For this month’s little ramble on human behavior, I thought I’d talk about a metaphor I think about frequently and have definitely posted about before: veils. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll leave the little excerpt from the book that first explained this concept to me here:
“Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way. But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don’t have to depend on the wind anymore.”
This quote is from a book called When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead- a book I highly recommend, by the way. And ever since I first read the book about ten years ago, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my own “veil” a lot, and what seeing the world with one means to me. After taking a required Ethics class back in college that discussed the theory of Rawl’s veil of ignorance, I began to think even harder about it and how other peoples’ veils affect their feelings towards themselves and others. And I wondered, years after first reading When You Reach Me, if perhaps Rebecca Stead was thinking about Rawl’s theories as well when she penned the quote.
Anyway, today I wanted to talk about what this means to me and how shifting my view of the external world has created an internal change within me. Instead of the wind softly blowing my veil out of my face, I feel like 2020 has just ripped it away completely. For me, there were several moments of my veil being snatched away and forcing me to look at the world how it really is: COVID-19. Racial Injustice and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Wildfires scorching across the hottest places on earth and mercilessly destroying everything. Hurricanes. Politics. Corruption. Shootings. Death.
And then, aside from those worldwide, universally-traumatic events, I had my own private life changes that shifted my view of everything. And not all of them were bad, actually. Falling in love with Nathaniel (and realizing I have everything if I have him) was a huge shift in my world that lifted my veil and opened my eyes to what true love means. Moving out of the house and getting my first apartment, being on welfare and working a “real job” and doing everything for myself, by myself, shifted me without me even noticing. Because sometimes, you don’t even see the change happening until you suddenly wake up one day and realize everything is different now.
Going through coronavirus and being forced to examine how broken things are in this country, and how I, even unknowingly and blindly, have been contributing to a corrupt system by ignoring it, has really forced me to reevaluate everything. It has made me realize that although I have my own problems in my life, and my struggles are valid, there are other people around the world who have it ten times worse than me. There are people who are losing their lives, their loved ones, their faith in humanity, and their homes. And while I have my own share of loss, I still feel inclined to open myself up to the world with arms of empathy and kindness and sorrow, ready to help in whatever way I can. I am ready to un-learn old ways of thinking and continue to think critically about how I can be a better light in this world for others.
I’ve noticed that these external changes in my life have subtly changed the way I think about a lot of things. I feel quite comfortable in my own skin now, and I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, despite all of the scary things happening around me. I’ve noticed in the past six or so months that being a harder worker has made me a brighter, kinder person, who appreciates human interaction and connection more than anything in the world. I’m the person who will start a conversation with anybody- the old man sitting next to me on the train, the person behind me in the grocery store line, or the customer ordering a coffee from me at work. There’s something about 2020 and needing to feel connected to everybody that has made me want to throw positivity around like confetti.
There’s another veil-lifting moment I want to talk about that struck me a couple of weeks ago. I went back to my hometown for a couple of days so that I could visit my eye doctor, and I ended up staying overnight with my dad. He put dinner down in front of my face- it was a piece of pizza from one of my favorite spots in New England- beach pizza from Tripoli’s. And I don’t know why it was this exact moment in time that struck me so strongly, but I just stared at that pizza in awe and looked back up at my dad, like, “Wait, you’re sharing your food with me? This is for me? And you don’t have to buy food with SNAP benefits? And I don’t have to clean up the dishes?”
I don’t know if I’m doing a great job of explaining how astonished I feel, so let me try again. For the past few months, living on my own and paying my own bills and just trying to get by on welfare living with two people who I don’t like very much (and definitely don’t share anything with, let alone pizza,) my brain was just having a really hard time processing what my father was doing for me, giving me some of his food. And in that moment, I felt my veil being lifted, seeing my world for how it really is, and how much I have changed along with everything else around me.
Another veil-lifting experience of pure happiness and astonishment: A few days ago, Nathaniel was walking me back to the train station after I came to visit him for an afternoon cup of coffee. The sky was playing some sort of an optical illusion that evening and the sun looked ginormous and red and beautiful, like a big glowing circle of red construction paper, and the clouds were streaked with pastel oranges and purples, and he proudly pointed out the sun to me because he knew I would gasp with delight. And I don’t know why, but there was something about that evening and Nathaniel showing me the sunset that made my eyes well up with tears and my heart feel so full, I thought it would burst. I remember I just grabbed him and hugged him so fucking hard, and I felt so happy to be alive in that perfect moment with him. That, to me, was another moment of lifting my veil and taking time out of my usual day-to-day life to stop and appreciate the world for what it really is.
It’s moments like that which remind me why I have so much to be grateful for and appreciative of every day. I may not have much, like reliable food or enough quarters to do my laundry, but I have all the blood red sunsets and ten-minute hugs I could ever ask for. And that, for me, is something I’ve never even had to consider before this year.