It's OK To Be Different
Posted on June 24 2019
If you're in New York City and need to get to LaGuardia airport the M60 bus is the best deal in town. You can go across Manhattan, over the bridge and get dropped off at your terminal for only $2.50.
NOTHING in NYC costs $2.50--except maybe a bottle of water :-(
So this past week I decided to take the bus. When I got on and looked around, I was amazed that there weren’t two people that looked alike. We were a mixed bag.
New York City is an amazing place for diversity. Everyday, each street gives off the same melting pot vibe that you feel when the UN is in session. People speaking different languages, people with different skin colors and sometimes you’ll spot an amazing outfit that represents a culture that would be nearly impossible to find anywhere else in the US.
On the bus that morning, people seemed friendly enough, considering it was pouring down rain and the bus was getting overcrowded quickly.
I was impressed with a man by the door that had made it his job to help people put their bags on the shelf. There was a young man with enormous headphones and pants that sat so low on his bum I'm not sure how he could even walk but he jumped up to give a lady with a baby his seat. There was constant movement so more people could get on and out of the rain. It was real teamwork among strangers.
As we were traveling along, I started thinking about when I was very young how I didn’t even think about people being different. Most likely, it was because when I looked around everyone was pretty much the same! But more than that, I don’t believe kids pay attention or even notice how someone isn’t like them until they’re taught to see it.
When I was a young girl the AC church was a homogeneous group. Every name sounded German and chances were good that you were somehow related to everyone if you went back 3 or 4 generations through one side or another. “What was your mother’s maiden name”? “Your father’s brother married her cousin”? These were typical questions and spending time discussing a person’s genealogy was a natural part of any introduction.
For me, it was something I always dreaded: "Hi, I'm Rita Richardson".
Pause for furrowed brow and a quizzical look.
Something wasn’t right. What sort of good German name is "Richardson"????
At that point I was obligated to explain that my father wasn't raised in the church. Which leads to more branches of my family tree. Then, the inevitable discovery---my grandfather was also an FTW (From the World). It was painful.
No one ever said “you aren’t quite as good as us” ---and I don’t believe anyone ever thought that. But it was clear I was different, and as a kid I hated it. I didn’t want to be different.
So, at every opportunity outside of the AC church I made sure I fit in. At school, I always tried to be a part of the group. I felt a lot of security being “in” and didn’t want to do anything to shake that feeling.
During Spirit Week---the week devoted to school pride---there was a Career Day. Everyone was supposed to dress like a career you were interested in. On one Career Day a girl a year ahead of me dressed up like a reporter. She always marched to her own drumbeat and this day was no exception. She went all out with a hat that said “PRESS”, she carried a notebook and pen and wore a trench coat.
It was a fine career choice. But because it was her it became a perfect opportunity to single her out as always being so odd. I’m not sure if anything was actually said to her but I’m sure she felt eyes rolling as she walked by. I’m sure we made her feel bad. I’m sure I made her feel bad.
It was sort of a tradition that I would do a debrief with my mom after I got home from school. She’d sit at the kitchen table and I’d tell her every detail of who did what, when and how. Career Day was no exception. I must have gone on for at least 5 minutes about how weird this girl was. "Why did she insist on being so different?" "Why couldn’t she just be like everybody else?"
I didn’t know it, but my sister was in the next room, apparently listening to my whole tirade. She walked into the kitchen, turned to me and said, “You know, there’s nothing wrong with being different”.
It felt like I was hit by a lightning bolt. At once I felt two equal sensations: shame and clarity. That moment, that single sentence, made me see the world with a completely different lens.
When I was on the bus to the airport, I remembered and cringed at how I hated when everyone didn’t act or look the same as me because conformity made me feel better about myself.
I'm so thankful that someone opened my eyes to how off-track that thinking was. We aren’t meant to be cookie cutter people. We’re each made by God in a unique and special way and embracing that idea means embracing Him.