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Vintage trials: We tend to glamorize early 1950s style, but being a Mom back then wasn’t easy. In 1953 there were more cases of polio in the preceding five years than in the previous 20—and most of them were children. Parents lived in fear of this disease, which was still unknown in origin. Visit the You Are There Exhibit: 1955 at the Indiana Historical Society and learn how women played a role in developing a cure for polio.

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Difficult people and situations. Why do we want to avoid them so much when they often bring out the best in us?

Difficult people call us out, make us think and inspire courage.

At a recent fashion event I attended, a woman in the audience challenged a panel of photographers who were commissioned to cover street fashion in Indy, asking what their project did to elevate the human condition. She wasn’t particularly nice about it either, restating her beef several times and ways. Her critical remarks hung in the air unanswered for what seemed an eternity.

Finally, Verena Wartmann mustered the courage to address the argument. I was standing next to her, marveling at my new friend’s sudden bravado. It was her first visit to this networking event of 100 or so people, but my soft-spoken friend defended their work with conviction. Fashion, she said, doesn’t reside in places but in hearts. When you create something beautiful through what you wear, it’s instructional and aspirational for anyone with eyes. That shouldn’t be marginalized.

Her response helped turn the tide and brought out the best in others. A conversation that had been predictable and almost dull became lively and interesting as other people embellished on the meaning of the project. That wouldn’t have happened without the thorny woman’s complaint.

Difficult people make us realize how important it is to be nice. They force us to do something constructive with our pain.

My friend Ingrid lives in New York and takes the train back and forth to her job as a librarian. That, by the way, is one of the biggest stresses of living in the city. One night on her way home, a guy settled in next to her, purposely taking more than his share of the seat. It was almost as if he was daring her to say something. Then he picked a fight. “Am I BOTHERING you?” he asked.

Ingrid is no shrinking violet. She’s naturally brilliant and has a way with words that annihilated him on a train full of spectators. When it was time for Ingrid to de-board, he waited until she was off the train and then yelled, “You’re weird and FFFFFFat.” He was too chicken to say it to her face.

Care to guess what Ingrid did after walking home hurt and angry?

  • Wrote a wonderful book recommendation for Fat!SO?
  • Congratulated her self for being weird.
  • Reminded her friends to be nice.
  • Jogged everyone to remember that it’s important to love yourself.
  • Made a mental note that she doesn’t like to be angry.

Difficult situations force us to notice what’s not working and what’s important to us. They force us to choose.

For the past few years, my schedule has teetered on the edge of insanity for someone of my limited ability. I work long hours trying to maintain two jobs, a household, my family, and several hobbies that I treat as seriously as a job.

One day last week, I had tea with my friend Violet. An ardent lover of books and no slouch in the style department, Violet is 24 years my senior, but she’ll never be old. As I looked at her last week, I realized she is everything I want to be: chic, interesting, Godly, unselfish, and concerned about others. She’s the sort of person who’s always glad to see you and makes you believe the best in yourself.

Violet admitted that at some point before she retired, her busy life interfered with her reading habit. “Reading had been enjoyable and important to me since I was a little girl,” she said. “I wondered, ‘How did I let this happen?’”

She also regretted times of good health, when she could have done more for other people. That seems hard to imagine. Both admissions were wake-up calls for me. My reading life isn’t as deep or as rich as it once was. And, by the time I meet all my commitments, I frequently have little room in my schedule for helping others. Perhaps it’s time to change.

If I studied Violet closely enough, could I be like her? If I read, thought, and behaved the way she did, I felt certain it would lead me to the very highest places. Less than 24 hours later, I was fuming after someone had been rude to me over the phone. And then, I caught myself wondering, “What would Violet do?” When life’s choices get tough, we all need a standard bearer to help us see how we match up.

Who is your inspiration in times of trouble or indecision? What’s the best thing you’ve learned from a difficult person?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.