A couple of weeks ago I officiated the wedding of my niece. Right before the ceremony began, someone I hadn’t seen in several years said to me, “You’ve aged a lot.”
I’d love to be able to say that my first thought was, “Thank you!”, but it wasn’t…what I really thought was, “You inconsiderate shit-head!” I didn’t say anything to him, but I’ve thought about his comment quite a bit since then. I’ve also thought about one of my favorite quotes from the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) in Downton Abbey.
A friend of the Dowager’s (Mrs. Crawley) had just told her that she reminded her of someone rather unpleasant, and the Dowager replied, “I take that as a compliment.” To which Mrs Crawley said, “You take everything as a compliment” and the Dowager Countess returned with one of the best lines ever: “I’d advise you to do the same. It saves many an awkward moment.”
As I thought over the awkward moment that I’d experienced at the wedding, I wondered how it would be possible to take that comment as a compliment. Could I consider myself like a finely aged cheese or wine? That idea just felt dumb. So I kept trying to imagine the comment differently. If I’d been 14 years old and someone said that to me, I would have been thrilled. There was nothing that I wanted more, when I was a teenager, than to look older.
As I pondered that moment, the questions that came to me were, “When was I happy with my age?” When did I feel/think that I was the perfect age?” It seems I’ve always thought that I was either too old or too young. The comment that would have been received by me as a compliment, at one time in my life, was now received as an insult.
But I am the one who received it. I’m the one who “processed it” as an insult. It is true that I have aged. It is also true that as much as I want to embrace wrinkles, gray hair, and spotty skin, I really don’t….not in myself anyway. But I want to, and this man’s comment helped me see deeper into myself. I also realized that there would have been no sting if what he said wasn’t something that I’d already been thinking about myself. He was just a mirror of my own mind.
What would it feel like to take everyone’s “stinging” words (even the words that I remember from the past) as compliments? What a fun thing to imagine and to try. At the very least, I’ll learn something about myself and maybe even challenge, and let go of, some worn out beliefs.