The things that bind us
I made up my mind, one autumn evening when I was 15 years old, that I was going to do whatever it took to be different, to have a meaningful life.
I dyed my hair black, then purple, then red. I got plenty of piercings and as I winced while the needle penetrated the skin, all that was going through my mind was, “Being true to yourself hurts.”
Of course, I was a dramatic, angsty teenager who believed my plight was unique and who was sure that the way to claim my individuality was to make physical changes.
The mistake I made? While I was on a journey to find myself, I glorified the underground kids, the scene people and I shunned those who did things conventionally. While I was busy losing my religion, it did not occur to me that those of my friends who chose to continue believing in God were making a conscious decision to do so.
I just thought they were too boring to take the leap.
It did not cross my mind – not until a couple of years and hair colour changes later – that individuality is not found in the steely sheen of a barbell or at the bottom of a bottle of hairdye.
Individuality is found in the individual, and in every single choice you make. When you choose not to get tattooed, that’s you claiming yourself.
Whether you’re wearing Buddy Holly glasses and working in a record store, or you’re a pant-suit kind of girl, rocking the law courts with your sparkling arguments, you have a right to claim individuality.
I was always so angry when somebody passed a remark about why I couldn’t just “be normal”, or when authorities passed comments about how “unladylike” piercings were.
In truth, I was being just as judgmental. I disregarded people who looked ‘normal’ because I just dismissed them as boring. I’m saddened now to think of the wealth of friendships I may have had, had I not judged people based on their appearance.
And so you see it works both ways.
Of course, now that I realise my mistake, I make a conscious effort to hold off judgment until I really get to know a person, because I realise everyone is just trying to find their own way of expressing themselves within the constraints of their society.
One of the greatest joys of my job as a writer is that I get to interview people from all walks of life and listen to their stories. Some of them look normal, others look less so, but each has a fascinating background. Some have survived cancer, some have found their soulmate in their old age, some have broken out of the cycle of poverty and have taught themselves how to read and write.
It’s pretty compelling stuff. And it’s fantastic to be able to sit with this person for an hour over a coffee and just listen to their tales.
Everybody has a story to tell. Some may bear the scars on their body, others may not, but every single story is different and equally worthy of the time it takes you to hear it.
And so you begin to realise that people, despite their culture or appearance or background, are so fundamentally similar. We all experience love and loneliness. We’ve all looked into the abyss, only to have it stare back at us. And we’ve all felt overwhelmed with happiness.
Another thing that binds us? Each one of us aches to make a difference, to live out our life’s purpose. Whether that purpose is to travel, to become president, to take religious vows or to raise a family, each purpose is as noble as the last and deserves the utmost respect.
The next time you find yourself making assumptions about a person based on their hair or the way they walk, how about you take a deep breath and offer to buy them a coffee instead?
Who knows? You may end up with a new friend and another fantastic story to tell.