Build Your Leaders

Postcard from Asheville

December 2010

Holidays are like relationships; we hold romanticized views of the way they should be. My Christmas vision looks much like a Norman Rockwell painting: Mother, with a starched white linen apron, presenting a beautifully browned turkey to my smiling family. We’re seated around a large dining room table. 

Wait a minute! My mother didn’t cook, and both she and Dad have been dead for years now. My family has been reduced to one brother, and he and his partner live two hours away.

Christmas dinner at the Randy Siegel house is more likely to be meatloaf than turkey, and rather than my family gathered around the table, it’s a handful of close friends. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s more than okay.

This Christmas, I am putting the fantasies in check and becoming grateful for what is, because when I think about it, “what is” is pretty great—meatloaf and all.

Last month, something happened that knocked me off my feet. Slowly I’m discovering  its lesson. This month, we’ll discover that beautiful pearls are often buried in ugly oysters.  


The Pearl in the Oyster

A painful but valuable life lesson.  When you think about an oyster, it’s pretty ugly on the outside. Crack it open, though, and you might find a beautiful pearl. Life lessons are like oysters. Sometimes brilliant insights are found in the ugliest situations. Several months ago, I stumbled onto one of those insights; I’m still a little raw from the experience.

You may remember that my partner of three years and I split up in the late spring. While I will always love him, I requested that we have no contact for a while. A sentence must have a period before a new sentence can begin. I need time to heal.

Two friends invited me to a dinner party for a mutual friend who was in town. I accepted and asked if I could bring a date. “Of course,” they said. My date had a conflict, and I went alone.

Driving up to their house, I felt something was wrong. At the door, I was greeted warmly by my hosts. I turned the corner and there in the living room was my ex-partner talking to a small group. I started shaking. I felt ambushed.

Not wanting to cause a scene, I held my head high, plastered on a smile, and warmly greeted each of the guests, including my ex. We awkwardly hugged. My heart was pounding so hard that I wondered if my ex could feel it through my shirt.

I poured a glass of wine and mingled with the guests. My legs were still shaking, but no one would have known it. I carried myself with poise and grace, but when one of the hosts went back into the kitchen to prepare our meal, I followed him.

“I am sorry, but I’m very uncomfortable,” I began. “This is very painful for me to be with my ex. I wanted to let you know that I’m going to slip out a little later,” 

“Oh?” my host began. “We love you both and figured the group was large enough that you’d be okay.”

“I totally understand,” I said. The last thing I wanted to do was to make my host uncomfortable. This was my problem, not his.

“I hope you’ll at least stay for dinner,” he continued.

“I’ll do my best,” I promised.

An hour later, dinner was served. As the guests lined up for the buffet, I discreetly tiptoed to the coat closet to retrieve my jacket. Suddenly, a booming voice filled the entry hall; it belonged to my host.

“You aren’t leaving us!” Within seconds, my hosts, the guest of honor, and my ex-partner had surrounded me. Some of the guests came out of the kitchen to see what the commotion was about.  

I was humiliated. Murmuring that I needed to leave, I stumbled out the door and hurried down the walkway to my car. The guest of honor trailed me.

Still trying to be polite, I apologized over my shoulder. “I am so sorry,” I said. “I know you like us both.”

“I want you to know it was not my idea,” he called to me.

Ugh, this wasn’t a totally unconscious act. I felt worse.

I’m not sure what else I said, but I managed to get in my car and drive off. I felt as if I was going to throw up.

That night, I didn’t sleep. As I tossed and turned, my heart continued to pound and my head was spinning. You could have filled a book with the stories I crafted about what was said after my departure. I was hurt. I was angry. I felt alone.

The next morning, I fully expected my hosts to call to check on me, but no call came.

Friends were sympathetic. “If you had been a straight couple, that would have never happened,” more than one pointed out.

“I know there’s learning in this,” I confided to a close friend.  “But for the life of me, I can’t get past the hurt and anger to find it.”

“Don’t you see?” she said. “That beautifully crafted persona of yours cracked at the doorway, and you were totally vulnerable. At that moment, you were transparent.”

She was right! I was vulnerable, and as awful as that night was, I survived. I had been so concerned about maintaining my persona and not creating a scene that I hadn’t taken care of myself.      
I’ve always been hyper-concerned with what others think of me. A real approval junkie. After that night, I’ll be a little less concerned about appearances and a little more concerned with what is real for me. After that night, I’ll be a little less persona and a little more my own person.

Perhaps I had found a beautiful pearl in the ugly oyster.

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