Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Hiding

Today’s coffee: Costa Rica (at Tokumitsu)

Keith and I have been blessed with a house. We have a good relationship with our landlady, a church member, and her husband, who is our neighbour at the farm. Being in a house of our own means that it’s okay to play our instruments, to shout potentially embarrassing things across the house… and go around singing little songs we made up… and other noisy activities. Except that all summer, the windows were open. I wonder what the neighbours thought.

Everywhere in the world, we have certain behaviours which we only do around people with whom we are comfortable. We only share very personal thoughts with those we trust. Each place, each group of people, has certain levels and expectations for the way people behave in public. In Japan, I think Hokkaido is fairly relaxed, like Seattle is compared to Boston. In Seattle, I could go to the grocery store in dirty jeans, whereas I felt awkward riding the subway in clean, tidy jeans in Boston, surrounded by business people in suits. In Seattle, we are also a lot more open with our thoughts and feelings and struggles than I felt able to be in Boston, or in Japan.

I confess I have an embarrassing hobby: I read manga. Actually, in Japan, this isn’t embarrassing at all; it’s quite common, and it’s a good way to start conversations with other people my age. As long as I stay firmly rooted in the real world with real people, I don’t see myself as being in any danger from my hobby.

But I digress. Last week I started reading a manga about a girl who hides her “true” self—all her embarrassing habits, hobbies, and tastes—and creates a completely different persona when she’s outside the protective space of her own home and her family and close friends. The tension points of the story revolve around the protagonist trying to keep her true self hidden so will not return to the ostracism and pain she experienced as a child.

We all have our public and private personas. Underneath the surface, we are all people with embarrassing habits and hobbies and tastes. The public persona competes with all the other public personas—how well can I pass myself off as perfect? How well can I hide the “real” me? (How good does my life look on Facebook?) I resonated with the protagonist of the previously mentioned manga because as a child, I really didn’t know how to create a “public persona.” I said exactly what I thought (often arrogant and socially awkward thoughts) and I behaved the same at school as at home.

In my natural state, 5th grade (hair surprisingly tidy for that time of my life)
I was in the “gifted class” in elementary school—I really wish it hadn’t been called that—with all the other kids with good grades and creative minds but no social skills. In some ways it was a protective haven, where I learned to use my mind but not my common sense. In 5th grade when I left that protective haven, I continued being my awkward self… and got bullied. It didn’t take long until I learned what I could and couldn’t do in public, but not before I was stigmatized as a social reject until I graduated from high school. College was great; I got a chance to start over with a completely clean slate. No one from my high school went to the same college as me. Then in a few more years, I got another clean slate in graduate school in Boston. And again in seminary. You would think I’d be pretty good at this by now.

High school senior year, public persona fully formed
Here I am in Japan. I think more so even than Boston, outward appearances are important, especially for people who stand out. I stand out in a lot of ways. Not only am I a foreigner, I am also a married female missionary, which in some ways is similar to the difficult role of “pastor’s wife.” The level of scrutiny of my lifestyle turns up a few more notches. My heart hurts for friends who struggle to find their place as pastor’s wives. There are so many expectations, but none of them spoken.

I hope that I can live in such a way that my actions reflect what is in my heart—and that I can do this without shame, hiding nothing. And yet there will always be layers, which are slowly peeled away as trust is built. I can be comfortable at home with Keith, comfortable sharing my struggles and joys with close friends, comfortable sharing prayers and answers to prayer with friends at church. I'm praying for wisdom to be open when it is helpful and closed when I need to be.

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