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*Day of deliverance: a big project ends with “Oh, Happy Day!”*

Pretty is as pretty does. There’s a saying that’s gone by the wayside.

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you might have heard it from your mother or grandmother. It was shorthand for telling daughters to focus more on inner beauty than on how we looked. When we wondered if we were pretty, this is how the women in our lives answered us.

It left some of us wondering if we were, in fact, ugly and might only make up for the fact by being extra gorgeous in spirit. For better or worse, substance trumped self-esteem in those days, and parents were not faulted for failing to give us their wholehearted endorsement. At the very least, we learned that there could be a wide gap between anyone’s interior and exterior.

Not such a bad thing because some girls might take that lesson to heart and become more like George Eliot, the author who was born Mary Ann Evans. Despite all her blessings, including a man who loved her—body, mind and soul—Eliot was subjected to a life of petty ridicule for her homeliness and her unconventional choices.

To be clear, Eliot’s appearance was so remarkably unattractive that many well-respected people could not stop themselves from commenting on it. Sara Jane Lippincott, an American author, poet and women’s rights advocate, described Eliot this way:

“Miss Evans certainly impressed me at first as exceedingly plain, with her aggressive jaw and her evasive blue eyes. Neither nose, nor mouth nor chin were to my liking; but, as she grew interested and earnest in conversation, a great light flashed over or out of her face, till it seemed transfigured, while the sweetness of her rare smile was something quite indescribable.”

black dress

*An example of what fundraising does for institutions like the IMA–fashion-related acquisitions supported by donors.*

At some point, Eliot may have been hurt by some of these cruel observations, but ultimately, she transformed other people’s revulsion into art. My pitiful, four-month labor over art recently ended. After helping plan an event to benefit the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I exhaled more deeply than I had in months.

Was I relieved because I didn’t have to juggle it with my day job? Or relieved because I had to deal with fewer difficult people and unattractive behaviors? Or both? You be the judge. After a particularly discouraging day, I found myself Googling articles about how to love people when they are unlovable. Oh, yes, I was struggling to love my fellow man.

I’ve come to realize that it’s far easier to latch on to the negative things of life than it is to celebrate all that is good. As I close the door on this volunteer experience, I’m practicing the habit that quells all bitterness. Today I’m recalling the people who showed the most admirable character and made me wish I had handled my task differently.


Here are their winning traits.

Commitment. Some people showed up and worked from start to finish. Nothing was too much or too demeaning to ask of them. They were there to serve and needed no glory.

Influence. Some people could tweak a situation or correct something that was about to veer off course without ever taking a swipe at their neighbors.

Courage. It takes a special brand of courage to stand firm and exhibit grace, kindness and compassion in the face of dissension or potential failure. Some people did this unfailingly well. They did not fear what others might say about them.

Humility. People who saw themselves as part of a larger universe seldom got their nose out of joint when things didn’t suit them. They didn’t take things personally or try to impose their standards on other people.

Respect. Some people realized that their time was no more valuable than the next person’s. In an era where busyness is practically a sickness, it is extraordinary to see people respecting the fact that other people have a life, too.

Patience. Some volunteers had extraordinary patience when someone needed to have things a certain way. They honored other people’s needs and deferred whenever possible. They listened to others.

Integrity. Doing what you say you’ll do—when you say you will do it—is harder than ever before. We all lead such busy lives that it is nearly impossible to keep our priorities and commitments straight. Many volunteers recognized that other people were counting on them and stuck to their word.

Responsibility. Some people immediately owned up to their shortcomings and set about fixing them.

Teamwork. Some people accepted that they were part of a team. They did not try to outshine their neighbors—even when they may have had more skill in a particular area. They were willing to defer to the greater good.

Generosity. Many people gave of their time and treasure. When the event was over, they were the first people to greet us with congratulations and appreciate our sense of relief in having completed a job—regardless of its result.

Gratitude. Some people accepted even the most modest gifts with grace and appreciation.

When you read this post, I hope you will recognize yourself, and be stimulated to more love and good works. I have so much to do in the realm of developing a better character. How many of you feel the same way?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.