New York Subway (Photo by Runnx)

“No, she’s a McDonald’s girl. Don’t be fooled. She’s no Red Lobster girl,” said the tall young man in a dark suit during the afternoon rush hour on the packed D train heading down the West side of New York City. I was stuffed in between the two of them, holding onto the nearby pole as the train shook along the track, going quickly down the dark tunnel. The other young man in a chocolate brown suit nodded his head gravely making a reassessment in his mind of whoever was the object of his affection. “She said she was into the finer things but when we went shopping, she headed for the sales rack,” said the first man.

“Hmmmm,” answered his friend, like that spelled it all out. “She was pulling out nice stuff, but still…”

I wanted to ask what that might mean to the two of them. Did it mean she wasn’t marriage material because she was frugal? Or were they saying any girl who can live on a budget is just beneath them? These were two guys in off-the-rack suits who had started the conversation talking about their jobs as shoe salesmen. And now they’re putting down a girl who might have been happy with a man for the right reasons. Might have figured out how to be happy with someone who answered to their description.

Now, McDonald’s is a lovely place. It was my son, Louie’s second word after Da-Da. We were driving down the road and he sat up in his little car seat, his face lighting up at the sight of the golden arches and he sang out, “McDonud’s”. Just the thought of going in there made him happy. He was a McDonald’s boy. Now that he’s all grown up, he’s a McDonald’s man.

But maybe they meant something more subtle. Maybe they were talking about her expectations in life. Did she treat herself as if she were something that ought to be appreciated? Did she have ambitions of becoming something more? I can get behind that idea.

I was raised by some champion worriers who were always trying to protect what they had and expected all of it to be wiped out at any moment. Disaster was looking for all of us and it was only a matter of time before it would find our door. It was a draft system where everyone had a low number. The end result of that kind of thinking is they forgot to wish for anything. They forgot to ask themselves what they would like to have, could expect to get, if only they believed in the possibilities. That translated into never hearing what their ambitions for their kids might be. It wasn’t that they didn’t love us. Their ambition for us circled more around hoping we’d survive to middle aged at least. That was big love, daring to think we might all live to be senior citizens.

That also explains why my ambitions of becoming a writer were met with looks of terror. I was dreaming big in a profession that offered no steady ladder, no obvious path. I was doomed, which was pointed out on a regular basis. My father used to try and cajole me into becoming a secretary instead and said I was causing him anxiety. I forged ahead, stubbornly, anyway.

Many editorials later my second novel, The Sitting Sisters came out to some very nice praise. Dad read the book and came to me with a look of awe and said with as much gravity as he could muster, “You should keep writing.” He was setting aside seventy years worth of fears and risking it all to tell me he believed in me. It was big stuff. He saw me as a Red Lobster girl at last. That’s what it takes to also insist that people treat us consistently with kindness and respect – the initial belief that we’re not just here to survive but to thrive. Otherwise, some piece of us responds a little too much to criticism or downright bad behavior from others. We don’t quite understand there is a better way out there, so we settle.

Instead, we all need to turn around and look in the other direction, toward all the good that has yet to come.

So, while this hot summer continues to bake most of the country and we approach another new school year, take the time to reach beyond all of the cautious, measured, so-called-helpful things you normally say to someone with a good idea. Tell someone you believe in them – where they are, as they are, and leave it at that. Tell them to start believing in the possibilities of things unseen and let go of all the bad that never happened. My wish for each of you is that in the coming year you get to see how wonderful the gifts you brought to the table really are and you can begin to follow your own inner guidance. More adventures to follow.

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