Have you ever looked in the mirror of truth, the one in which a wise man sees a fool that frightens the brave man enough to run away screaming? When you’re prompted to see yourself in your proverbial filthy rags, it is often a life changing experience.
Elizabeth changed my life in 10th grade. Elizabeth was new to the school that year, and was a fellow student in my biology class. She was seriously fat and wore moo moos that were obviously purchased at K-Mart. She had red stringy hair, little beady blue eyes with transparent eyelashes, and a big beak nose. Elizabeth was not pretty, especially by snotty female 16-year-old standards.
Based her presentation, I was not only not welcoming towards Elizabeth. I was dismissive and even rude. I was always surprised when I saw her at parties, at which I avoided speaking with her and refrained from acknowledging her as a classmate.
Elizabeth didn’t take my coldness and rudeness personally, or at least she didn’t show that she did. She would always smile and say something nice regardless of how dismissive or rude I had been. Over time, Elizabeth’s persistent gracious niceness in the face of my nastiness began to wear on me.
Over time, I felt more and more like the mean girl I was, which made looking in the mirror progressively more painful. During contemplation one morning, I decided “lesson learned”. I vowed never to be intentionally mean or dismissive to anyone without a justifiable reason. Elizabeth had also taught me the tremendous transformational power of returning good for evil. I also made a conscious decision to emulate Elizabeth’s graciousness when I was subjected to unkind words and actions from others.
Decades later I realized yet another lesson from the unbecoming girl with the heart of gold – you never know when your actions have changed someone else’s life. I tried to locate Elizabeth because while I changed my behavior, I never came out and said “I’m sorry”. The effort was to no avail, even in today’s digital world. All I can hope is that somehow, some way she knows that her decency in the face of my indecency made me a better person.