Thursday, October 20, 2011

One in a Million

A few days ago I picked this picture for a group writing prompt exercise. When I saw it, I immediately recalled a couple of hours I spent walking around that very beach on South Georgia Island ten years ago. I expected to write about the haunting din of penguin trumpeting, the smell of slimy guano, and the incredible sensation of being one of only a few dozen humans among a hundred thousand denizens of the Shanghai of penguindom.

Not surprisingly, when I looked more closely at the picture and began to write, a different story came out:
I am the fluffy brown bird in the midst of the polished penguins. Look at them, all clustered around in little groups, smug in their sameness. They speak the same language; they know the ropes. If I amble over and try to join one of their conversations, they’ll clam up and wait for me to leave, but if one of the tuxedoed ones walks up, they’ll immediately start clicking bills and squawking at each other.
Why was I born so different? It just doesn’t seem fair!
Such were many thoughts I had as a child. I felt different, out-of-step with my classmates, lacking some key code. I did read the story of the “Ugly Duckling” and how that bird grew up to be a swan. I hoped I would become a swan one day, but nobody gave me reason to believe that would happen. That story was a fairy tale, and fairy tales were make believe.
As time went by, I found new ways I was different, and still felt I didn’t fit in, at least not in the places I aspired to. I thought I wanted to fit in with Junior Women’s Club, but realizing it was probably much like a sorority, another place I “knew” I wouldn’t fit in, I never said a word about it to the members I knew. I assumed if they thought I fit in, they’d invite me to join. If I didn’t fit in, I didn’t want to call attention to the fact. They never said a word about it to me. Instead, I joined League of Women Voters. I did fit in there, at least for awhile, until I was the only Republican in a room full of Democrats.
Through the intervening years I’ve often felt I was on the outside looking in through a window. Recently I realized that being on the outside gives me way more options than people have on the inside. Today I realize that not fitting in is an advantage. Being different is a blessing. I’ve lost my fluffy brown baby feathers, and grown my own tuxedo, but I’m still not one of them. I’m different. I’m me, and I’m one of a kind!
Being different is a topic I’ve journaled about quite often. I was surprised this message came from that picture, but not at the thoughts it conveys. It was affirming to write this and share it with the group.

I might not have shared the story a few years ago, but I’ve read several memoirs over the last couple of years where the authors were candid about feeling like misfits when they were young. Wow! I thought. Maybe I wasn’t the only one feeling like a pentagonal peg. Maybe lots of kids felt that way. Maybe we all did. I’m grateful to those authors, who helped me realize that by being more open about feeling that way myself, I can encourage discussions and shed light for others in turn.

Writing helps me find my way, and collective story elements bond us together, making us whole.

Write now: about a time you felt different or didn’t fit in. This is an ideal place to use internal monologue. Let that self-talk rip! It’s a powerful way to be totally frank and convey your sense of the situation. For tips on exploring those feelings read Difference: Seeds of Satisfaction.

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