“I know, I know, they made you feel cool. And I’ve met you man, and you are not cool.”
Have you ever wondered what makes a person cool? What intrinsic quality it is that allows some people to just exude self-confidence and care-free nonchalance? I mean, there are some common elements: wealth, looks, athletic ability, but possessing one or even more than one of these qualities doesn’t automatically make a person “cool,” * and in fact a person can lack all three of these things and still qualify. It almost has to be a natural instinct; you can’t make yourself cool. The best you can hope to do is to not stand out as odd, to blend into the crowd in the hopes that eventually, your number will be called up.
I’ve never been cool. ** To be fair, I’ve never lacked for friends, and it’s fair to say that, with the exception of a couple of awkward years in middle school I’ve always been well liked, but I’ve never been cool, not really at least. I was shy in high school, particularly around girls, although I managed to somewhat get over this by the time I graduated from college. I give most of the credit for that to my friend Andrew, who taught me that, while you can’t fake being cool, you can fake confidence, and that’s good enough for most people.
I’d love to say that as an adult with one child and another on the way, that I’m less affected by the need to fit in and be accepted, but sadly, that really isn’t the case. I hate driving a mini-van, even though there really isn’t a more practical vehicle for young parents to have. I still spend far too much time thinking about the clothes I wear, the car I drive, and if I were being honest, even the sort of food I cook. *** This even bleeds over into parenting; Donnette and I have argued over how we’re going to raise our kids along these very lines. She accuses me of wanting to raise “cool” kids, while I accuse her of wanting to raise weird, awkward kids. What we’re likely to get is something in the middle, which, at the end of the day, will probably be fine.
It’s funny how a change of location can lead to a change in perception. Apparently, one of the greatest advantages in our early missionary endeavors to France will come from our being American, because in France, Americans are exotic and “cool.” **** As hard as this is to believe, it’s true. I’ve already commented that everyone we met assumed we came from either New York of L.A., but given that they don’t know much about the rest of the country I think they assume that Charlotte and New York are basically the same, and give us credit where credit probably isn’t due. It’s hard to imagine, but when we get to France, we’ll be the new Americans, and until we’re able to really get the language down, we’ll have a certain mystique to us that has potential to build in-roads with people, in-roads that will, later on, be more difficult to make. This even extends to furniture; when Pete and Ruth were visiting earlier in the summer, we asked them for advice on what we should take and what we should leave behind. Their advice was to take pictures, obviously, but also to take any furniture that is distinctly American, as that’s what anyone French will find the most interesting about our home. ***** For time at least, everything we do or say will be given a pass, simply because we’re Americans, and, in France, being American = awesomeness.
Of course, this can’t last forever. Eventually, we’ll lose that “new American” smell, our kids will be fluent in French, and we’ll be regarded with indifference just like everyone else. I do find this small window we’ll be given somewhat encouraging though, as I often wonder how long it will take us to really be able to minister in a new context. It’s comforting to know that even during a time when we’re least able, opportunities still exist to serve, which, even as I type this out, reminds me that that is almost always how God works, and I shouldn’t be surprised by it.
Once again, thank you to everyone who’s supporting us, and thank you all for your prayers. We love you all.
*For example, Peyton Manning is clearly not cool, though he is both rich and athletic. Steve Jobs is another example; he may have known how to sell a product to hipsters, but he clearly was not a part of their tribe.
**Just stating the obvious.
***This is true, although I don’t care how in or out of vogue foie gras is, when I get to France I’m cooking it regardless.
****I find this hilarious, especially considering the perception of the French we have here in America. I’m often told by other Americans how much the French will hate us when we get there, yet their only real experience with the French was a rude Parisian waiter. This is the equivalent of going to New York and claiming that all Americans are rude and surly. Would you want to be judged by the treatment of a Brooklyn bartender? I didn’t think so.
*****I find this ironic for any number of reasons. 1. Any furniture we’ve bought that we’d actually want to take with us is furniture that was bought with a French mindset to begin with. 2. I can’t think of what would typify a piece of furniture “American,” except that it has a size that would preclude it from fitting in a French apartment. 3. Some of the most expensive furniture you can buy here in the states is meant to look like it came from the very place we’re moving to.