What is it about the human experience that makes one human being feel like they have the right, the responsibility, or the need to approach a complete stranger and advise them on something that is exactly none of their business? You know the type of thing I’m talking about-those times when you are just minding your own business and someone tells you about this great split end treatment their cousin’s uncle’s ex-wife’s hairdresser has just started doing, all the while examining your flighty locks with a turned up nose and a look of horror on their face.
It happens to all of us. In fact, I’d dare bet that each of us has also been on the giving end of something in that ballpark—although, some are so much more invasive than others.
The majority of unsolicited advice I get is related to my weight and presumed poor health. It happened again recently. It wasn’t the first time is has happened. It certainly won’t be the last. Somehow, though, this time it was different.
My dear friend invited me to attend a concert with her at our local theater. It was a lovely night. We found ourselves sitting in the balcony listening to the works of Beethoven and I was in heaven. The music was delightful. Our seats were perfect, but as is the case in many venues, the leg room was fairly non-existent. Intermission found me standing in front of my seat, stretching my legs and enjoying my favorite pastime (people watching) while my friend and her daughter escaped to the lobby to find a treat and peruse the DVDs available for sale.
People were making their way down to the mezzanine from the seats behind me. A woman who appeared to be slightly older than me and of similar build made her way carefully down the stairs. It was obvious that her knees were bothering her as she gingerly place each foot on the stair tread. A wiry older lady with shocking red hair bounded down the stairs after her. She stopped momentarily by my side and asked if I was comfortable in that aisle seat and mentioned that her companion had recently had knee surgery and was struggling to sit mid-row with little room to move her ailing joint. I confirmed that it was a more comfortable seat and she moved along.
My friend and her daughter returned with their treasures from the lobby. As intermission was winding down I saw the lady with the bad knee and one of the ushers looking towards the seats in the back and talking in hushed tones. It was obvious that they were trying to locate an aisle seat that was vacant for the remainder of the show. My friend and I quickly decided to offer to slide into the otherwise empty row we were sitting in and offer our two exterior seats to the woman and her friend.
I sat by the wiry friend. She was chatty. As soon as she started talking I had that defensive flash that I have whenever someone I don’t know wants to talk to me about my “unhealthy” weight. So why, you might wonder, was this time different from every other time this has happened? I’m still processing that. I think it had something to do with this lady’s demeanor. I don’t believe she meant offense (although offense could surely have been taken). I also think it is because I’m ok with myself. Notice, I didn’t say I’m ok with my weight, I’m ok with myself. For so long, I have worn my weight like it was an Olympic gold medal or something. The simple fact that it was there defined me. My weight does not define me. I finally realize that. I finally believe that. While it may impact my ability to do certain things, my weight has no more say in who I am than I allow. In that moment, I chose to separate me from my weight. It made it so much easier to listen to what this lady said without offense. I still didn’t love hearing it. It was still a very uncomfortable conversation. I feel so accomplished!
Here’s what the conversation looked like:
Her: Do you have problems with your knees? Because I know that heavy people have a lot harder time with their joints.
Me: No. My knees are awesome!
Her: You know, I had a knee replacement. My Dr. said he was sure I would have to get the other one done. It has been 25 years and I still have my own knee. Do you know why? I put these weight things on my ankles and I do my exercises every day (animated hand gestures showing how she flexes her feet). You have to exercise everyday! And….what you eat matters too.
Me: Nodding and mumbling along.
Her: My Mom really rode me about what I ate. She was always 105 pounds, and we had an aunt and some cousins who were…(scrunching her face up disapprovingly)…unhealthy. Mom made it clear we weren’t to follow suit. We were allowed seconds of everything except meat and bread. If we ate our greens we got dessert. It has just never been an issue for me.
Me: Sounds like your Mom was a smart lady.
Her: Do you ever listen to the Dr. Oz? He has some really good ideas about weight loss and health. (patting my knee) You should listen to him, honey. I bet he could help you.
Me: That is a lovely bracelet. Did you make it?
Her: (Looking a bit terrified as if she just realized what she had been saying because of my sudden attempt to change the subject). Then we continued a very nice conversation that had nothing to do with my weight.
Seriously! That was hard. But it was easy. Once I put my energy more into hearing what she said and trying to find a different topic we could talk about, and less into feeling offended I was able to just smile and take it all in.
It has taken me the better part of two decades to learn how to do that. It felt good!