I met a girl this week, a charming spirit at the dawn of womanhood.

Emma.

She was self-possessed for her thirteen years, bubbling over with enthusiasm, enthusiasm for the past — my family took a train up Mount Washington, and it was the coolest; the present — this Cookies and Cream ice cream is the best; and the future — I can’t decide whether to be a photographer or a writer or a meteorologist; I can’t wait to get to high school!

I met Emma in New Hampshire, at an ice cream social at the tiny library in the tiny town where I come to write and escape my life in D.C.

At the same event was a woman exuding an energy just as big and bold as Emma’s, but with an entirely different and all-too-familiar feel. We’ll call her Darlene.

Meet Darlene — A Very Important Woman

Emma’s grandmother had agreed to move the social’s starting time back thirty minutes so that Darlene could spend an hour of her *terribly* busy day with us. Nevertheless, Darlene arrived thirty minutes late, breathless and clearly annoyed that we had started eating our rapidly melting ice cream before her entrance.

Not five minutes later, her smartphone began clanging some tinny jazz number, letting us all know that she had to leave in thirty minutes to get to her job at a chain store where she had just been promoted and now had to carry the keys. Darlene was apparently heavily burdened by this responsibility (“I carry these at all times”), and she showed us said keys — three of them — chained to her belt. “Did you know that our sister store doesn’t even have a loading dock? They only have TWO keys!”

“Oh wow,” said Emma’s grandmother, which might have meant any number of things or nothing at all. I was also thinking oh wow, wondering if I could survive thirty minutes with Darlene.

It seemed I had little choice. Darlene left no opening for a graceful exit, talking non-stop, never even pausing to introduce herself or to ask anyone their names. She had really just come, it was clear, to announce that she had won the friendly library competition and to pick up her trophy.

Her other job, for which she also presumably carried keys, is at the neighboring town’s library. Her readers had devoured 300 pounds of books in the past six weeks, putting to shame our little town’s 275 pounds of summer reading. Darlene had plastered signs all over her library, reminding patrons that they had lost the competition last year and needed their trophy back.

Darlene collected her trophy, a plastic ice cream sundae with a cherry on top, and made her way to the door, her phone jangling another reminder of her importance.

Emma shrugged and smiled after the door closed, and we went back to our conversation as if Darlene had never blown through. “I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time, what books do you like?”

Abundance Versus Scarcity

What’s the difference between Emma and Darlene?  Both are high-energy and highly loquacious, both are focused on themselves and their experiences — so why did I find Emma compelling and Darlene off-putting?

Being around Darlene made me feel drained and vaguely sad. There seemed to be a desperation about her, a manic grasping energy trying to fill some dreadful emptiness, trying to find meaning and importance.

Our shadow selves

Our colorless, shadow selves

Whereas Emma’s aura was expansive, not draining. She was bubbling over from a place of abundance, not sucking in from a place of scarcity. Emma’s kind of energy welcomes you in, wants to know who you are and what you think, wants to celebrate with you because isn’t life so amazing??

Abundance -- the real thing!

Abundance — the real thing!

With Emma, there’s more than enough to go around. With Darlene, her ascent up the ladder of life somehow necessitates that others stay on lower rungs. I’m not kidding, she paid no attention to anyone — not so much as a glance — except to make sure that Emma’s grandmother fully understood that she had *lost* the plastic sundae. We were simply her audience, there to marvel at her keys. Three of them, mind you.

An Over-Abundance of Ego

I guess I’m over-reacting. I’m not sure why Darlene bugged me so much. Certainly in juxtaposition to Emma, her manner was doubly annoying. Or maybe it’s because Darlene’s persona is all-too-familiar to someone who worked on Capitol Hill for several decades. D.C. seems to attract the egotistical sort who come to the marble halls of power to prove their importance to themselves and the world. “I get the trophy, I get the trophy!” shout 535 members of congress and their thousands of young staffers.

Turning Contempt to Compassion

I hate to admit it, but I think the real reason I can’t stop thinking about Darlene is because she personifies a part of myself that I have worked hard to eradicate. A need to prove myself, a need for recognition and esteem.

They say that the things that drive you nuts about another person are the things you find distasteful in yourself.

I will confess: all during Darlene’s deluge, I wanted to casually convey to her, as if it was no big deal, that I had been a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., that I had met presidents, that I had been on TV. That my set of keys was really much bigger than hers.

I patted that childish part of myself on the head and hushed her up. I would have felt really silly — mortified, in fact — had I said any of that. I like to think I’ve outgrown the need to feel as if I’m higher up the ladder. Still, part of me wanted to squash her; but what I really wanted to squash was that trait in myself.

I recognize this desire for esteem as just my needy inner child reaching for the love and acceptance my imperfect parents weren’t able to provide. And I hope that I can see Darlene that way, too; instead of feeling contempt for her, I want to learn compassion.

Because contempt is really just self-hatred turned outward.

So here’s a prayer, because I’m unable to do this personal transformation stuff on my own: God, please help us all to love and forgive ourselves and each other well, to interact from a place of abundance, and to be more like Emma — wide open to the world and to your boundless spirit of love.

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