I take that as a compliment

A painting that I'm currently working on with another of my favorite quotes, "Sometimes I've believed six impossible things before breakfast" Lewis Carroll

A painting that I’m currently working on with another of my favorite quotes by Lewis Carroll

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.

47 thoughts on “I take that as a compliment

  1. Mary, it’s all In how you look at things and the moment in which it is received. My granddaughter who is seven explained how other children teased her about her last name of Small, my late husband’s name and thus my son’s name. We talked about it, I shared with her how kids used to tease me with the last name of Black. What I said to her was…how about saying to kids: “why, thank you” and leave it hang at that…the inflection being on the why, raising it slightly…that might take the sting out of the teasing and kids can’t do much with teasing if someone doesn’t respond to it. As far as growing older, I might have thought to say, “yes, it happens to us all”….I look in the mirror and think just as my mother did at my age…who is that old lady looking back at me…that’s not how I feel inside.
    SandyP in Canada

    • I really like the response of a “surprised and delighted Thank you!”, Sandy…it makes me smile to think of responding that way. Loving thoughts to you,

  2. Well you can take this as a compliment Mary – I am loving your paintings! – When I am confronted with things like that insensitive comment, I think of this Rumi poem – The Guest House – helps me take responsibility for my emotional health…
    Much love to you and all today!

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.
    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.
    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.
    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

  3. I saw friend, a Zen teacher, after she spent many years studying in Japan. She put it much nicer. When she saw me she said, “I am trying to reconcile the way everyone looks now with my memories.” I said, “I’ve gotten old, haven’t I?”

    “Great is the matter of birth and death. Life slips past quickly. Wake up! Wake up! Don’t waste a moment.”

  4. I always learn something from your posts, and an added dividend is reading your comments. They are often as enlightening as yours. Thank you all.

    • You know, it isn’t a coincidence that I was thinking similar thoughts about him before he said that to me (I didn’t say them but still…). Thanks so much, Jill. Love, Mary

  5. Dear Mary, isn’t it interesting how we manifest those things we’ve been thinking about in the so-called private confines of our own minds? These days, I too look at myself in the mirror and think “Yikes, I am really starting to look old” And then of course I’m reminded of those thoughts when a dear friend responds to my question about a new pair of shoes I bought to help give me better support for my aging knees “I know these look like old-lady shoes, right”. Her response was “Well, they do look comfortable” (Read: “Yup, old lady shoes for sure!”.) We need only look within ourselves to find the reasons/answers as to why certain people, comments, things, etc. are manifesting in our lives. Thanks for the great story and the reminder to stay tuned into ourselves, and to remain compassionate with ourselves, no matter what age we are!

    • Dear Debra,
      I love your story about the shoes! I just bought a pair of sunglasses on line (they arrived today) and they fit and feel wonderful but they are not very stylish. I almost thought about sending them back and then thought, “No. I want to keep them to remind myself it is how I look at the world (not how I think I’m being looked at) that matters!” I am hoping they remind me of this everytime I put them on….and if you and I ever get the chance to meet , we must make a pact: I will wear the sunglasses and you will wear those shoes! Deal?
      Lots of love,

  6. Loved this post as it is so true for everything – not just a “slight” or “‘insult.” Wanted to remind “the flock” about Mary’s Art Page tab. I had not looked at it in awhile and lo and behold I did and found just the painting to suit me. I was grateful that it was still available.

    • Thanks so much Mary for your lovely words about my artwork and post. This “situation” as been so full of insights, fun, and life for me. I feel as though a door has opened inside. Sending you loving thoughts this evening, Mary

  7. I wish I could be a better person to think there was good meaning in that comment, but I feel it’s plain rude.

    • You know, Myrna, I think he meant it that way too. He isn’t a happy man…and truly, I’ve heard him say rude things to others as well. I am so happy that I didn’t say anything to him but wrote about it, and thought about it, here with you and the others who visit this place. It has been an amazingly rich “conversation” for me, and so much fun! AND I don’t need to make an amend to him for harsh words. All is well. Thank you and love, Mary

  8. So sad that we live in a country where aging is feared and has such a stigma. As a women in America, so often how I am valued is in how I look, and young beauty is what is valued here. As a women who is aging daily, part of me is so glad to step out of the arena the other is in mourning for the girl who is no longer noticed. So much was said in that one little comment to you.

  9. Good for you, Mary. You are a better person than I. In my opinion, the person who made this comment not only has no class, but is a cretin, as well. So there. No forgiveness here!

  10. I don’t know Mary, I gotta go with the guy was a shithead!:). Your words always make me see the higher road, I thank you for that, I am not however able to think kindly of this man in this moment!

    • You’re not alone in that, Terri! Jack (who I hadn’t even told this story to until he read my post) said my thought made him laugh out loud. Love to you, Mary

  11. Hi Mary, As I age myself & feel sad about it I stop & think of how lucky we are to be aging. We are still here & alive. So many never get the chance. Every day is a gift & a blessing so I look at the new wrinkles & gray hairs & I see something to be grateful for. Life is very short no matter how long we live so live it!

    • Dear Denise,
      I love your words and the thoughts behind them. The day that I wrote this post, I was thinking about an old friend who is 20 years older than I am (I’ll be 60 this year) and who, 20 years ago, got a face-lift of sorts. At the time I thought, “You have fewer wrinkles, but I loved your face before.” It was a warm face with tons of happy lines. I got a text 2 days ago that this friend had just died. ….every day is a blessing. Thank you. Love, Mary

  12. Wow, first of all, my White Feather Farm Feathers are just a Tad Bit Ruffled! Some blankety blank so and so insulting OUR Mary? Too bad you didn’t say, “Thank you, kind sir, and many happy returns of the compliment to you!” – I have often thought that of all the senses we have been given, that sight is the most fickle of them all. Even when we try not to, our first impression upon meeting someone is most often through our sight – we see someone before we are introduced. I share a birthday one year apart from Stevie Wonder, and he was born in tiny little Saginaw, Michigan, ten miles from where I was born in Midland, Michigan, he in 1950 and I in 1951. I have read that the only reason he is blind is that he was born a bit premature, and was given too much oxygen in his incubator that caused him to go blind. I have often marveled about him, his career, his talent exploding from his inner self, and how in the world do you explain the prejudice of race and color to a child that sees no color differentiation to begin with when meeting people? To see with the heart, to listen with the heart, as wonderful as it is to have our gift of sight, I do believe that our outer skin, is just that. We may have peach complexions in our twenties, but what we hold in our hearts will forever shine out through even our (yikes) wrinkles! Sending love out to all the flock!

    • Wonderful insight (about sight!) Susan. I do think that this incident will help me in the process of letting go of age related prejudices that I still hold onto. So interesting that you mentioned Michigan (the wedding was in Copper Harbor, MI) and I just bought a new pair of very expensive Serengeti sun glasses (they just came in the mail today) that don’t look great on me but fit and feel fantastic. The world looks wonderful from inside these glasses and so I am keeping them. I think this is a good step for me to take…a good reminder of what is important. Thanks so much, Love, Mary

  13. Hi Mary – I love your Maggie Smith comments. She’s a class act, and so are you. I wish you had voiced your “shit-head” comment in a Maggie Smith kind of way!

    I love this comment by Winston Churchill: to an annoying woman he says, “You madame are very ugly”. She responds, “And you sir are very drunk”. Churchill: “Yes, madame, but I will be sober in the morning”!

  14. Hi Mary – what a great blog today! I love your honesty and I shall make an effort to remember…..thank you!

  15. What I think is so great is that we are not an unquestioning flock here. Mary`s strong enough to be disagreed with, I suspect. We`re not a collection of sheep nor would it be expected. People make thoughtless remarks all the time (and I include myself in this as much and all as I try to be careful not to) and how we react or take them in, is a choice of the moment. What this did was cause Mary I think to look more deeply into her reaction, I think, whatever it is. I love Churchill`s remarks. I keep a book of his comments beside one of our B&B guest room beds. Everyone who takes the time to read it, remark on it. A flawed human being like us all, he sure had the gift of a silver tongue and a quick mind.
    SandyP in S.Ont.Can.

  16. I would have had a hard time not saying “Thanks, ass!” to that man.:)

    A co-worker frequently makes condescending and rude comments, which I tend to let go. Other co-workers have said that I should say something, but I don’t want to stoop to her level, especially as it most likely won’t change the behavior. I agree with you, can’t change the comments, just my reaction.

    A friend’s mom once told us a story where 2 women were sitting on a porch and a 3rd woman came visiting. She kept bragging about her family and putting one of the other women down. The other woman kept responding “How nice” to each of the snide remarks. After the 3rd woman left, her friend said “Why did you keep saying ‘How nice’ when she kept boasting and being rude?”. The other said ” I was saying ‘How nice’ but thinking ‘FU'”. The only problem was a while later when my friend’s mom said “How nice” to a rude neighbor and we all cracked up laughing!

    • Your comment made me laugh! You know, I never thought to say anything to him, but I did immediately go over to where my adult sons were and told them. Both said, “Let it go. You know how he is. We love you”. And then they gave me a hug which was so sweet. I rarely go to them (usually we’re not in the same place) with issues like this and so I think that they enjoyed “mothering’ me for a change! It was such a sweet exchange that it almost made me glad it had happened. Love, Mary

  17. “Wisdom is merely the movement from fighting life to embracing it.”
    ~Rasheed Ogunlaru

    I’d say the same could be said of aging. As for insensitive oafs such as this fellow, they’ll never have to worry about achieving wisdom; they will forever be treading water in the shallow end of the pool! And how is that even the most stinging repartee’s spoken with a British accent of Churchill or the Dowager Countess can sound so bloody brilliant?? 😉

  18. Hi Mary!
    So happy to see your blog entry after a bit. I do look at folks I grew up with after not seeing them for many years and think….well they do look older. And because I look in the mirror every day and don’t notice my age….well I probably look aged to them too.
    But, I still have very fond memories of us as youth and hold them happily.

    • Thank you, Kathy. I have noticed that too. Sometimes when I meet someone I haven’t seen for years, I feel like they are a bit “out of focus” for a while….I see the outline of the person I knew and then they begin to fill in with who they are now. The most rewarding part is when we talk and find out that we have both grown and evolved into people who we like even more than we did before. Much love to you, Mary

  19. I LOVE the Dowager! The quote is perfect. Here’s another one you can put in the back pocket by The Dowager herself, I keep it on my PC screen.
    “Don’t complain, it’s so middle class.”

  20. Anyone familiar with a woman from the south will recognize the use of “Bless your heart”. It’s all in the delivery. It covers so many types of moments.

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