Afterwards, the hundreds of guests milled around and caught up with relatives and took pictures.
I was taking lots of pictures for the sake of Amy who is in Thailand and couldn't be there. On the wide grassy bank leading down to the reception area I suddenly came upon a little drama happening.
Three sweet little girls in matching purple dresses were talking with another little girl in orange and white. I don't know who they all were, exactly, except relatives of the bride, because I think there were nine little girls in purple dresses in all, and they popped up everywhere you looked.
The other little girl looked very upset. She turned to me and said, "My mom said I'm supposed to be best friends with all the girls but they say that what they say is only for the Purple Girls to hear!"
I looked at the Purple Girls. "Do you think you could play with her?" I pleaded.
Two of them looked noncommital and also a bit scared of me.
Then the third one grinned and said cruelly but adorably, "Welllllll, what I say I just want the Purple Girls to hear!"
No doubt they thought me a meddling old biddy, but I poured on a bit of shame and guilt, and soon one of them took the left-out girl's hand and said, "I'll play with her."
I praised her like she had just offered to give up a kidney.
And then I left to take more pictures.
And to think about being Left Out.
We discussed this afterwards in some detail, my family and I. I think the term The Purple Girls has been forever grafted into the family lexicon.
You've been there, right?
There's The Purple Girls, and they just have It--the fun, the friends, the laughter, the something intangible that makes you want to be one of them, that irresistible and cool Something, the Belonging.
And they leave you out.
The pain can be obscene.
Guys and girls, kids, teenagers, adults. Actually, I think it's worse when it happens to your children, and it's exponentially worse when you or your family/son/daughter are obviously the only one of the young-marrieds-at-church/cousins/class/youth-group/team who weren't included in the barbecue/slumber party/lunch/camping trip/dinner/shopping trip.
I hope I am quick to figure there must have been a good reason and slow to take a slight, but sometimes it's just right in front of your face.
Recently I read this excerpt from the Ask Amy column:
Dear Amy: Every fall, my sister, cousins and a cousin’s sister-in-law have a weekend shopping excursion in our home city.
We stay in a hotel, treat ourselves, shop for our children and go out for lunches and dinners. It is a great time to reconnect.
I've had occasion to think about this at times in the past and recently a situation came up again--with my children, but it bothered me worse than them--that made me ask lots of questions.
What is it about exclusion that makes it so painful and so hard to let go? Or am I just hyper-sensitive?
Where is Jesus in these moments, and what does He say to us?
When do you mention it to someone involved and when do you let it go?
I have developed many stock truths to get me through situations and just settle the boiling pot of jam in my soul and give me rest. For example:
Nasty emails or blog comments: "They just want to be heard." "Yes, I made a mistake, but I'm allowed to make mistakes and I'll do better next time."
Bad days: "This will make a great story someday."
And so on.
I'm still working on a response to feeling left out, a redemptive and truthful way to face it. "Suck it up, Buttercup," doesn't seem quite right.
One is so powerless in such a situation. It is what it is, and there is no good or easy way to make it all better.
Talking to the people involved is usually too awkward and will make them feel obligated to include you or your child next time, not because they like you/them, but because they're afraid of hurting your feelings.
I did think of this: it is a very dumb thing to give someone else power over your own happiness, and to make your joy dependent on what others choose to do or not do. But I'm not sure it makes it easier.
I asked myself if I had ever knowingly been a Purple Girl. I could think of a few times, such as when a group of women excluded one woman, who should have been with us for a fun expedition, because of another woman's issues with her. I went along with this action because--of course--I feared being left out myself.
I plan to apologize.
My mom was absolutely adamant about not only including the unpopular people, but giving them higher priority than the cool ones. Thanks to her, I don't have a lot of regrets in this area.
I've concluded that most of the time it's thoughtlessness rather than spite that motivates people to leave others out. Not that it's easy to be overlooked or ignored, but I suppose it's better than being deliberately singled out.
I'd love to hear from you. Your stories, your solutions, your regrets, your wisdom.
Normally I don't encourage anonymity but if it helps you share your story, go for it.
And a happy ending: I was told that before the weekend was over, Little Miss Orange-and-White was happily playing with the most outspoken Purple Girl. There were no lingering scars, said Little Miss's mother, who thought this was far smaller of a deal than I did.
May all our stories end this well.