During Christmas break when I was in seventh grade, I added bangs to my one length-fits-all hair style, and for most of my life since then I’ve kept them.

I’ll never be sure how much this plays into it, if at all, but I distinctly remember one boy complimenting me when we returned to class in January.

Beth, Thom & Me Summer 1972

My sister, brother and me (far right) the spring I was in seventh grade

“They look really nice,” he said. “They make your face look less round.”

He was a year older than me, and all through junior high, high school and until the last time I saw him, two years after I graduated, he was particularly nice to me.

I didn’t clue into it until about twenty years later, but I think it was more than just a kind nature.

This very popular, somewhat bad, really good-looking boy quite possibly liked me, the socially awkward girl whose weight fluctuated with the changing tide and insecurities overshadowed everything about her.

It makes you think. I’d realized it already on some level by this time (the age of 36 or 37), but it brought home a valuable truth: no one is who they appear to be on the outside. Why one kid is popular in high school is a bizarre combination of the “right” talents, good looks and circle of friends. He’s not better than the girl with none of that, and if he’s lucky, he knows it.

That continues throughout life. The seemingly perfect couple gets divorced. Most of us knew the Duggars would fall eventually (although perhaps not as far). There’s always the pastor who walks away from his church in shame…that’s just a given in any community. Okay, I’m being facetious with the last one. A bit.

The hooker with the heart of gold. A cliché to make a point.

A close friend of mine made the observation a few years ago that who we are is “not about behavior.” It rang true for me instantly.

In her case, her husband had had a benign brain tumor that affected the entirety of his behavior, including his ability to hold a job or even help with household chores.

Their church, in a gross misuse of its authority, directed him to leave his family until he could figure out how to become “the man of God his family needed him to be.”

He had a brain tumor. He had brain damage. His behavior had nothing to do with who he was.

Now, that’s an extreme example. But there are plenty of people, say, with mental illness, who do things that later shock and humiliate them. Virtually everyone I know, mentally ill or not, has done something so “unlike themselves” they have a hard time confessing it to others.

I wish I’d known that boy liked me, if in fact he did. I wish I’d had the confidence to openly reciprocate his feelings, because I probably would have felt something for him if I’d let myself. I could have learned, early on, one of life’s most valuable lessons: who we are is more than what others see, it’s more than how we behave, and it’s more than we’ll be able to discover in a lifetime.

7 Comments on “behave (as) yourself! whaaat?

  1. Sometimes society doesn’t let us behave, or even voice our opinions. I remember reading about a lady who had to get her kids into a really good public school that only taught creationism and some other religious things. When she did her research about some of the administrators, she found their shady backgrounds. When she spoke against the subtle and mostly mandatory religious things, such as praying 5 minutes every the morning and saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Things like that. She got a petition but hardly anyone signed it, and those who did, got in trouble by the community and administrators. She eventually pulled her kids out of the school. So, unfortunately, we cannot always behave as ourselves.

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    • You’re absolutely right, and that’s part of my point. If we’re judged entirely by our behavior, it isn’t our true selves that are being judged. You bring up another aspect of a topic that could fill a book. It sounds like your friend was brave, though, in the way she behaved, and got out of a situation that stifled her and worse, her children.

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      • Great! I agree. I also think that some of us don’t really know who we are until much later in life. I still don’t exactly know who I am.
        I know! To me, there are other religions in this country, so why are these conservatives clawing at those who are following the Supreme Court decision. If they really think their religion is the best/right one to follow, why are they so threatened by others who try to put them on the same plane as every other religion and why can’t they play nice? I didn’t know the person; I was proofreading an assignment and I had to read the articles the assignment required, and that one-pager was one of them.

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  2. I am always saying to my mum, you don’t know people until you live with them, they are not always what they seem. Great post.

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    • Thank you! It’s absolutely true. We sometimes think we know someone because we work with them or whatever, but we’re really only seeing them in one environment. And no matter how long or well we know someone, they can always surprise us!

      Liked by 1 person

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