She was optimistic, energetic, earnest and animated. Decision time. Do I say something funny, but sarcastic and possibly mean? Later, as I listened to her art presentation to a class of engaged elementary kids, something in me shifted slightly. My envy and inferiority and smugness dissipated and in its place, distilled and unfamiliar, was admiration. She was extraordinary and I had something to learn.
It is a hard won battle with myself, to see outwardly optimistic people without the lens of cynicism. Something sadistic in me wants to cut them down to size, wants to make them see reality, wants to make them realize that life is hard and not particularly sunny and why the hell are they always freaking smiling? I want them to be real, failing to remember that their real and my real are two entirely different animals.
Why this necessity to force someone to view the world as I do? Am I so uncomfortable with myself that I irrationally need to create a mini-me, in order to feel like I belong? Are outwardly happy people such an anathema to me that I must right the situation?
I ask this question more frequently of myself than I ever did before. Since having a child, I regularly cross paths with other people who raise, teach or care for children. These are often soft-spoken, patient, gentle people who get down on the floor and play. They smile a lot. They shrug off temper tantrums and seem interested when a child tells their never-ending story in gasping breaths.
I’ll be the first to admit that I often feel uncomfortable around children. I was the person who never wanted to hold other people’s babies because the child would sense imminent danger and in a wail, shriek out “Baby-dropper, baby dropper!” You would have heard it, if you spoke baby. Now, in case you wondered, I managed to get my baby upright and independently walking without actually dropping her on her head. Although after one 6 hour crying jag (hers and eventually mine), I was sorely tempted.
The down side to being assertive and intense and introverted is that my people skills border on misanthropic. I’m uncomfortable with how uncomfortable I am. I’ve read that one of the guidelines to success (and I assume that purveyors of these guidelines mean happiness) is to surround yourself with the people who have qualities you aspire to possessing as well.
Here’s the beautiful thing about kids and people who work well with kids. They don’t care if you’re a misanthropic, awkward adult. They are so damned happy you are there and involved, that they laugh along with your wry commentary. They seem delighted to see you. Every damned time. When I visit a classroom, I’m popular. Not through my dour personality, but because I’m there. I have days when it nearly brings me to tears. How would life be, if every time you walked into a room, you were flocked to and welcomed? It’s a marvelous, heady feeling.
Connecting with optimistic people has not been deliberate on my part, but my dark subconscious mind must understand how badly I need to be engulfed by light. I am surrounded by people who lift me up and it astonishes me – and I suspect, saves me from disappearing into the shadows.