Yesterday I went walking with my dog Ivan on his afternoon jaunt through suburbia. Though he does not insist on himself as some others might by incessantly barking or begging attention, Ivan does enjoy casually, unassumingly making his individual mark on everyone’s private property in the most postmodern, I do what I want, where I want way with little regard for stodgy, mainstream yard-markers, and as we stopped to admire and autograph everyone’s manicured lawns, I noticed something unusual.
I noticed that people actually have their grass painted green. Their nicely placed sod that is already green … is painted. I’m guessing on purpose, as I’ve not read any news of a conniving gang of botany-loving graffiti artists run amuck in Vestavia.
I let out a chuckle so full of disbelief I might have temporarily passed for an atheist. Are we really so concerned with the way we’re seen in our community that we must paint our own grass when it’s not up to par? Ivan must have been rendered speechless by his conviction, because he didn’t respond.
Even so, I marveled at how painted grass reflects what is important to us. While I’ve never actually taken a can of paint to my front yard on a sunny day, I could only think of how many times I have painted my metaphorical grass green, and I no longer felt superior to those who’ve taken it one step more literally than I have.
I felt sad.
I buy the clothes I think will get people to perceive me the right way. I obsess about the way my clothes fall on my body, trying to hide the wrong and accentuate the right. I buy brown canvas totes for my iPad and write on a bluetooth keyboard in hipster coffee shops hellbent on changing the world with their fair-trade, pour-over brews and wide selection of hemp merchandise – and boy do I Instagram while I’m there. I post funny Facebook statuses and haikus on Twitter to make sure people know how much I love my life and how well I’m doing and how much I sit around soaking in the awesomeness of everything around me. I make sure everyone around me sees my greenest grass – even when, perhaps especially when, my lawn is tired and patchy. I’ve been asking myself lately what I’m so afraid of, generally speaking. Half of my grass-painting quirks are borne of fear – fear of rejection, fear of… being truly seen? I’m really not even sure. But why on earth would we paint our grass if we weren’t afraid of something?
Walking with Ivan, I felt the ever-present Nudge within me to stop my part of this facade.
The Nudge said to let my barren parts be known, because all our yards have imperfect patches, the parts where the Ivans of the world have romped and rolled and messed up what was pristine; all our yards have grass we’re proud of, where it grows plentiful and tall and naturally green, and they all have places the grass won’t grow at all.
The Nudge suggested: why don’t we stop running around like deranged, suburban maniacs wielding buckets and brushes of grass-stain pretending that nothing is wrong with us or our lawn?
Do we really think people can’t see past what we paint, even when it’s our best coat?
When I wear the right clothes, do I think people can’t see what I don’t want them to see? When I do something well, do I really assume people think I do everything perfectly? When I smile without stopping, am I so naive to assume people don’t know I’m not actually so happy all the time?
Neighborhood news bulletin: we can still see each other. We can still see each other’s grass, the real grass underneath the fake green. We’re not as convincing as we hope we are. So, what if we just up admitted it? Just walked into the street, threw up our arms and shouted, I NEED HELP WITH GARDENING, PEOPLE, AND I KNOW YOU ALL SEE ME STRUGGLING – MY GRASS IS OBVIOUSLY AND UNNATURALLY SEA FOAM GREEN, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE.
Now, I’ve learned that there will be neighbors who peep stealthily behind cracked curtains and, instead of helping, call the Beautification Council to complain about how your yard is not up to the neighborhood’s standards. They will be the ones with the most pristinely painted lawns. They will wear fancy clothes and their children, achievements, jobs and bodies will be better than yours. They will be the president of at least three things, active on multiple church committees and somehow still have time and energy to play tennis after their personal training appointments.
We must admit to ourselves if and when we are these people, and we must fight to the death to stop. These perfect people actually need the most help, because they’re the ones creating and sustaining the community’s fear of brown patches in our grass. Fortunately, there are other neighbors too. These are the neighbors who happen to have some fertilizer to share, or who incidentally minored in gardening in college, or who are willing to admit their yards aren’t so impeccable either.
When our grass is brown (because it is for us all at some time or another) and we’re up front about it, we aren’t left to try to grow it alone. We aren’t forced to pretend, to try to paint something unpaintable, and then we have the opportunity to get to the real thing, the soft grass that’s naturally green and tickles your toes without tie-dying them. Painted grass prevents us from having pure grass. It’s an imitation at best, and it robs us of the chance to get grass that’s green because it’s healthy, well-nourished and well-tended. It does take courage to admit our shortcomings in landscaping and in life, but in the words of Anne Lamott, tough things – like admitting our imperfections – are “spiritual weight training,” and I’m hoping I learn what it looks like in my life to un-paint my grass.
This was originally published at Meredith’s website, Observations.