What happened at the nail salon
One day recently, on account of my nails splitting more obscenely than a Hollywood power couple, I went and got a manicure.
I always take several colors down from the display because I can never choose my color outright. My sister-in-law always knows which color to choose — she has impeccable nail style and yes, that’s a thing.
I settled on two finalists: a preppy, peppy coral and a rich lavender, the color of dangling wisteria. The place was full. I sat down before the kindly nail technician; behind a woman with an Anna Wintour bob; a few rows away from a friend who happened to be there too; and next to an older man getting a pedicure.
The technician painted two practiced, differently-colored strokes on my fingers. Together, we choose the victor: lavender. I thanked her, with a smile. And that was all we said.
When I go to beauty appointments, I want zen. I want everyone’s family to be doing well — I HOPE they are doing well – but I prefer our mutual blessings to be silent: I don’t want to talk. I like to close my eyes and meditate.
On this busy day, I had just thirty minutes to get centered and calm, and I intended to use this time to meditate on courage, because I was preparing to submit some writing that made me feel vulnerable, and I don’t like to feel vulnerable. My counselor says that being vulnerable – opening up; dropping my armor – is my “growing edge.” And your growing edges, she says, are where your greatest potential – your latent power – lies.
So I closed my eyes and prepared to be like, I’m brave; It’s okay to be imperfect; Speak your truth – it might help someone. But the old man next to me would not shut up.
This man was my antithesis: as unafraid to speak his truth as a person has ever been. “Blah blah blah!” he yapped loudly, as though reporting from an airport tarmac. “Blah blah blah!” What was wrong with him?
“Blah blah!” he continued, “Thank God no one died.” I snapped to attention. Great, I thought. Now I’ll be pondering death for the next thirty minutes when I’m supposed to be pondering birth: the birth of great ideas! “You never know,” he continued, “when this minute is gonna be your last.”
My mind flashed to an image of me dropping dead on my way outta the salon. What if I chose the wrong nail color for my last moments on earth? Which color best matches a mahogany coffin? I imagined my sister-in-law standing beside my body at the wake: (“You should’ve gone with Swoon in the Lagoon!” she would whisper to the ceiling, shaking her head with her hands in the air. “Swoon in the Lagooooon!”)
This was like the opposite of silence. The man went on: “I think there’s gotta be more to this world than just here, where we are, and heaven. Maybe earth and heaven are just different spots in the universe.” “Ohh,” his pedicurist considered.
“I believe we all meet each other in the afterlife,” he told us. Please no, I thought. Are there ears in the afterlife?? The nail technician finished my second layer of polish.
“I read a book,” the man said, “that theorizes God is actually just playing a computer game and we are his computer people.” Yeah, my insides spat, a game called Legends of STFU. Perhaps I was hangry.
“You must have been very scared,” he said to the woman performing his pedicure. I cocked my head. Scared?
My manicurist broke our silence to explain: “Someone crashed their car into the store next to us, just an hour ago.”
“My gosh!” I said. They must’ve been very scared indeed. My fury softened.
“The driver crashed into the building but no one moved towards him. No one went near him. We didn’t know what was wrong, you know?”
“But we called 911.”
“Well that’s good,” I said. “You were probably afraid, and in shock.”
“Yes!” she replied, validated.
It dawned on me that Yappy Man was probably accidentally helping the salon employees by reviewing their story so they could process what’d happened. It’s like the way you help a kid come to terms with an unusual incident by retelling them, over and over (so long as they can tolerate it) the story of what occurred.
Sometimes a person needs to communicate before witnesses — “mirrors” — in order to wrap their head around things. Sometimes coming to clarity and peace requires more than just your inner thoughts — more than your own meditations.
“All done,” the man’s pedicurist said.
“Why thank you,” he smiled, and rose. He looked her in the eyes: “I know I haven’t been here as often as usual,” he said, “but I’ve missed you.” And then, he gave her a hug.
My heart turned inside out: I take it back! It’s FINE if there are ears in the afterlife!
I couldn’t decide if his pedicurist reciprocated the sweet man’s affection, which bugged me: The possibility that she didn’t made me sad. But I don’t think he cared as much as I did; I don’t think he cared what people thought. HIS show of affection had given him the opportunity to experience a loving warmth within him.
And, in expressing his tender feelings -- outcome be damned -- he took the honest warmth that was in his heart and used it to warm the room.
Plus! In helping the salon professionals process the car crash, the man had also manifested the opportunity to process his own mortality.
Connection can benefit everyone.
When my friend, freshly-polished, passed by me on her way out the door, we greeted each other with light, excited hearts — and NOT in whispers.
I like choosing colors with my manicurist; I like smiling at her; I love her giving touch. It’s okay for me to want silence but it’s a travesty to demand it in a public place at the expense of someone who NEEDS an out-loud moment of empathic conversation. Who am I to demand silence in public? Why would I want to?
A social place can provide you with an important type of nourishment… if you're game to let it in.
And vulnerability — well-timed and to the right people — can change you in growing ways.
When you open your mouth or pluck away at your keyboard, not everyone will want to hear what you have to say… but, they still might glean a lesson or two, and benefit from your voice. They might even pass your lessons along.