I met this woman in a shop doorway in Quito, Equator.
Poking my head in, I saw the walls covered with the most wonderful hand-stitched tablecloths. Every colour you could think of. The result was a collage of joy that left me feeling like a guest at a family celebration.
This woman sat on the wooden chair outside the shop and I could not stop looking at her. Her very essence matched the abundance I had just seen inside. In her eyes there was an invitation … to see her…to be seen… and to share a moment in which she seemed to find delight. She had beckoned me over in a way that invited me into her world. Her focus never seemed to be on introducing me to the goods in the shop, rather it seemed to be in sharing a happy exchange. I felt drawn into a connection - Shop keeper to customer? Seeker to wise woman? Gypsy-soul to gypsy-soul? Who knows? Despite my ardent attempts to communicate with her, anything beyond indicating that I loved the beautiful colours was beyond my vocabulary so, in the end, a little flustered, I simply asked to take her picture.
and then really smiled.
I honestly don’t know what adorns her more, her necklace or those laugh lines around her eyes. Both embellish her energy and her warmth which seem to tumble out. I took the picture, returned her smile and then in the same way that you can be surprised by a burp, I threw back my head in a wholehearted, “I love this world” laugh. She then waved her hand at my head, in a kind of a benevolent blessing, and I left feeling like we had managed the conversation after all.
That was years ago, and I still think of her smile.
What I am struck by is how generous she was in that moment. I don’t know what kind of insecurities she had; I don’t know what kind of life she had led. I don’t know what self-talk plagued her, if she mourned her lost youth or how she judged herself on a good day or a bad one.
But whatever reasons she might have found for being guarded or defensive when meeting a stranger, she didn’t go there. Instead, she left the veil aside and simply let me in.
Gifting me with the greatest generosity of spirit;
there she is, open, authentic, unguarded.
When are my unguarded moments?
Oh ya, take a photo of me and you’ll immediately see the skin tighten beside my eyes in a reflex akin to a lizard’s. I am suddenly thinking about who you are seeing while you look through the lens instead of who I was being such that you thought you should take a picture in the first place. In an effort to hide myself and not be so vulnerable I find the right “pose” for you. I hold my head and smile… and I take a pretty good photo.
But do I let you in? Do I let you see and capture the part of me that really holds the smile?
Not before that day, I didn’t.
What do I hide? Oh, you name it…a sense of failure, imposter syndrome, insecurities. I don’t want to seem egotistical- so I don’t show my gifts. I don’t want to seem silly – so I don’t show my quirks. I don’t want to seem too artsy, intellectual, wishy-washy, old, emotional, airy-fairy, plump, self-important, not-in-control …(ok, the list goes on, but you get the point…). The point is I don’t want you to see those things, so I manipulated who you see. And in doing so I close the door.
And in closing the door I had created my own world of being disconnected and alone. But here’s the thing, People have to see you in order to welcome you in.
Since that day, I practice allowing myself to be seen – to show up with the ultimate gift- an offering of generosity and authenticity. By inviting you in for a cup of tea with my soul, I have come to realize that more often than not, it is connection that follows.
So I try to look right down the barrel of that lens of yours, to hold your eye contact across the table, to engage in your conversation and if I don’t speak your language, to share my heart in a smile. I simply fight to stay present and be generous with the door that I hold open.
See what you will.
In letting myself be seen, I have found the gateway to belonging.
This woman created connection with me in an instant.
And as only wise women can do, she gave me the lesson of a lifetime; When you smile, throw the door wide open- dare to belong.