I was one of those toddlers who liked to dance in public, just to make people laugh. But I started my real interest in the dramatic when I was in kindergarten, reciting a Christmas poem. I got the one about getting nothing in my stocking because of my questionable behavior. It was a subtle hint from my teacher, no doubt, one which completely eluded my four-year-old self. And in later years, my poor embarrassed mother would tell the story of my performance, which culminated in an awkward cartwheel, improvised on the spot. Everyone in the front row got a good view of my red ruffled petticoat and matching underpants. I got the lecture about ladylike behavior. But I don’t think the lessons from my genteel and well-meaning mother ever really stuck, especially when Santa, who obviously loved me, showed up anyway, in spite of the warnings.
And so, the older I became, the bigger my personality grew. In the 3rd grade, the itinerant music teacher sent me to time-out because I sang with too much enthusiasm, drowning out every voice in the room. But that never stopped me from impromptu routines, often to a pained audience. In the 4th grade, my fashion sense firmly established, I campaigned hard to be the Christmas fairy in the school play since I already knew that it involved a solo dance, wearing a delicate white costume, complete with gossamer wings. I held the record in the 5th grade for writing lines as punishment for talking in class. Who knew? I was Bart Simpson before he was an idea in Matt Groening’s head.
I will spare you the year by year details, but trust me: there is one memory for every single birthday, each demonstrating a pattern, one that began early in my life. If I were to play armchair psychiatrist for a minute, I can understand the motivation. As an only child, I was lonely. I longed for the attention from my peers, those substitute siblings, and using any means possible to stand out made sense in my immature brain. Carl Jung would have simply called me an extreme extrovert.
Back in the day, which does seem like ions ago, there were no alphabet labels for chatty kids with outgoing temperaments. I guess I was lucky because I am certain that I would have fit the profile from someone with an ADD or XYZ disorder. I was the kid that teachers rolled their eyes over when they read their student roster on the first day of school. Fortunately, my momma was the President of the PTA and showered our class with iced cupcakes and a well-stocked first aid kit. She understood the subtle power of bribery.
But as I grew into young adulthood, I soon learned that folks don’t always understand or appreciate my robust approach to life. Quite frankly, I can be a lot for folks to handle. I know it, and I am sorry. There are assumptions often made about me, huge generalizations, because of it. So for a long time, I tried to dim my sparkle to make others like me or feel better about themselves. I nodded in agreement, held back my true nature, longed for acceptance. I deferred to those who wanted me to tone it down because I was just too much for them. We are all guilty of adapting our behavior in order to be liked, I suppose.
But I was also miserable, trapped like a genie in a bottle, as I put everyone else’s preferences ahead of my own. When the world tries to hold you back to diminish your worth, it is time to stand in your truth. And so, Ironically, being sick has taught me to be who I am, regardless of how others may view me. I have no time to be anyone other than myself. Fortunately, I have learned that nobody can live this life for you, which means you had better be as authentic as you can be. And more importantly, I realized that God loves me here and now, exactly as He created me to be. He loves all of us that way.
The ultimate gift we can give another human being is to accept them as they are. And it’s pretty darned special if we can extend that same bit of unconditional acceptance to ourselves. I understand that I don’t have to dim my lantern in order for anyone else’s to burn brighter because this little light of mine is going to shine. And yes, I learned that song at four. If I recall, it was quite the performance.