Involuntary Exposure and the Power of Choice
Last night, as I sat on my living room couch editing an essay, my son went outside to clean out his car. I watched as he be-bopped about, diving into the backseat and stuffing discarded papers into the recycling. I heard the garage door open and saw him emptying a trash bag into the can. I went back to my work and the evening went on.
This morning, a full ten hours later, I went out for my morning run. As I hit the driveway I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that something didn’t look right. I turned my head to find my garage door open, light on, and the big, jumbled mess that is my garage, exposed. I shuttered. I cringed. I ran to my car and pushed the “close” button on the garage door remote as quickly as I could. As I sat in disbelieving silence I found myself saying, out loud, “I’ve been exposed. I’ve been exposed. I’ve been exposed.”
At our house the garage door has been a point of contention for some time. When my husband has it open while compiling the recycling I beg, implore, and plead with him to find a way to complete the task with the door closed. When kids come over and want to get the skates and hockey sticks out I offer to retrieve them with an exuberance that belies the true story. I don’t want anyone to see the garage. It is messy, it is jumbled, it is full. People and life experiences are important to us at our house so we place them at the top of our “way to spend our time” list. At the bottom of that list is our garage.
As I sat in the car, mortified by thoughts of who might have driven by our home and seen the hodge podge piles of boxes, the discarded furniture, the lose objects from the back yard tossed randomly about, or the pieced-apart model A with the mirror ball box and Finnish advent sculpture perched on it’s hood, it hit me that this is symbolic of so much of my life. There are choices, feelings, realities that hide behind the garage doors of my expression and words. There are also “garage door” traits that feel as though they define me, hiding truer and more chosen qualities hiding behind. Often I feel lost in these “definers,” not sure what to attend to and how.
I frequently hear about these garage door traits as I listen to others. Body type, hair color, job titles, tax brackets - these all act as “doors” of sorts which speak to the outside world. It’s easier to define someone by the door that’s displayed to the world than it is to suspend all temptations to judge and all messiness of actually getting to know the someone that lives within the doors.
The trouble is that the door frequently isn’t fully “chosen.” Sometimes the bones of a home determine the type of door that can be installed, at other times attendance to the inside precludes a re-working of the door, further, some people are truly in touch with how little the outside matters and don’t notice the way their “door” does or does not match who they are.
The aesthetics behind the doors aren’t always useful for defining the substance of a person either. Does practical messiness infer psychological disorder? Does a tidy approach to possessions correlate with an emotional “clean house?” Sadly, no. We are so much more complex than we want to be.
Every day presents us with numerous opportunities to lead, in our interactions with the world, with the externals or the internals. Do we represent ourselves authentically or do we hide behind doors that look how we wish we were? Do we observe others at a door level, ascribing labels and pretending to know them when, in reality, we have done precious little to call out their true selves? What kinds of doors do we avoid altogether (think here weight, appearance, annual income, cleanliness, intellectual ability, faith stances, life style)? What cobwebby corners of our own selves could benefit from being wisely disclosed with a safe other? What messes in the garage of our neighbor might we be willing to tackle with them?
Intentionality around these choices can bring us to new and richer ways of living. When I stop to remind myself why my garage is a mess I can live among the disarray with a greater sense of inner peace. When I do not make this awareness conscious I live in a state of self incriminating heaviness. “I’m a mess. I can’t even keep the garage organized. I will never be successful in running a home. If I can’t do that then I certainly can’t do much. I’m a failure here therefore I’m a failure everywhere. I hope no one notices.” This sounds so different from, “I could chose to open my home to my community in this season, spending time on hospitality, or I could chose to use that time to organize my garage. For me, right now, the choice is hospitality and my garage can wait.” This doesn’t necessarily make me welcome the mess nor does it justify me to the neighbors but it does make me able to live with it.
We can only do so much in a day, in a week, in a year, in a lifetime. Difficult choices are required. At certain points in our development our need to tackle a habit may not leave us time to attend to our relationships as we’d like. At other points our need to invest in our community may take precedence over our professional pursuits. At some important stages we may need to do internal work that requires an abandoned letting go of how the externals look altogether. None of this is obvious. It is rarely easy to make difficult choices that require a letting go of that which we have assumed we hold dear whether that be in ourselves or in those around us.
Knowing ourselves is difficult. Knowing others can feel impossible. Loving ourselves, messes and all, is excruciating. Loving others is inconvenient at best. Intentionally choosing to overlook some messes in order to live life with greater volition and health, to be connected more authentically with self and other, may be the best form of exposure we can aspire to.