In my daily wanderings, I pass through the center of a college town at least four times. Morning, noon, and night, the main street is a parade of pretty girls in pretty clothes, and I have to stop the van constantly to let them flutter across the street. It's like one of those safari theme parks: safely behind tempered glass, I get a close-up view of creatures who are very, very unlike myself.
They do look lovely, you understand: silky, burnished hair parted impossibly far to the side (how do they do that?), flouncy floral dresses with a heart-stopping combination of girlish innocence and womanly allure, and miraculously sculpted torsos, exquisitely poured into skin-tight tube tops and framed with tiny, delicate shrugs. They look gorgeous, picture perfect, ready for their close-up.
As long as they're standing still.
But as soon as they have to walk, it's a different story. Suddenly the sweet, polished poise is gone, and these perfectly oiled machines of loveliness turn into bundles of contorted tics and grimaces, as they tug up a slipping bodice, shove down a billowing skirt, and yank back an intricately knotted silk scarf that keeps sliding around backwards in the breeze. Only yesterday, these same girls were in danger of snapping their ankles like over-doped racehorses as they tried to navigate their way over icy sidewalks on four-inch spiked heeled leopardskin boots. Now it's spring, and they've traded their mincing and tottering for slithering and schlumping, toes clamped like vice grips onto the whimsical flip flops that are so airy and carefree, they don't even stay on the foot without ferocious concentration.
What's my point, other than "HA-ha?" Well, I just realized that I constantly do what these girls do -- just not with literal clothing. This is what made us homeschool for a good year longer than we probably should have: I wanted so badly to wear that outfit called "HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY" because it looked so pretty to me. But every time I tried to walk around in it, something slipped, something shifted in a way it shouldn't have done. Things that should have been covered were not covered. It was an outfit that used to fit, but we grew out of it. But I went on wearing it anyway -- carefully ignoring the fact that, that final year, I spent most of my time trying to preserve the appearance of homeschooling, and very little time actually teaching the kids.
Or there were the years I liked to step out in a cute little number called "GOOD FAMILIES DON'T NEED HELP." This particular ensemble doesn't look good on anyonr, but there are plenty of people who wear it. It comes equipped with a broad brimmed hat, which makes you feel strong and mysterious, but which prevents you from seeing what's right in front of you -- for instance, your family, which might desperately need help from a therapist, a priest, a confidant, or even the occasional babysitter. This is an outfit you can walk around in, but you should not.
Or maybe you just want to go to Mass, and you just want to wear the outfit you bought at the GOOD PARENTS HAVE QUIET CHILDREN Boutique. You love that store. Everything they sell has a timeless elegance. So you, the good parent, put that outfit on, and right on cue, your children go berserk. They shriek, they drool, they whip each other with rosaries, they try to tackle the priest during elevation. How could this happen to you, when you try so hard to be a good parent? Must you really wear GOOD PARENTS RAISE GOOD KIDS WHO SOMETIMES INEXPLICABLY ACT LIKE RABID LEMURS? No, no -- that outfit is so gauche, so bourgeois. You'd never wear something like that around. People who wear that number just aren't trying hard enough. So you put it on, and try desperately to ignore how badly it fits.
So. Clothes should be attractive and appealing, they should add graciousness to the world, or at very least they shouldn't make the world uglier. But when it comes down to it, functionality really counts. The same is true for, for want of a better word, lifestyles. Some "outfits" really are good for every occasion, and never go out of style, and they ought to be worn whether they suit your mood or not -- outfits like BE FAITHFUL TO YOUR SPOUSE or PRAY EVERY DAY or NO KICKING KITTENS.
But there are so many others that only look good in front of the mirror. Things like, "POOR PEOPLE ONLY HAVE THEMSELVES TO BLAME," for instance, or "A MOTHER'S WORTH IS MEASURED BY HOW MANY YEARS SHE BREASTFEEDS" or "BIGGER FAMILIES ARE HOLIER FAMILIES" or "SMALLER FAMLIES ARE MORE RESPONSIBLE FAMLIES." Once you try to walk around in them -- once you actually try to live your life, try to actually get somewhere -- you may discover that you need to zip home and make some changes before venturing out again.
So next time you try on an idea that looks just great, ask yourself: Can I walk around in it?