Although it sometimes causes me heartache, I’m grateful to be shy, reserved, awkward, and worried. I’m grateful to be enthusiastic, fearlessly creative, eager to contribute, a little wacky. I’m grateful that I’m apt to do or say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I’m grateful to be supportive, loyal, and encouraging in spite of the tremendous cynicism that surrounds us.
Plenty of people, of course, would find all this wrapped up in one person to be a tragedy—a cause for deep, enduring shame. For years, I did, too. Now, in my forties, I’m beginning to understand the blessings of this natural quirkiness.
Being me means being highly sensitive. As a writer, I recognize and value this gift: the ability and willingness to experience strong emotions, to be unafraid of my feelings, to identify deeply with others’ fears and hopes, joys and pains, wishes and failures. Even though my emotions sometimes overwhelm me, my closeness to them reminds me what it means to be human…what it means to be fully, completely alive.
I know many sophisticated, urbane people. I admire them.
But I never have been—and never will be—one of them.
Not that I haven’t tried. For a long time, I hated myself for never fitting into that crowd. I hated myself for being essentially openhearted and goofy, for my comfort in showing and saying how I feel. Much later, I realized that those jaded, worldly people instead tremble with fear at the thought of genuine human connection.
Once, I envied these folks. Now, I feel awful for them. As I once did, they too hold themselves to a false standard of behavior that doesn’t match who they really are. They wear the mask of their inauthentic selves because they believe that’s what they have to do for others to accept them. On some level, most unconsciously recognize that this lie leaves them strangely empty and unsatisfied.
Everywhere I go, I meet them. I extend to them kindness and patience. And I say a little prayer that one day, they’ll shuck off those masks, allow themselves to feel, and finally start living.
But sometimes, despite all this, I’m still afraid to show others my true self. What if they don’t like me? What if they reject me? What if my contributions to the conversation or community aren’t welcome? What if I’m weird, unacceptable, unworthy, unlovable?
No matter. I’ve learned (and relearn all the time) that everyone feels this way. We’re all terrified that others won’t love us as we are. In that spirit, holding back who I am helps no one. If others don’t care to include me in their circle, that’s all right. I can’t control that. I can control only myself. It hurts when I discover that others find me too unconventional for their tastes. But I’m willing to risk the hurt, to risk looking like a fool, because the rewards are priceless for every one of us.
I’m grateful not to have lost my emotional edge over the years. I’m grateful to be me—awkwardness, eagerness, and all.
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)