I have a photograph of me when I was 4. On stage, fenced in by other 4-year-olds in flamenco costumes. Except that I, the odd one, was wearing the school uniform. There was a dance and someone had forgotten to send me my costume. So there I was, the odd one out surrounded by perfectly made-up girls in fancy dresses.
Such was the theme of my life. Center stage, among perfectly made-up lives, and yet, in the wrong costume. The oddball, outsider, and out of place.
Which was probably why I was bent on blending in. Thrived in cliques. I be judge lest I be judged. Queen bee. Snob. Anyone who didn’t wear the right costume, I blackballed and pronounced “off with her head.” I had the flair for telling who was unhip. I guess when you position yourself on top, you loom over others and they don’t make out your flaws. I was the person you wanted to be friends with, the one you always invited, and I always came prepared, perfectly made up with the fancy dress. And my intolerance for others who were different grew to shadows, perhaps covering up my own fears. Nothing should be out of place. If people, things, or events were, I would relegate them to the sidelines. If they threatened my safe cocoon of privilege, they were not allowed in.
But then one day, I found myself back in the middle of the haunting photograph. I was again the person no one wanted to be friends with. The odd one out (uninvited to the beach!) Not included in gossip, but the subject of it. Not judge but being judged. Outcast, made to feel small, seen and not heard.
So this is how it feels to be on the other side. I was mismatched and so relegated to the sidelines. I might have threatened someone’s cocoon, and so not allowed in. I wanted to holler, “you don’t even know me” or “Hey, I have something special to give too.” I wanted to cry. Take a stand against inequity. But I was being granted karma and the chance to make amends without having to die.
And so I swallowed the bitter pill. My once effective ego strategies were backfiring. On me. Fine, so I missed out because I kept my cliques tiny, blackballed and ruled many unworthy. I suppose my world didn’t expand because my cliques were kept too small. So they had something to teach me too. But really, I thought I was making progress at tolerance, at embracing differences, or even grasping that everyone has something to give. Shared humanity and the divine in each one, I supposedly understood that. Meet Arrogant, Abrasive and Crass. Don’t judge. Count from 1-10 and breathe in neutral, see the divine, then smile. Who does that?
It’s a lifetime of work striving to embrace oddballs, the ones who don’t wear the right costume, or look the part. Especially when they seemingly assault your senses. I could easily shut them out. Imagine them “off with their heads.” Photoshop them out of perfect pictures. Run to my cliques and be snug in my fancy cocoon.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow (the kind that’s stuck and chokes you.) I’ll have to try again. Meet Arrogance, Abrasive and Crass. Don’t judge. Count to 10, see me in them (and I will remember how that feels like.) Get out of my cliques, or make more room. Allow a tear in my cocoon. Like the different parts, or see the whole picture. Even when, there’s ordinarily no room for oddballs in picture-perfect. Hey, maybe a standout, wild, original, is better than boring and “like everyone else.” And I kind of like the picture of a fearless little girl amidst matching girls in embellished dresses.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland