Definition of Embarrass
To make or become self-conscious; to become or cause somebody to become painfully self-conscious, ill at ease, ashamed, or humiliated.
We were all completely pumped. Not only because the Urbana Tigers had won the homecoming game only hours earlier, but that my close friends and I had been invited to go to an after-party at Bill’s house. Bill was the quarterback of the football team, immensely popular and extremely attractive. Thankfully, one of my friends, who had also been voted Homecoming Queen earlier that day, was dating Bill. Their relationship meant that we could snag an invite to the party.
As I walked around Bill’s house, it was a typical party scene. Some people were drinking, some making out, some smoking, and some were watching music videos on MTV. However, given the day had been mild for October, many were hanging out together on the outside patio. I glanced at my wrist, but realized I had forgotten to wear my watch. So, I pulled open the heavy, sliding glass door and quickly walked through, leaving it open. “Hey, does anyone know what time it is?” “It’s almost 11pm”, a girl I hardly knew replied. I tensed. My curfew was minutes away. Quickly, I turned back to walk inside to find my friends. But I didn’t get far. Suddenly, I felt that thud of the heavy glass against my face. I bounced backwards as the entire glass door shattered from the impact. Unbeknownst to me, someone had innocently closed the door. From the shock of the impact I began to faint…..into the arms of Bill who had been standing nearby and ran to catch me.
“Meg! Meg! Are you okay?” Everyone gathered around Bill holding me, barely conscious. As I began to revive, I looked up at him. “What happened?” Everyone let out a collective sigh of relief. “Geez Meg, you must have the hardest head. We’ve been playing basketball here for years and I cannot tell you how many times the ball has hit that door without breaking it. My friends scooped me up and called my parents so I could be taken immediately to the Emergency Room at the hospital. On the way, my friend Sari turned to me. “Wow, Meg. It looks like you got away with only a few scratches on your face and hands. I would have been so embarrassed, but you seem unfazed!” I laughed with her at the thought of Bill rushing to my rescue. Nope—I was not embarrassed. The thought did not even occur to me.
As I lay flat on my back, I looked around and let out a loud cough. The walls of the doctor’s office were probably clean, yet seemingly old and grey. “Meg, hold still.” Grabbing hold of each side of the furniture with my sole finger on each hand for support, I held tightly so the technician could X-ray my chest. “Breathe deeply.” As I inhaled and exhaled slowly, I reflected on the day’s events.
Having just purchased the most beautiful white sweater I had ever seen using my babysitting money, I couldn’t wait to wear it to school with my favorite pair of wine corduroy pants. I had never seen anything like it. Aside from the fact that somehow the length of the sleeves was shorter than most traditional tops and fit my shortened forearms perfectly, the sweater was covered with the softest and silkiest long angora. I once read that the fibers of angora are so hollow, they give the fabric the feeling of floating to the human touch. As I walked the halls of Urbana High wearing my new sweater, I felt particularly attractive that day. After all, the contrast of my almost black hair against the stark, white fabric was in itself a standout. I scored lots of compliments from both friends and mere acquaintances. I became so caught up in petting my outfit, I did not notice at first that I had begun to cough. First it was faint, but as I sat in my History class, the urge….no, the need to cough became uncontrollable and constant.
My coughing became so alarming to my classmate that, my friend Beth grabbed me by the arm and informed our teacher she was taking me to the school nurse. As I sat in the chair in the nurse’s office, she began to check my vitals. “No temperature. Your blood pressure is fine. Meg, you may simply have a bad cold, but given no other symptoms, I suggest you leave school and go see your doctor.”
And that is how I ended up on my back getting my chest X-rayed. My dad had left the University to bring me there, and as we sat together in the waiting room to hear the results, my constant urge to cough continued. “Meg?” I looked up and followed the doctor back into his office. “It seems you have inhaled a large portion of the angora sweater you are wearing.” That night I called Beth and next my friend, Courtney, to tell each of them what had happened. As soon as I provided the cause for my unexpected yet constant barking, they both laughed and independently had the same reaction. “Oh, my gosh Meg! I am glad you are okay, but how embarrassing!” Nope—I was not embarrassed. The thought did not even occur to me.
I just posted a new “Guest Flaunt” that got me thinking. It is a thoughtful, lovely piece from a woman named Amanda who decided to write a Flaunt for me about learning to embrace the fact that her hair had turned prematurely grey. As she put it, “Societal norms told me that that a thirty-something woman should not have grey hair but instead, should be a blonde, a brunette or a red head. I thoughtlessly aimed to follow that norm.” Now in her early 40’s, Amanda has decided not to fight a battle she couldn’t win, but to embrace her new natural color. In fact, according to her, Amanda’s own mother remained horrified by her resolution to go au naturale. I must admit, I was intrigued by this Flaunt. Mostly, for two reasons. First, it reminded me of the fact that although I walk this earth looking so dramatically different than the majority, that I am actually not as in the minority as one might think. As it turns out, people who I view as seemingly perfect are traveling on their own road to self-acceptance. Another friend was a bit shaken up by his young daughter’s new eye glasses—her seemingly perfect life experience now more complicated. While both these examples I can try and brush off as trivial, to these people the experience is stressful, and the ultimate choice is the same as mine has been…to unconditionally accept yourself (or your children), or spend your life letting other people’s opinions limit your ability to be content.
This leads me to the other reason I was intrigued. It occurred to me that when people born otherwise perfect experience a change that leads to some type of imperfection, the natural reaction is simply embarrassment. We are motivated to conform, because the alternative would be to become self-conscious. But living our lives (or reacting to the experiences of our children) based on how the outside world reacts becomes annoying and, over time, exhausting. Reading Amanda’s Guest Flaunt was extremely refreshing to me. It reminded me that some courageous people who find themselves confronted with difference make the following enlightening discovery: There is nothing to be embarrassed about by claiming your difference rather than resenting it. In Amanda’s words, “After years of being a slave to hair color, I felt liberated and confident in my decision to embrace this natural and genuine physical characteristic of mine.”
It has been more than a year since my “Glass-Half Full” post, where I listed the top ten reasons it is great to have two fingers. It has occurred to me that I may need to post my 2012 version. One item that just might make my list is that I have come to a new realization. I am never embarrassed. Oh sure, I have written about my years of hiding my hands in photos, self-conscious of my hands and feet. But here’s the upside. Because I felt ill-at-ease about my physical appearance, it has never occurred to me that I should ever feel embarrassed about anything else. Once I decided to flaunt the very thing I was most embarrassed about, the weight of the world around me lifted. Even better, I am delighted that others are joining me, no matter the difference, no matter the life experience.
After all, there is something liberating about not pretending.