Prompt: Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.
One of the hardest things about growing up was realizing, actually, that I’m really not all that different than anyone else. I was a part of the self-esteem generation. We were told constantly that we were beautiful and unique snowflakes. We all went home from a competition with “honorable mention” ribbons. Everyone got a participation trophy. A for Effort. We could grow up to be whatever we wanted if we just worked hard enough. Etc. Etc.
These ideas stuck with me throughout high school and college. Whenever I got glimpses of the fact that I was, actually, incredibly unoriginal, I would abandon whatever it was that made me feel that way. Guitar and photography were my things in high school, but when I entered college, I found everyone played guitar and everyone fancied themselves budding photographers, so I quit doing both even though I loved them. Whenever a band I liked became wildly popular, like Coldplay did my freshman year of college and Death Cab for Cutie did my junior year, I would stop listening to them. I developed an obsession with Sylvia Plath, whom no one else in the rather small English department seemed to care about, but whom in actuality nowadays seems to exist as the patron saint of girls all across America exactly like me. I wouldn’t realize that until later, though. I carried around her published journal and wore my hair like hers and wrote poems to her and felt, paradoxically, that in emulating someone else who was singular I was being as singular as can be.
Graduating college tends to bring your life into harsh perspective. The bubble bursts. I found a job and moved to Dallas, where I was just yet another wide-eyed, green,wholesome, pretty-ish girl with a B.A. in English and zero real-world experience. I fought and I fought and I fought against this reality, and I was terribly unhappy.
After a couple of years of this unhappiness, I found myself in love with someone I wasn’t allowed to be in love with. The thing about falling violently in love with someone for the first time is that it feels as though it’s never happened before in the history of mankind even though it’s just that it’s never happened before to you. The main themes of literature are love and war, so I exhausted the love section, and I found that I actually took comfort in the stories that felt similar to mine. Juliet. Guinevere. Isolde. Francesca. Bathsheba. Emma Bovary. Anna Karenina. I didn’t want to be different anymore. I needed them to provide me with clues as to what I should do. But most stories ended badly. My story was certainly on a similar trajectory. I thought he was my only shot at happiness, and I couldn’t be with him, and I was doomed.
Eventually I came to realize that I wasn’t doomed if I didn’t want to be. I found my own way, a way that isn’t reflected in any literature that I’ve come across. I refused to succumb to tragedy. I became emotionally healthy and made decisions from that healthy place. I grew stronger. I stepped into myself. I opened my eyes. I recognized that there are several kinds of love, not just the tortured, intense, illicit kind, and my job on earth is to take and make as much of it as I can. And I certainly hadn’t been doing that, being as caught up as I was in my own little corrupted love story.
And the irony here is that this is, I believe, what makes me different from other people. Not all people, I hope, but some. So many of us are walking around asleep, never aware of what’s going on inside of us and therefore completely unaware of what’s going on inside of others. I certainly was, and my story is not unique. Sometimes I wish it were.
As I said in my first reverb ’10 post, I’m working consciously and every single day to love others better. This means meeting people wherever they are and loving them wherever they are, refusing to brush them off as being “different” and instead embracing the ways we are alike, seeing myself in their hurts and feeling their hurts in me, being mindful that their behavior is a result of those hurts and doing everything I can to prevent causing any such hurts. And, above all, never, ever judging, as judging is merely a failure of compassion.
It’s incredibly difficult. But now I see that THAT is the only way to live if I want to have any shot at all at happiness. And eventually if I find the courage to tell my story, I’m hoping that the sameness of it is exactly what helps other people find their own, different way.