His brand new car has a big dent and a friend is hopping mad. We commiserate, reminding them that at least they weren’t hurt and the body shop will make the car good as new. We all know that isn’t true. CarFax records the repair, and the value of their investment has plummeted. Then we have the same experience. We’re angry and upset. Our shining possession is damaged, imperfect, and devalued. Perhaps we feel personally wronged. Things feel different than they look.
Parents of a certain age discuss their grown offspring and offer advice to one another. “Don’t be distressed. You adult child is doing the expected things. Not as you would do them, but they’re doing okay. Buck up. You really can’t expect to know all the details. You’ll get used to it. We all do.” Then our child exhibits the same behavior. We feel neglected, put out, and rejected. It feels a lot like loss. Things feel different than they look.
A friend is fired and on a certain level we understand that it hurts both ego and income. We sympathize. We empathize. We offer encouraging words. Perhaps, if we’re able, we may give a referral for another job. We might pick up the tab at dinner or offer a place to live. When it happens to us, we experience the event at an entirely different level, mourning our loss. Things feel different than they look.
Someone has a terminal illness. We comfort the sick. Later, we comfort the family, perhaps offering, “At least he didn’t suffer long.” We attend the funeral and go through the motions. But it isn’t us, and it is not ours. When it happens to us, we understand the gravity and the permanence of the loss. Yes, it’s true that death is the final stage of life, but not for me and not now. Things feel different than they look.
It isn’t all sad. For example:
The joy of a young couple at their wedding is palpable. All the possibilities and opportunities of life together await them. We celebrate their beginning, maybe remembering our beginnings, too. Things feel different than they look.
Do we fully understand a young couple’s delight at their baby’s arrival until we have a first child ourselves? We ooh and ah and coo, and arrive bearing presents and good wishes. But when we gaze upon our own the first time, we feel the connection. Things feel different than they look.
For that matter, do we appreciate a grandparent’s joy when they finally hold a new family member? Again, we say the words and maybe try to understand the depth of the ties. When it is our turn, perhaps we grasp the experience. Things feel different than they look.
I could go on.
This last weekend I became a MIL—that’s the text version of mother-in-law. Actually, I’m a step-mother-in-law. No matter. I’m a daughter-in-law and have been more than once. My friends are daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, some more than once as well. I never appreciated the anticipation and pleasure until my turn rolled around. I feel the bond of family from a vantage point I never considered before. It feels different that it looks, too.