Picture a girl in elementary school, legs as thin and long like two yard sticks holding up a torso, anxiously rubbing pencil shavings onto her forehead in the girls’ bathroom before running out the door to meet her imaginary Italian cousin at ballet class.
It made me terribly uneasy to know that my peers got an entire holiday to put ashes on their foreheads and then proceed to whine about not being able to eat meat on Fridays.
I was envious that their mothers made them give up soda or that they wore white communion dresses and got a second middle name halfway through life.
And I was especially jealous that they had all these cool prayers to repeat as if each one were a secret pass code to a club I would never be invited to: The Catholic club.
I am convinced that a normal child would ask questions and then get over it. Embrace the nondenominational religion she was given.
Go back, reread several posts of mine, and then say this to yourself, “She was not a normal child.”
Hence my decision to rub the lead from my unicorn pencils on my forehead to blend in with my soot headed peers and then proceed to spend the next forty days grumbling the loudest over not being able to have soda or chocolate.
“You don’t even like soda and you are allergic to milk chocolate,” I could remember my best friend saying to me.
She wasn’t Catholic, wasn’t getting ashes, wasn’t eating fish on Fridays and (GASP) didn’t care!
“You don’t understand, at least you still get to be Italian.”
And so, when refusing to talk to my best friend whose life was easier for being Italian or the God who made me into a pale mess of Irish freckles and German roots, I turned to Gabby.
My Italian cousin.
Had we been in the same fifth grade class I would have told you about Gabriella Vacaldo or you would have found her on my family tree. Gabriella was my Italian cousin and a star gymnast. She was the best in her class at pottery and she had long curly brown hair. Her parents gave her a cell phone at the mere age of 12 so she could call me anytime.
I imagine she would have called me all the time, if only she existed.
Yup, I made up a cousin in the fifth grade and I probably rubbed lead on her head as well. But in all fairness, everyone knows there is nothing cooler than having an Italian cousin to hang out with after school; at least there was nothing cooler at my lunch table.
So. as all the other kids scuttled off the black top at 3 p.m. to go play with Vinnie and Antonia, I was "making a call to Gabriella." Translation: Lead head Hannah going off to play by herself, all the while kicking the dirt over the fact that she wasn’t Italian or Catholic. Tough. Life.
Both these stories fall into the chapters of my life spent trying to fit in. To fit the mold instead of break it. To make plea bargains with the gods of normalcy that they would remove any trait that was a) distinguishable b) unique c) quirky d) different, so that I could slide through life being happily ordinary and blissfully average.
We could very easily do this for the rest of our lives. We could an entire 365 days out of our years fitting in and never pouncing on any plan that might make us stick out from the crowd.
We just need to ask the question and then assume the role: Leader or Follower? Leader or follower, baby?
Take it from someone with experience, wads of it. I spent a good 76% of my life on the path to being a follower and there isn’t much excitement in it. The footprints to follow are already in place and it tends to get very boring, especially with huge ideas keep chit chattering in your head like gossipy freshmen. Someone did the something we dream of doing before us, yes, but do we really want to spend our lives playing in their shadows?
Wait, wait, wait.
Still one more option to hurl on the table. Before I sway you into being a leader. Yikes.
We could just wait until tomorrow instead of starting today. We could wait for a better time, a more manageable schedule, a better support team. But we might be waiting for a while. Waiting Forever. You cool with that? You down with being labeled as a time waster?
A dear friend of mine, and a huge role model to boot, sent me an article today that was all about the notebooks we keep, bursting at the spirals with brilliant ideas. Except, after a certain point, we can exhaust the world with our blabbering about this good idea and that amazing idea.
After a while we need to actually put the ideas into action. Become, as Katy Perry would tell us all, our own firework in this world. We only need to glance upward to see that a million others have already started bursting and they would never choose to sink back into line again.
It’s funny that she even sings those lyrics, to proclaim the fact that we are all fireworks. What a scary thing to be… it means we need to be willing to gear up for an explosion. It could be fantastic but the thought of lighting the match is quite petrifying.
You see, that would be a point of no turning back. That would really set us apart from the rest of the world. That would really make us stand out.
And so we must ask ourselves if we are ready to swap out the firework display that has been playing in our minds for years for the real deal.
That could be a real risk.
But, secrets told: I want to be one of the ones shooting up in the sky and yelling back down to the hesitant ones on the ground, "Baby, get up here! It's something worth living out loud!"