Here’s an exercise for people over the age of…let’s see…Thirty. Thirty is good. It could take a few minutes, but it will either be delightful or educational.
Get comfortable with your favorite beverage. I’ve got my coconut chai latte. I’ll wait for you to get yours.
Now close your eyes (but not until you’ve read all the way through), and imagine your fourteen year old self. Don’t imagine you, like you are right now, today, with every interesting thing that’s ever happened to you under your belt. Imagine the real 14 year old you – the one with zits or braces, or skinny arms and legs. Parents that just don’t understand, hormones like a mother fu…nevermind. I’m keeping this one clean. Fourteen. Remember fourteen.
Now imagine the most embarrassing thing that somebody revealed about you to the entire class. Maybe they made up a lie about you and spread around the school. It happened to every one of us. Can you remember what it was? Some of you won’t be able to because it is miraculous what your brain can forget when you don’t spend every single day of the last twenty five years thinking about it. That’s ok. Think about what would have embarrassed you to the point that you wanted to quit school, or pretend to be sick for two weeks, or maybe even kill yourself. Yes. I’m talking that serious. Imagine somebody’s attempt to cause you that much shame, and what your ability to handle that would have been at the age of fourteen – again, without the knowledge you have right now.
Next, imagine you are you now. This should be the easy part. For some, that will take a minute. Again, I’ll wait.
You are 30, or 42, or 56. You might even be in your 80s. All of your childhood pals and classmates are also their ages now, except for the ones that have passed. They’re still gone – and they deserve a moment of silence. Again, I’ll wait. I’ll bow my head with you.
Now, someone you have not seen since you were that fourteen year old, insecure, unknowing, inexperienced self has just told your whole class that deeply embarrassing secret or lie.
Not back then.
How do you react?
Are you amused? You’d forgotten that! Do you call your closest friends who missed the announcement and say, “Oh my God, you won’t believe this stupid thing I did when I was fourteen!” And then proceed to tell them with no shame and have a good chuckle? Do you end up in long conversation about how just like you that sounds?
Congratulations! You survived some pretty horrific things for a kid your age. You are a bird – an Odd Bird – who can laugh about that time you had your mom’s poop on your egg shell.
Or, are you deeply ashamed? That secret – or that lie that everyone believed so it might as well have been true – it has haunted you through every college party, every job interview, every play group with your baby and her baby friend’s parents. You have been scared to death of what all of these people would think of you if they knew that thing you did, or might as well have done when you were fourteen years old. As the years have passed, the list of people you have to hide your embarrassing secret from has grown.
Are you mortified that someone has just brought it up all over again? Are you squirming in your chair and did you just lose interest in that beverage you poured yourself?
Great news! You can let that egg shell poop go! Today is the day you get to put that down and become an Odd Bird, too. If the loved ones in your life are just now finding out your deepest, darkest shame – they are going to be so relieved to find out you aren’t suffering by holding on to it anymore. Believe me, please – nobody else, since you were fourteen years old has been thinking about it, too.
Except, maybe, the person who brought it up again, 16, or 28, or 34, or 60 years later. Resist the urge to question the motives of that person. They aren’t your cross to bear. You are and Odd Bird now, too. You can fly.
And if you are fourteen and reading this, sweetheart, I know you feel hurt, betrayed, embarrassed, and maybe even worthless. But I primise you, you are not. Those icky feelings you have now are carving texture into an otherwise flat existence. They will be replaced with joy beyond measure, periods of boredom, different disappointments, and moments of tranquility. And you will miss every bit of it if you do not let go of the pain of this moment.
And then when life is humming along smoothly, predictably, and happily – lean in, this is the important part – be willing to let go of that, too. Sign up for the talent show, even if you’ve only ever sung into your hair brush. Apply to that university none of your friends are attending. Seek out the next challenging job. Pick up a hobby that leaves scars. Move to a place where you don’t know anyone and can’t pronounce the street names. Break up with any person who cannot allow you to grow, change, and become.
Because all of those things are adding dimensions to your very being. Without them, you will be a flat checkerboard in a Rubix Cube world.
And one day you’re going to run into some of those classmates again. You will have so many interesting things to tell each other. You could spend years comparing all that you’ve seen of this big, wide world.
Unless they never risked, never lost, never won, and never became. Those are the people who will recognize you as the Odd Bird that you are. They won’t be the first person to ever tell you this in your life, but they will say it with more bitterness than you ever knew someone could feel towards the avian species. They will resent you for not boarding up your windows and living your whole life in the same box full of hurt they believed you deserved at fourteen.
That’s a different kind of bird.
And baby doll, let that go, too.