Side Dish

We all have that one friend. You know the one I’m talking about. Every picture posted on social media with the two of you is fabulous of her…aaaand…that’s it. By all appearances, she looks the wealthy benefactor, her made-up face fresh with application, sandwiched between perfect hair and the strand of pearls draped around her chiseled neck.

And you…well…you appear like the indigent recipient of her opulent charity.

All that is missing to encapsulate this record of goodwill is the oversized check bearing your name, or the cardboard box brimming with non-perishable foods. But your awkward smile, with the shred of wilted spinach lodged in the corner of your canine all evening, eyes half-mast frightened by the flash, tell the true story nonetheless.

You must be homeless.

Or unacceptably uncouth at your ripe middle-age, suggesting a lifetime of shortcomings and failures. It doesn’t matter if the photo is celebrating your birthday, or the holiday party you both attended, or it’s a Facebook memory from years gone by. The one photo she chooses to share with the world, out of all the possibilities, is the one in which she looks best. The state of your image, as it turns out, is nothing more than collateral damage.

But you’re not special.

She does this to everyone.

Then there are the the photos you take with friends who are naturally gorgeous (aka as young and in the prime of their lives). The ones you happen to be talking to at the annual company-holiday party when a photo gets snapped. We all lean in, shoulder to shoulder, smiling brightly, while clutching a fruity cocktail to our chests, the one with the cutesy name created just for this occasion. Later, we become emboldened by the cheer, and make our way to the green-screen room to have a “professional” picture to commemorate our year.

My colleague recently shared last year’s group photo on social media and I sighed. My two girlfriends are soooo beautiful, just naturally so (they will still be beautiful, even when they are older). Every year I cluck when the photographer hands us our photos. I remind them what super models they are and how I look good purely by association, sort of like being the worst house in a great neighborhood full of beautiful homes. They increase my value.

All of this is true. They do.

The first year I attended the holiday party, I “dressed up” especially for the occasion. I bought Kelly green pants to wear with a sparkly sweater. This was indeed outside of my comfort zone, but this green was what I wore cross-country riding my entire career. I’ve had an affinity for it that long. I soon learned green pants do not show up in front of a green screen, even though a background filter is applied to every picture taken. From the waist down, I was nothing more than sand and sea. Not even my beautiful companions distracted from the eyesore of that photo.

I returned the green pants to the store after that.

I’ve never been a “fashion forward” kind of girl. Many years ago I came into DC with a few horse friends to go “clubbing.” I split a hotel room with one of the girls I didn’t know that well. As we were getting ready that evening she asked, “So what are you wearing tonight?” I was pulling my stuff out of my backpack, placing each item carefully on my bed. I said, “Well, I bought a green sweater to wear…and brought some tight pants.

This right here explains a lot, really.

She had just opened the closet door where all her clothes hung neatly on hangers. She wheeled around and cocked her head. Placing her hands on her hips, she could not hide her disbelief, nor her derision. She said, “You brought…a GREEN sweater…to go clubbing? Is that it?

Like I said, I like green.

That’s when I noticed her selection of clothes. It included an ensemble of leather as one possibility, and many sparkly items as the other. I quickly surmised the purchase price of her two choices far exceeded the cost of my entire wardrobe, twice over. Not only was clubbing outside of my periphery, but so was fashion, and I’ll just go on and say it…so was fitting in…anywhere.

For all those people who espouse the mantra of “get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” it’s exhausting when you live it, and starts to feel like really bad life advice.

Some quirks, as much as one works to smooth their creases, don’t really ever change. Driving with a friend to a trailhead for a day of hiking the other day, she asked if I had seen the new Birraporetti bags that were so popular.

That’s what I heard her say anyway. 

 I racked my brain. We were headed to the AT after all….was this a hiking bag? Did she say Eataly, not Birraporretti? Was it a gift bag of gourmet food? 

Nooo, the new ATP Atelier bags!” 

That. Is. Not. What. I. Heard. At. All.

Once again, I found myself reminding a dear friend that the friend she was conversing with was not “fashion forward” like her. She had the wrong audience. She laughed because she knew this was true. 

When we arrived, I popped out of the car and slammed the door, announcing my need to pee. I hunkered down next to the car as my friend turned and jogged to the woods saying, “Yeah, me too.” She might be classy and cosmopolitan, but being a horse girl as well, she embraced equal measures of practicality and humility. 

One of the things I love about my friend, besides her adventurous spirit, is her keen eye to the widening chasm of oppression in which we live, despite her own privilege. On the trail, I told her about the day I left the office late last week. I passed the same park I always did on my walk home, but at that time of night, I passed a line 40 or 50 people deep, wrapped around the block. They were waiting for the meals being dispensed from a pantry truck.

Regardless of what people suffering from homelessness did in their lives, or didn’t do, it would be a mistake to lump them altogether as fuck-ups who created their situation. How many of us have fucked-up badly in life and gotten away with it? So much so it never affected our careers, our long-term health, or our important relationships?

Is there still a single hand raised in the air?

Sure, some impoverished individuals are bad actors who created their misfortune. But bad actors exist everywhere, despite their titles, their bank accounts, their level of education, or their otherwise sterling reputations, yet they will never face scarcity, insecurity, or oppression as a result of their shitty actions and fuck-ups.

So can’t we grant those suffering a little bit of grace before condemning them to judgment?

This Thanksgiving, I hope we can embrace a little more grace and generosity into our daily lives, myself included. A pandemic makes clear how fleeting and vulnerable all of it is for any of us. Family gatherings will be fractured at best tomorrow. But I have plenty this year for which I’m thankful. There are so many wonderful people in my life, family and friends alike, fashion forward or not, glamorous or hygienically questionable or not, or maybe even slightly narcissistic or not. You are all wonderfully weird and precious, and are what give beautiful texture to this life. 

I hope everyone has a beautiful Thanksgiving and enjoys their favourite food, even if it’s just a gift bag from Eataly or Birraporettis. X

4 thoughts on “Side Dish

  1. Well said, Jennifer . Lots to think about, lots to be thankful for. I am thankful you are an important part of my circle and for all you do for us! Happy Thanksgiving!


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