.