Love in the Letters

15 Aug

Love in the Letters

Perception: the ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses.

The classic definition of perception, as found in most dictionaries, doesn’t seem to reflect one major aspect of the word, which I think, over time, has become synonymous with the concept…


The way that folks tend to use the word perception today, goes above and beyond the idea, which by definition implies, that we simply become aware of something, either about ourselves or others, taking the information in through one of our major senses and then sitting with it. Sitting with it without judging…Seriously?


A few weeks ago, I took on the laborious task of clearing out my mother’s garage. Forty-four years of Hensley family history was stacked in boxes, hanging on racks and nailed to the walls. I could still smell the gasoline that Dad kept in the damp, airless and unfinished room, which had become the dumping ground for things ‘too precious’ to throw away, or items that ‘we may just need’ some day in the future. Although the smell was not actually still around, it was as real to my senses as it was when I was a child, when Dad would cut the grass every Saturday afternoon.

I had an absolute ball despite my occasional run-in with the odd, ginormous spider. Thankfully Shannon, my dear friend from college, who now lives just a few doors down from my mother, was there to help me wade through the years of memories, mostly mouldy and stuck together after many long, hot and humid Virginia summers. We had such a giggle as we discovered my Dad’s toolbox (with all of three tools), old-timey swimming caps and football jerseys, photographs from our time in college, the wedding chest that still housed my ‘good’ china and silver, and one particular shoe box that held the contents of my heart as a teenager.

Stacked in a row, just the way I had left them, were a bundle of love letters; hand written accounts of life in the early eighties by the boys who had captured my affections. It was several days before I actually had the time to sit down and read them, but when I did, not only did I laugh until I cried, I realised that my perception of how these boys saw me was quite different than my memories of myself at the time.

Like so many girls entering the awkward teenage years, I saw myself as fat, unattractive and the girl that the guys loved to pal around with, because I was funny. As I read through the piles of letters, I suddenly realised that my perceptions/ memories of who I had been in the past, had actually been a judgement created by the feelings I had about myself at the time. According to the letters, I had been not only witty, but capable of intelligent conversation. It was mentioned on numerous occasions how much I was appreciated for my capacity to see ‘the real him’, with a sense of deep understanding for who the person really was, not how the world around him perceived him to be. Several also revealed “By the way, you’re not fat, I think you’re hot!” simply alluding to the fact that in my own correspondence, I had obviously allowed my insecurities to get the best of me by mentioning my weight and the fact that I was ‘working on it’.

I had been chunky up until the tenth grade, but the summer before my junior year, I shed all of my puppy fat by watching my diet and running, weighing in at a whopping 118 pounds (that’s 8.4 stone to my friends back home in Ireland). My perception of that time in my life conjured images of my clothes being too tight with an absolute aversion to tucking my shirt in, because it accentuated the fact that I had no waist line. As I read through letters from boys from camp, the beach, the Navy, you name it, I began to realise that what came up time and time again, was an appreciation of my good nature, my consideration for feelings, my openness and compassion. Even at the tender ages of 16-18, these boys were telling me that they liked who I was as a person.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the ulterior motives, fuelled by raging hormones, were glaringly obvious, and I had such a laugh watching ‘the dance of the birds and bees’ through the written word. But this musty shoebox from the past had taught me something about myself and about the idea of perceptions.

My own mind had cast aside the sweet and romantic gestures of these amazing young men from my youth, and replaced them with memories that I never had a date or that boys always liked my best friend ‘that way’ and tolerated me as her chubby side-kick. My perception of my teenage years had become enveloped by the judgement of how I thought things were as opposed to how they actually were, as I looked at the written proof. Sure, I can remember every one of those special encounters, each of those ‘first kisses’ and that feeling of longing to see ‘the boys of summer’ just one more time. But regardless of the fact that I can recall all of this, my perception of the time was that I simply wasn’t good enough.

I found a photo of myself, in which I distinctly remember feeling like two tonne Tessie at the time. My MTV hair-do was much larger than my waistline. What I wouldn’t give to have that shape and ‘perky’ disposition today! Perceptions and reality; how often do we allow our insecurities to blur the lines? The very second it becomes the slightest bit fuzzy, judgement sets in and BANG, we suddenly have a new perception of what is, based on a skewed set of criteria formulated in our own little world of self-loathing. This doesn’t just apply to personal appearance; it goes across the board, particularly in our interactions and relationships with others. So often our perceptions of what we think we are seeing, hearing or feeling are hi-jacked by our anxieties and replaced with an alternate reality which supports our underlying fears. Its remarkable, really, how clever we are at self-manipulation.

If we applied even half of the energy we give to our judgements and perceptions of ourselves and others to building our self-confidence imagine how unstoppable we could be!

The next time you find yourself using the word perception when speaking about yourself or another person or situation, take a moment to run it through your personal BS detector. Is it perception, you mean, or have you fallen down the slippery slope of judgement? We’ve all been there, so don’t feel alone. Awareness is the key to changing your judgements into perceptions; the ability to see and be and take it all in without turning yourself or a situation into something it is not.

Until next time…Shine On!






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