Violet lived on the wrong side of the tracks—literally. I grew up in a fairly affluent area where most of the kids in my high school had well-educated, professional parents with many material possessions. There was an area of town, however, that was not affluent but still part of our school district. The poor area was separated distinctly from the more well-to-do area by railroad tracks. Violet lived on the poorer side of the tracks. I lived on the richer side.
I met Violet in the third grade. She had long, brown, frizzy hair and always wore out-dated, yet feminine dresses to school. Her hair was usually dirty and she often smelled. I remember her being somewhat sickly, coming to school with horrible congestion and seeing yellowish-green snot oozing from her nostrils. Frequently, I brought her tissues hoping she would blow her nose.
Violet was nice enough but she was not liked. Kids made fun of her. She was poor, obviously, and kids kept their distance because she smelled. I felt sorry for her. She couldn’t help that she was born into a poor family. Besides, even though her parents didn’t have much money, I was impressed by their attempt to look refined. Whenever I saw Violet’s father, he was dressed in a suit and tie, shabby as it was. They were trying to maintain some sort of human dignity, I thought, in a society where they did not fit and were not welcome.
I wasn’t exactly Violet’s friend, but I thought she deserved to be treated like any other kid, regardless of socioeconomic status. I believed in the Golden Rule and tried to treat others as I would want to be treated. Teachers must have read my mind because seat assignments frequently made us next door neighbors. Though I felt sorry for her, I didn’t like sitting next to her because she smelled. Plus, I was afraid I might catch whatever virus—or worse—she brought to school because she was sick frequently. One day, she was sent home because the school personnel discovered lice in her hair.
In sixth grade, Violet’s parents sent invitations to the girls in our class for a birthday party in their home. I had never been to her home but I imagined how it must look. My mother drove me to her party, never saying anything about the neighborhood in which Violet lived. Having come from a blue-collar family with parents who survived the Great Depression with nothing much besides potatoes to eat, Mom taught me, through word and deed, to love others regardless of their wealth or lack thereof.
When I entered Violet’s home, it was clear that her parents loved her. They were dressed up for the special occasion and had probably sacrificed quite a bit to host a birthday party for her that included plenty of food and cake. I felt quite awkward being the first to arrive and even more awkward when we discovered I was the only guest. No one else came to Violet’s birthday party. Was it possible that no one else was able to come or was it more about not wanting to come? I don’t know. Either way, I was sad because everyone should have their birth celebrated. I would want people to celebrate my birth and my life regardless of externals that might separate me from others, be it financial status, material possessions, looks, intelligence, or any other means by which human beings compare themselves. So, even though I was the only guest, I decided to celebrate Violet that day, along with her family, and we had a good time.
I’m no saint because I was the only one who went to Violet’s party. Frankly, I’m no different than anyone else. I am pulled by the familiar and I shy away from the unknown. I prefer to be with people like me because that’s my comfort zone. But isn’t every life precious? Don’t we all need to be noticed, loved, and celebrated?
I also realized that there’s a Violet inside of me. There’s a Violet inside of everyone. Deep inside each of us, far beneath our pretty veneers, are impoverished parts that smell and are sickly. We’re afraid to let anyone into those regions of our soul. Afraid of ridicule. Afraid of judgment. Afraid of rejection. So we pretend those parts are not there and, in doing so, we see them in others—and we reject.
We reject, and sometimes attack, in others what we don’t want to embrace in ourselves because those less lovely parts are not attractive and often, they’re downright ugly. By ignoring the Violets of the world, we don’t have to face the Violets in ourselves—we think. But those rejected parts are still there, still taunting us, like demons in the dark basement with a door we keep tightly shut and locked. We know what’s down there but we won’t let anyone else know. We keep the first floor of our houses looking neat and clean but we all have basements and we all pretend like we don’t. We think our hiding serves us well. It protects us from judgment and rejection. It also prohibits genuine connection which is how God wired each of us to function.
Adam and Eve hid from God because they were afraid of exposing their “basement”. God knew their “basement” and got them to open the door. He did not kill them. They were killing themselves with separation and God invited them back into the light of His presence.
Going to Violet’s house for her birthday party was not something comfortable for me that day. Her world was not something I knew. But Violet was a girl, just like me in many ways. She had hopes and fears. She desired affection and acceptance. She was doing the best she could in her life and hoping it might be good enough.
By going to Violet’s party I learned something about myself at a young age. I can do things that are uncomfortable. I can be with people who are different from me—at least on the surface—and find that, deep down, we have similarities more important than our differences. I learned that I can face the poor, unattractive, dirty, smelly, and sick parts of myself because I know the One who loves me and values me just because I am Heather. He loves me too much to let me wander away and hide because of my imperfections. He seeks me out to help me and He wants more than anything to relate with me. And He celebrates me every day, not just on my birthdays. It’s nice to be so known. It’s nice to be so loved. It’s nice that He always shows up for me even when no one else does. Help me, God, have the same eyes and heart for others that You have for me.
Decades have passed since my elementary school days. I don’t even remember most of the kids in my class. Violet, on the other hand, I will never forget. Violet. Sweet-smelling? No. But what I learned about myself from the crossing of our paths, the crossing of the tracks, was sweeter and more lingering than any wildflower perfume.
My dear daughter picked a single violet from the lawn yesterday and gave it to me. It was more precious than a dozen roses.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2