Unapologetically A Human

Lined up across the room of my 8th grade literature class was every student waiting for their turn in the spelling bee. I was sweating bullets when I finally got my first word.  It was the first round, and I was so relieved when I heard my word.  Sugar.  I was so excited I quickly blurted out S-U-G-E-R.  I then promptly smacked myself in the face before the teacher had a chance to tell me I was wrong.  I knew I was wrong.  I heard it with my own ears. To say I felt stupid is the understatement of at least 3 decades. My first word in the spelling bee was also my last. The other kids went on spelling words for what seemed like forever while I sat cuddled up in my shame. I guarantee those kids don’t even remember that day, while it is marked in my history forever.

We all do dumb things.  We all get overconfident and immediately become righteously human in ways unimaginable seconds before. Moments of weakness remind us daily we are not deity, and we should have no such grandiose opinions of what we are capable of doing. To remove all doubt, I’ll admit that just this week I tripped over my own feet a few times, closed the door to teacher’s lounge on the principal I’m currently working for, had my car get stuck in gear and lurch forward in front of a group of new friends, and I called someone by the wrong name 4 times in a row.  Did I mention it is just Monday? So, my point is impressing people isn’t exactly a forte of mine.

We all want to belong.  That’s why we struggle with rejection from an early age.  It doesn’t matter if we are on the playground, in a classroom, or even at home with our siblings.  We strive to fit in.  We want to make people like us because it’s a part of what makes us human.  To be rejected on a basic level is devastating.  As children, those that reject us will be considered sworn enemies for a lifetime or until the next week when a different kid tells us we can’t play kickball, we are picked last for a team, or we are laughed at for not having the current cool item.

As nice as it would be, this doesn’t go away when we become grown ups.  We want to seem acceptable to our peers.  Some of us might want to be the funniest, the prettiest, the nicest, the best cook, the best party thrower, or even the best screw up, but we all want to be something to someone.  To be nothing to anyone says we are practically invisible and unimportant somehow.  As a fly on the wall at any water cooler scenario you could listen in to conversation to see that the basic need to not be rejected is still relevant and alive in any person.  Can some people generally not care?  Yes, I believe that is possible.  On a more specific note we all have people who we invest in their opinions more than others.  We will care about them, even if we don’t mind the herd’s point of view.

Lately I’ve been considering what happens to you after repeated rejection? What if the rejection is from the one person that has an opinion that matters to you?  I know what was true for me.  I started to tell myself stories. I made excuses for the person rejecting me.  I considered maybe the person didn’t like himself. Maybe he is hurting right now because of something that he is going through.  Or perhaps he is depressed. He had a poor situation growing up, so maybe that explained it.  Specific days of rejection I’d say to myself that he must have had a bad day at work. In general, I would hypothesize that perhaps he just didn’t value the same things I did.

As a result of all these stories I told myself something sinister happened.  The stories stopped being about the person who was rejecting me emotionally, and they started to be about me.  When the person I looked to for affection or affirmation didn’t have the reaction I was hoping for, I told myself I told the story wrong.  I felt like I was annoying them by needing attention in the first place, and just maybe I was too needy emotionally, and they deserved to be left alone instead of being bothered by me and my needs.  I felt like my narrative was uninteresting, and no one would want to hear about my day.  I questioned whether jokes were funny because he never laughed. It didn’t matter what excuse or reason I ended up telling myself for the day, the end result was the same. I felt alone, lonely, unloved, and unwanted.

Do you sometimes do dumb things?  Of course you do.  That makes us the humans we are.  If anything the stories that make us dorky or human should unite us and bond us.  We all have them, after all. Moreover, our stories are not important unless we tell them.  Our stories make us who we are, and we are wired to want to share, build community, relate, and communicate.  Relationships are tricky, but wanting to be accepted transcends age, gender, location, and whether we were popular as a young person.  There are people out there that want to hear your stories.  They want to invest in you.  They want to know about the time you spelled sugar wrong in a spelling bee, how you poured liquid soap into the dishwasher once and caused an evening of agony, and the time you took Benadryl right before a church service and couldn’t stop singing “I Feel Good” during the sermon.   If someone isn’t investing in you, don’t stop telling your stories. Tell the stories anyway.  Those that matter will adore them.  If they don’t, they just aren’t your people anyway.

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Not Quite Found, But Safe and Sound

When I was about 13 years old my friend Kelli and I decided to walk to another friend’s house.  It didn’t seem like that far of a walk, there was safety in numbers, and we thought we were adults. (We were really really wrong.) Really long story short, we got lost.  We thought we knew where we were. We had our landmarks, were in the woods, and after walking for at least 2 hours we never made it to our friend’s house.  The woods simply got the best of us that day.  To make matters worse just as I stated that things could not get worse the heavens opened and poured rain and we heard a sound of thunder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few months.  You think because you know your way around somewhere and you have landmarks,  you are safe from getting lost.  This is just not true.  I got lost on my way home this year, metaphorically speaking, and I felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I felt like I had a plan on how to get there, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, the metaphorical rain started pouring from the sky.

Every little piece of us makes up the whole.  When we feel broken, we forget that even while we are broken, our parts are still there.  You can be broken and still be a whole person.  Sometimes we find the pieces of ourselves in the places we wouldn’t think to look, and for me the place I wouldn’t have thought to look is in the rear view mirror.  While I’ve been feeling lost I’ve come into contact with a few folks that I felt like had already come into my life and had gone out of it forever.  I think sometimes people are in our path to remind us of who we were before we got lost.  We all can use a reminder sometimes.

When my oldest child started middle school she joined  a club sponsored by my former 8th grade middle school teacher. She came home and said she wanted to join a club, and she told me the teacher’s name.  A few weeks prior to that the same teacher and I had a conversation at the front of the school on registration day.  This teacher played a huge part in why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.  I was a teacher’s aide for him in 9th and 10th grade during my study hall because the schools were right next door to each other.  I was allowed to grade papers, decorate the bulletin board with wild abandon, and help students if they needed extra help sometimes.  So, here I was, fresh out of a teaching job because my contract wasn’t renewed, and here he was reminding me of the things that caused me to want to teach in the first place.  I needed that reminder, and I’m glad to have crossed paths again. I’m blessed that now his legacy will extend to my child.  I picked up a piece of myself that day that I had neglected to think about in many years.

This week I was substituting my final few days  in Algebra 1 and my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher walked in the door.  She smiled a big smile.  She came straight over and hugged me, and said my name.  She said my name, and I hadn’t seen this lady in 22 years.  She was one of my favorites, but more importantly she was the first person that showed me what it meant to be in a middle school.  That was a scary time, but she helped me grow my confidence, and her sense of humor always made math fun.  I knew she was important to me, and she held relevance to my life.  But it was her that said my name first.  That meant somehow my life in her class hadn’t been forgotten.  After she left I found myself smiling the biggest smile and tearing up at the same time.  A teacher makes a huge impact, and to be remembered brightened my day.  It made me hope that one day, I will remember a student’s name I run across, even 22 years after they sit in a classroom with me.  It was just a moment to her, running across a long lost student, but I picked up another piece of me.

Some pieces of ourselves aren’t pretty.  Some pieces have doubts, confusions, hurts, anger, and failures.  It’s the rare person that can tackle those parts of us and not grow weary, but another person I knew from long ago came back into my life last year and did just that.  This friend is the reason I told my students in Algebra on the first day to be very nice to people this year because you never know if your friend that can help fight your worst battles in a few decades will be sitting near you in Algebra class.  Some people don’t just give you one piece of yourself back.  Some people hold up a mirror and make you see the whole person again.  You just can’t put a price on that.

Some words aren’t big enough.  Some words attempt to convey meanings, but never can cover exactly what you are trying to say.  Sometimes your heart is so full you can’t fully impart upon others the exactness of the spirit of your words. I have had moments in the past year that have helped me pick up pieces and decrease the amount of lost I feel.  I am surrounded by fantastic people.  Grateful doesn’t quite cover it, and even when you are still kind of lost, grateful feels pretty good.