We had bought a ‘Meal Deal’ in Boot’s, on our way to lunch in the park. There was one more item that Debbie placed on the counter for the woman who was salaried to scan bar codes. Nail varnish.
“It’s for my husband,” she said loudly for effect.
She was right. For the first (and hopefully the last) time in my life, I needed to buy nail varnish.
Why? Had I decided to become an aging Goth or New Romantic? Absolutely not. I may be part of a profession that is mocked for having ‘men in dresses’, but this wasn’t a matter of make-up.
It was all to do with allergies. Recently, I had developed red, peeling skin on my wrist, under where I wear my watch. My sister had looked at it and declared it was allergic dermatitis. The gold plating was wearing off the watch, exposing nickel. It appears I have a nickel allergy. I’ve added that to my collection of other allergies: to the adhesive in sticking plasters (I use Micropore), and to antihistamines (they don’t just make me drowsy, they make me depressed; I choose cough medicines carefully).
You will gather I found the whole experience embarrassing. I have known about the allergy for two or three weeks now, and the suggested solution of coating the exposed nickel with the nail varnish. Thoughts of going to a chemist’s and buying some (“It’s not for me, it’s for my wife”) have so filled me with dread that I have been keeping my watch in a trouser pocket for a fortnight.
Not even the encouraging story I heard about guitarists wearing nail varnish to strengthen their nails for plucking steel strings pushed me into action. Besides, it must be ten years since I got my guitar out in an attempt to learn to play it.
Embarrassment is a huge hurdle for many of us. How much of that is a British cultural perspective, I don’t know. But embarrassment is an efficient producer of inertia. It is also a powerful social stigmatiser. The fear of mockery prevents many from doing what they believe to be right.
How potent it was when Paul talked about being ‘fools for Christ’. One major issue for Christians is the courage to overcome the fear and risk appearing fools. Not in the sense that we sometimes back outright stupidity, but in the risk of unpopularity.
Getting the balance right can be difficult. I found that tonight when a mother and daughter called at the door to do Trick Or Treat. I gave the girl some sweets, and she looked at four-year-old Mark, who doesn’t understand it yet. “He’ll do it when he’s older,” she said.
I smiled and said as gently as I could, “Maybe not.”
It wasn’t the time for an extended conversation, but I simply indicated to the mother that it was a matter of religious conviction for us, and hoped I didn’t sound judgmental.
She apologised for causing offence, and I moved quickly to say that I wasn’t offended and I hadn’t expected her to know. I hope they left on good terms with us, but I also hope I was clear about our beliefs without being condemning. Too often in my life I have tipped to one end of the see-saw or the other, either fiercely denouncing something or ending up compromising my beliefs out of a desire to be on good terms with folk.
May God help us to risk embarrassment with grace.