It seems to me that humans spend most of their time trying to differentiate themselves from other humans. By dress, by ways of talking, by mannerisms, humans strive to make themselves memorable in some way. And yet, if you have a bad date or encounter a person who creeps you out, you will describe them as, “Uh, kind of different…” It will be understood that “different” is not good. It is not a bragging point for that poor nameless soul.
I am not sure but I would wager that all of us have a moment when we realize we are different from other people or that other people are different from us. Great men like Martin Luther King, Jr., and William Faulkner have talked about this moment when you notice with a start that we are not all the same. For King, this moment came when he suddenly was not allowed to play at a white friend’s house anymore. And Faulkner, betwixt moments of inebriation, wrote about how slave children and the master’s children suddenly realized they couldn’t play with each other anymore. That recognition of difference pops up at the most inconvenient times.
You might well wonder how I could fail to notice that I was “different” compared to other kids, but the fact is that this point eluded me for about the first four years of my life. I suppose I reckoned that I was a kid and kids were meant to be small. The ads for Flinstones Vitamins, which I hated, promised that if I ate one vitamin a day I would grow up to be able to reach the door knob, and I had perfect faith that this was so. If other people were bigger than me it was because they were older. My vitamins and I would catch up. In the meantime I was differentiating myself as a young tot by announcing that Amadeus was my favorite movie and that anything bad I did was actually the responsibility of Margie Stoopee. That was different enough.
My moment of “I’m different” finally came upon me as I was walking in a single file line in Kindergarden. There was a long line of windows that we had to walk by I think on the way to the gym. I was wearing a big fluffy purple 1980s winter coat and felt a little bit like I was a marshmallow. Suddenly, I looked to the right and I noticed, without warning, that everyone else had their heads at pretty much the same level, but my head was much lower. There was a dip where I stood and it followed me wherever I went. What was that all about?
Nobody said anything. There was neither a cue for Twilight Zone music nor a chorus of angels praising my awareness. But from that moment on, I was aware, keenly, that I was different somehow. I asked my parents not to show me pictures from school concerts because there was a dip where I was standing. I hated having my picture taken with friends because I was always standing in a dip. In college I event went so far as to make my friends sit down if we were taking our picture together (believe it or not some of them even squatted or sat on their knees to accommodate me. How cool and different is that?).
The thing about being “different” is that in the end you have three choices, usually. You can make peace with whatever makes you different, you can try to change what makes you feel different, or you can turn a blind eye. For me, changing what makes me different is not really an option, primarily because I’m not a great athlete and thus I feel stilts would be a bad idea. But I do have the option of making peace with the dip where I stand. It’s always going to be there. And I can try to change what other people say and think about the fact that there is a dip where I stand.
We are all “different” in some way. Even if you don’t feel all that different now, at some point you are sure to be thrust into a situation where you feel like you’re standing in a dip. Knowing humanity, someone may even be there to point it out to you. At that point, you can try to fight it, you can try to make peace with it, or you can try to change how people feel about it.
Which path is yours?