Yesterday I spent most of the day reading a book for the online bookclub I’m a member of. The book was called, “Southern Lady Code” by Helen Ellis. I’ve never really read a book of essays before and I didn’t know what to expect, but it was hilarious. She basically covers everything that southerners say, followed by what they really mean in certain situations. For example, “Creative is southern lady code for slob,” and “Preventative care is Southern Lady Code for sunscreen to ward off skin cancer and a crossword a day to keep Alzheimer’s away.”
A few times I caught myself laughing out loud at the author’s insight, because she was absolutely right. Southern women are known for being direct but polite, and trying to “fix their face” so no one is made uncomfortable when obvious breaches of etiquette happen. Unfortunately, I think people in general have learned that this is to be applied in all situations, not just matters of etiquette.
I started to wonder, is it possible that the reason so many of us feel so isolated is that we have been groomed to avoid honesty? Do we constantly say things we don’t really mean because we know it’s what people want to hear, and then suffer in silence for months at a time? If you’re having trouble answering this question right now, I would bet the answer is yes.
I’ve always been pretty transparent with how I feel about things. One of the guys at work jokes that he can never tell what I’m thinking. Jokes because there is never any mystery as to what I’m thinking. But while I’m very open about surface things, I’m learning that I’m essentially a mountain man living in a cave with a beard dragging the ground, male pattern baldness, and a big black pot full of squirrel stew when it comes to being honest about things that matter. If I didn’t invite you to my cave, I don’t want you to know.
I don’t want to talk about anything that is more than skin deep. I don’t see how it benefits anyone to let those monkeys out of the circus. There are maybe 4 people in my life who know exactly how I feel about a given situation: Christina Yang, My Friend, Other Half, and Jesus. There are others with varying degrees of knowledge, but no one else I feel comfortable enough with to come clean about it all.
So for all the people who are not one of the 4 I listed, I thought I would put together a dictionary for Pritchett-isms. Feel free to use them for yourself if they fit.
If you say, “How’s it going?” I’m going to say:
- “Pretty good.” “Pretty good” is Southern Pritchett Code for “I haven’t killed anyone, there’s a huge hole in my chest, I’m listening to Jack Johnson, and I’m not telling you anything else.”
- If I say, “OK I guess,” it means “If I was a crier, there would be tears now. But crying is stupid, it doesn’t fix anything, and it messes up this winged eyeliner I love so much, so thanks for asking but if you make me cry I will cut you.”
- If I say “Hanging in there,” it means barely hanging. By a thread. And the thread is made out of the cheap string that you get in the sewing kits from dollar general, and since I was taught to lick the thread before you thread the needle to make it easier to go through the eye of the needle, the thread is also wet and weaker now than it was when it came out of the kit. Just keep walking.
If you say, “How are you handling things?” I’m going to give you a blank stare and say “Fine I think,” because although I appreciate you checking on me, there’s no way in you-know-where I’m telling you what’s actually going on. I barely tell that to my Other Half. A girl has to have boundaries. And if I actually told you how I’m handling things, you would feel obligated to give me a lecture on avoiding carbs, the dangers of dysfunctional grieving, and then you would try to take my Kindle. And again, I would have to cut you.
If you say, “How’s your dad?” I’m going to say, “He’s doing pretty good.” And you know what? For a guy who needs a liver transplant who just lost his wife whose dog just died he’s doing pretty freaking great. But great is a relative term and I won’t violate his privacy by elaborating more than that.
If you say, “How are the kids?” I’m going to be honest. Because they make me happy, they are super funny, and that is safe territory to discuss.
I’m sure there are many MANY other things I deflect about, lie about, and just plain old ignore. But I do want you to know that if you ask about me or my family, I truly do appreciate it. I would not have been able to get out of bed in the mornings for the past few months without the people who love me and my family checking on us, praying for us, and making sure we have what we need.
I’m just being honest for once, and trying to give you permission to do the same thing. If you’re feeling something, tell someone. If you’re going through something, don’t hide it. If you need people, let them know. We’ve been groomed to lie, but that’s reversible. The truth is, although our first inclination may be to hide, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Being strong all the time is exhausting, and showing a little weakness every now and then makes you more human. There are people who watch you every day lie your way through your suffering and wonder what in the world is wrong with them that they can handle things as well as you, meanwhile you’re in a prison cell of your own creation, surrounded on every side by the lies you’ve told. Maybe, just maybe, the truth will set you free.