Written on by Kathryn Lerro

My husband and I attended a graduation party recently for a young cousin who just completed grad school. It was a casual event held in a lovely setting—poolside in his parents’ beautifully landscaped backyard. We all had fun eating and drinking and catching up on each other’s lives and admiring the adorable toddlers who were infants the last time we’d all been together. A lunch buffet was served on the patio, and later, desserts were offered in the foyer connecting the patio to the kitchen. The graduation cake was a tall, circular delight—filled with layers of pastry cream and crushed Oreos—and was pronounced, “To die for” by a lady who knows a thing or two about cake. (And, while I don’t personally think anything edible is worth dying for—this cake was pretty amazing.)

I was standing in the foyer, holding a paper plate in one hand, a fork in the other, enjoying a huge slice of the spectacular cake, when all of a sudden someone accidentally hit my arm from behind and sent my cake flying—up, up, up! And then down–right onto a wall featuring a hand-painted Tuscan mural. The lady who bumped me ran for paper towels and the two of us cleaned it all up (with the exception of some renegade icing that got lodged in an electrical outlet); she apologized profusely while all I could do was laugh. Watching the cake fly through the air—as if in slow motion—was comical. Perhaps even funnier were the looks of relief on the faces of everyone standing nearby. They all knew this could have easily happened to any of them, and they were so glad it happened to me instead!

It reminded me of another day a few years ago and another food incident. Ten minutes into the cocktail hour at an elegant wedding reception, while eating sushi, I managed to spill a large splash of soy sauce down the front of my dress. I took a quick, involuntary lungful of air—the kind that precedes a shriek or a sob—and instantly felt my daughter’s hand grip my shoulder. She quickly whispered in my ear, “Mom, it’ll be okay; go rinse it out right now; I know it will be okay.”

I held my long, full skirt together to conceal the splotch and made my way to the ladies’ room. As I leaned over the sink and rinsed my dress, the deep red (dry clean only!) fabric got even darker. I really didn’t know how it would look when it dried; I just hoped the lighting in the ballroom would be dim enough to hide whatever was left. Amazingly, the fabric dried quickly and without a stain. But while I was standing in front of the hand dryer watching and waiting, it occurred to me that if I had to go through the evening with a big stain on my dress, I’d be doing every other woman in the place a huge favor. I’d be giving them someone to whisper about and someone to pity. I’d be taking pressure off them and easing their insecurities about their own appearance.

It gave me a funny idea for a unique business.

I could be an undercover entertainer—a clown, of sorts. I’d be hired to help women at social events relax and feel more confident about the way they look and behave. I would make a grand entrance with lipstick on my teeth and runs in my stockings. I’d laugh loudly and eat sloppily. As the event progressed, I’d parade through the room with a train of toilet paper stuck to my shoe, while smiling broadly—displaying the spinach stuck in my teeth. I’d be the queen of the dance floor, with sweat stains under my arms, enthusiastically doing the “Elaine” dance from Seinfeld, seemingly unaware of the laughter at my expense. At the end of the evening I’d make my farewell rounds, limping along with a broken high heel and torn hem, saying my goodbyes with mascara streaks under my eyes.

My business would catch on in no time. When women called to RSVP for parties, they’d ask in secretive tones, “Will she be there? You know, “the Clown?” “She will? Oh, good!” The demand for my service would become so great I’d have to hire other women to fill all the requests. I’d probably have to hire some men, too. I might even decide to sell franchises.

I can see it all now . . .

Okay, I’m only joking. But the truth is we humans can’t seem to help comparing ourselves to others. When other people appear to be doing better than we are, it can make us feel uncomfortable, even afraid. When other people are not doing as well as we are, we breathe a sigh of relief—happy to know we aren’t on the bottom rung of whatever social ladder we’re standing on.

Perhaps if we all felt good about ourselves—if we were all doing our best, and we had the confidence to believe that our best was good enough—then maybe we could stop the comparisons and just be happy.

I don’t know if that’s possible.

Maybe someday.

In the meantime, if you should see me at a social event and I’m looking unkempt and I’m being loud and behaving strangely, don’t worry. I’m okay. It’s deliberate. I’m just providing a service.

You’re welcome.

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