Dear Kathryn Mary,
You sweet, tender, brave, openhearted soul, I love you. I’ve thought of you several times throughout the day. As I lay in bed reading last night, it became clear why. In a past conversation I recall hearing you worry or feeling deeply about a negative reaction from an acquaintance.
Hearing your distress, the mother bear, crusty-cookie nurse in me emphatically stated, “You’re gonna have to toughen up and develop a protective coat.” That’s a lesson I’ve learned. I justify this as ‘professional distance’ a healthy separation or recognition of which issues are mine and which belong to another. It’s a way to organize or compartmentalize and create a sense of structure, ergo control. This form of self-protection comes from years of being exposed to the neediness of others. Truth be told, a denial of my own neediness.
Last night reading no, savoring, the words of Anne Lamott in her latest book Stitches I laughed out loud. She is so honest, wise and witty. Talking about her less than optimum childhood she was “diagnosed as an overly sensitive child.” This meant she noticed how unhappy or crazy her parents were. (In my case it was everyone except my family) The overly- sensitive ‘notice, worry, feel too deeply, even notice things not seen by others.’ Lamott says, “Exasperated parents and teachers would say, ‘You need to have thicker skin!’ ” Her spunky adult response is, “But you can’t buy a thicker skin at the five and dime.”
Oh the lessons they never cease. Ok, I submit. Age, authority, experience, cynicism and even wisdom don’t change an experience or truth. What I may have intended as instructive and supportive could as easily felt thwarting, restrictive and judgmental crating doubt rather than clarity and a long way from comfort. On reflection, a better teacher guides and leads rather than directs. Imagining myself as the sensitive one, I would prefer to simply be heard and likely validated. I can’t move to retell a yet untold story any more than I want someone editing words before the lines are completely written.
So dear friend, teacher and beautifully sensitive person- I applaud you. You are perfect and entitled to the full experiences of your life. Be fully alive. That is one of the gifts of age, continued learning and in many cases to relearn or edit my habits and thoughts.