Green gingham dress made just for me by my grandmother.
Crisp white pinafore tied in the back with a big bow.
Kremlin slip with bells sewed in the lining so I could jingle when I walked.
“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine….”
I can close my eyes and see myself singing that song at children’s church while wearing my favorite dress.
I had no idea how terrible my voice was back then. I wasn’t self-conscious about my voice- or my body or anything else for that matter. I was just me.
Now, I listen more than I talk. Claim “it doesn’t matter to me” even if it does. Hate going to parties where I don’t know anyone. Say “I’m sorry” when it’s not my fault. Avoid the shared armrest on airplanes so as not to bother my seatmate. And I surely don’t wear bells in my slips.
I had forgotten about those bells until a girlfriend recently told me about her five-year old son bringing home his class photo. When he showed her the picture of all the smiling kindergarteners, she asked “Who is your favorite person in the class?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he pointed to himself.
How my friend Debbie’s little girl devoured her first birthday cake… chocolate from head to toe.
The way my best friend Cathy’s seven-year old daughter woke me up at sunrise while we were on vacation this past summer and said “Aunt Lori- The sun is up- we can have a dance party now!” (And we did.)
What do they all have in common? It’s our lights. That “umpph” that each of us is born with that is ours and ours alone. It’s as though God turned on our special light and whispered to us just before releasing us to the world “You are so amazing and unique- don’t ever forget it.”
But we do forget it. Sometimes our lights go out suddenly- due to a traumatic illness, a sudden loss, a tragedy. But for most of us, it is a gradual dimming. The reasons are big and small, countless and cumulative- a broken heart, a broken promise, a job we hate, the Jones’ and our endless attempts to keep up with them, that damn greener grass on the other side.
Before you know it, we are a shadow of who we started out as- a supporting actor/actress in our own lives. Quieter, meeker, less excited, and generally afraid to take up our space in this world.
Two weeks ago, I went to a wedding. At 39, I have been to a lot of weddings. Big and small. Open bar and lemonade only. Destination weddings and church weddings. Barbeques and seven course meals. “And guest” and solo.
At a certain point, I must admit to growing a little numb to it all. I could mouth the vows along with the bride and groom and direct the bridal party’s poses for the photographs. I could predict the Bible verse (1 Corinthians 13:4) and the songs (Ava Maria, On Eagles Wings). The routine, the rented tuxes and unflattering bridesmaids’ dresses (“You can wear it again!”- biggest lie told by brides)- not to mention the people who seem happier after their divorces than their weddings- all contribute to my cynicism.
But this wedding was different.
The bride, Kimberly, was getting married for the first time at 50. As someone who is 39, I cannot tell you how novel it was to sit in that chapel and get to add years to my age instead of having to subtract to calculate “where I was in life” versus the bride (gotta keep up with those Jones’ you know!). But it was more than that.
On that Saturday morning in Gold Hill, North Carolina in a tiny church that reminded me of my grandmother’s church in Forest, Mississippi complete with the hand-lettered sign documenting Attendance (49) and Offerings ($224) from the prior week, my friend Jami and I sat perched in a pew waiting for Kimberly to walk down the aisle.
“50 minus 39? Think, think…. God, I suck at math. 11 years.”
“My God. I have at least 11 years left to do this. What a relief.”
Scanning the room….
“I like that dress.”
“Hate that updo.”
“Is that woman seriously wearing a hat with feathers on it?”
“How long will this take?”
“Did I leave my flat-iron on?”
“Are they going to just let that baby keep crying?”
“11 whole years. Damn. Forget Plan B. Plan A all the way.”
Then, the organ sounded.
And there she was.
I looked over at Jami and both of us had tears in our eyes.
I whispered to her without thinking “What the hell is wrong with us?” (We don’t cry at weddings. Jaded, cynical, professional guests- see above if you have forgotten- don’t cry at weddings.)
“My God,” Jami said “she’s so… her.”
And while that may sound like the worst description ever, it was the only description that fit. Jami nailed it. All I could do was nod my head in agreement and wipe away my tears.
After the fact, I realized that what overwhelmed us in that moment was her light. She was in fact so– her. And the fact that she was doing something at 50 that most women do well before then did not dim her light at all- it illuminated it. She was that person who only moments before heard God say “You are so amazing and unique- don’t ever forget it.”
And the thing that has stuck with me about that day is the realization that, even though circumstances may dim our lights, our lights can shine again.
At any moment, we can decide that we are our own favorite person.
We can lick our dessert plate clean.
We can have a dance party at sunrise.
We can love without fear.
We can write.
We can try.
We can try again.
We can change careers.
We can take up the whole armrest.
We can get married at 50 (or not.)
We can insist on better.
We can sew bells in our slips.
We can shine.
“You are so amazing and unique– don’t ever forget it.”