I like to think I’m an exceptionally good person. Not perfect of course – actually rife with flaws – but in general, at the core, a good person. But I recently saw a slice of my character that was not particularly impressive, and I was actually surprised at how shallow I was. FYI, I don’t count behavior associated with totally justified road rage or PMS in my calculation of how wonderful I am.
Not long ago I had occasion to meet with several people, one of whom was a woman I had never met before, who was flawless. Now I encounter bright, funny, beautiful fellow females on a regular basis and for the most part I don’t feel particularly inferior, and if I do it’s not long before I’ve made sure it’s clear that I’m the funniest woman in the room and that typically trumps all. But in this case, I am telling you this person was flawless. Not a single blemish on her skin. Perfect hair. I mean shiny and straight and seemingly her natural color. Her attire was a perfect blend of professional and hip and it fit her slim frame perfectly. I felt totally deflated.
Here’s the thing, I know what I look like. Yes I could stand to lose a few pounds, but for the most part I’m not hideous. But I realized that at that moment, in this woman’s presence, I had a much different vision of myself. I saw everyone in the room as they were, and then I saw myself as something of a troll. Not one of those cute ones with bright hair that used to sit atop our pencils, but more like an ogre. A big hunchback ogre in a polyester flowered moo-moo with rough oily skin dotted with whiteheads, greasy frizzy hair, labored and raspy breathing and a runny nose. In truth I did not look like that, but nevertheless that’s what I imagined.
I smiled and nodded as this perfect woman spoke, totally eloquent and intelligent of course, but inside I was trying to lift myself back up. I reminded myself that we all have struggles and you never know what someone is going through. I reminded myself that I am a good person and that while I may have a zit brewing on my chin, I did not refresh my lipstick, and my pulled back hair might have a few fuzzy flyaways, I was fine. I really was so surprised just how quickly and deeply I felt like a total loser. It wasn’t just her appearance, everything was perfect. The way she spoke. The way she carried herself. I doubt this lady rambles when she gets nervous, mostly because I suspect she never gets nervous. She had an answer to every question. A good answer. A smooth answer. She was friendly, but she didn’t seem to have any real concern about what anyone thought of her (that’s code for, I could detect no insecurities). I am not criticizing her for this, I am in awe. And I am jealous. I wish I was more confident. I wish I didn’t ramble when I get nervous. I wish I could put on an outfit that makes me look like a calm, intelligent, fit, adult woman. I wish my hair was shiny, or at least, not wild. As I sat there listening to her speak I realized I will never be that person, and I sank lower and lower, and the hunch in my back and the grease on my skin and the flowers on my moo moo got worse and worse. I absolutely hated the way I felt and there was no escape. But then something happened…
I detected a hint of an unpleasant smell. Not a heinous smell and not terribly overpowering, but something floating on the air. And then I slowly realized what it was: she had bad breath. At first I thought, no it can’t be, she’s perfect. But that’s what it was. This perfect specimen who had it over me in every possible way had bad breath, and I was, I’m ashamed to admit it, instantly elated. My heart soared and I wanted to stand up tall, throw my fist in the air and shout “YES!!!” I was no longer an ogre. I was not perfect, but I was bearable, where I hadn’t been two seconds before. Although I didn’t get over my elation quite as fast as I should have, it didn’t take too long for me to realize that the fact that I was celebrating this “flaw” was incredibly shallow and hollow. And also, who’s to say I don’t have bad breath? I know for a fact that after I’ve eaten garlic it’s not good. But the amount of relief I felt at discovering this woman was not absolutely perfect was what was really surprising, as if her “flaw” did anything to cancel out my own shortcomings, particularly those that are weighing heaviest on me right now.
I pride myself on typically being able to identify a life lesson in just about everything. This does not necessarily mean I actually learn anything, but I give myself props for recognizing where I could have learned. But in this case I’m mostly just perplexed. I think it’s clear I need to do more things that make me feel good about myself, and this situation reminded me of that, but honestly I already knew it. I guess I can be thankful that I don’t often feel quite so inferior, but really I just keep thinking that, yeah, I guess I’m kind of a jerk. Maybe we all are on some level, but just like her bad breath doesn’t improve my flaws, it doesn’t matter if we are all kind of jerks. I don’t want to be one…I’m a good person. Remember, I said I think of myself as an “exceptionally” good person, so I’m not supposed to be kind of a jerk. But maybe I’m not exceptionally good, and maybe I don’t need to be. Maybe just being good is good enough. It’s not like I danced around the room pointing at this woman chanting “Yuck mouth! Yuck mouth! Yuck mouth!” Maybe it’s not so bad that for a moment I reveled in the fact that she had not-so-fresh breath, maybe I should embrace it. I mean, if I celebrate her flaws the least I can do is celebrate my own, right?
**I wanted to entitle this post “Super Smelly Halitosis Makes Me Feel Bodacious” but I realized that could lead one to believe the post would be about a Mary Poppins-based fetish. While I suspect someone out there has just such a fetish, I do not.