Standing On The Outside Looking In
Middle school is an awkward and uncomfortable time of life for many of us or so we are told. I remember hearing from parents, teachers and after school specials that we all feel weird and that it goes away.
But I don’t know if it ever really did for me. I am not sure if I ever got past the feeling that I was standing on the outside looking in. I want to say I did.
I want to say that puberty came and went and I reached a place where I never felt foolish, stupid or uncomfortable. Want to say that I never had another time where it felt like everyone else had figured it out and I hadn’t, but that is not true.
Not true because some days I look in the mirror and wonder why life seems so easy for some people and how I managed to always find the hard way to do things.
Does Father Know Best?
Last night I sat down with my son and talked about his life. He told me about some of his hopes and dreams and shared some of his fears and I did my best to make him feel comfortable and secure.
I was honest with my answers and I told him there are moments where I wonder if I have made the right choices and admitted sometimes I feel like I have really screwed up.
When he nodded his head I made a point to tell him that I really believe happiness comes from managing expectations and how well we are able to roll with the punches.
Didn’t make that up. It wasn’t some sort of parental hypnosis or flat out bullshit.
It was me.
And then I thought about an experience a while back where I felt like I was standing on the outside looking in and I shook my head. I am going to be 45 in May and I have a very thick skin, but there are a few gaps in the armor and on that day mine was pierced.
Sometimes the discussions about long form content make me want to scream. People tell me that I have to stop writing the way I like to because no one reads any more.
They say attention spans are barely greater than a gnat and that I am killing my blog and that my professional work will suffer because people won’t read that either.
So I think about my friend Mr. Emerson and wonder what he might say.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sometimes I read those words and thump my chest because I am me. I swim against the tide, stand fast against the hordes and guard the castle gates.
And then the guy who wonders about standing on the outside looking in asks if I have been smart. He wonders if the willingness to be different is wise and suggests that maybe I have brought more grief than joy.
Maybe I am wrong to look at others as having misplaced priorities. Maybe the reasons why I have fought more battles than others are all to be found in my reflection.
Sure I can point my finger at others and talk about what they did. I can shake my head and scream about the importance of healthcare for all. I can tell you that I didn’t watch the debate about science versus religion because I had better things to do than give my time to a guy who thinks Noah carried a T-Rex next to a zebra.
But maybe that has made life harder. Maybe I should look at the Sneetches with the gold stars and get one of my own.
What Lets You Sleep At Night
Midway through our conversation I hear him drift off and I smile. There is something reassuring to me about listening to the kids breathe while they sleep.
Sometimes when they were babies I would let them sleep on my shoulder and the sound of their breathing would magically pull the tension out of my shoulders.
Moments before his eyes closed we were talking about what it means to live a life that lets you sleep at night. I was talking with him about our Uncle Jimmy.
Uncle Jimmy died from complications related to being HIV+. I remember him well and I remember talking to him about what it meant to know you were going to die sooner than later.
I tell my son that he’ll figure out as he goes the difference between what he wants and what he needs. In the back of my mind I can hear Uncle Jimmy telling me he doesn’t want to die but that he isn’t scared. He wishes he had more time because there is more to do but feels good because the last part of his life he has been who he wants to be.
And then I wish for the hundredth time that Uncle Jimmy was still here because he said it better than I could. I wish he was here because there is more I could have learned from him.