Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Defining Moment

Strabismus.  May I please have the definition of the word?
"The inability of one eye to obtain binocular vision with the other because of an imbalance of the muscles of the eyeball."
And use it in a sentence, please?
"In the schoolyard Billy protested that he wasn't cockeyed.  'I suffer from strabismus,' he said, whereupon the bullies beat him harder."
Putnam 21st Annual Spelling Bee


We start out as simple definitions that describe the absolute:  Male. Female.  Big.  Small.  We are indisputable definitions according to those who define us.

As we get older the definitions begin to broaden.  Serious.  Silly.  Cheerful.  Sullen.  Smart.  Slow.  A joy.  A handful.  Smart.  Slow.  Strong-willed.  Shy.  Now our definitions contain words which are subjective, and still somehow they manage to stick to us as if they were statements of fact.  No matter that we wake up every day a changed person, the words that are used to define us do their best to determine our shape, our movement, and our spirit.


'Different' is nice, but it sure isn't 'pretty'.  'Pretty' is what it's about.
I've never met anyone who was 'different' who couldn't figure that out.
A Chorus Line


Pretty soon you're in school taking tests designed to tell you who you are and what you are going to be ("best suited for" they say) when you grow up.  They plot your strengths and weaknesses on a large circular chart, which seems more Ouija board than fact.  Take the test, find the results plotted on a graph and chart your life course as if you were navigating by the stars.

I remember this test clearly, or, to be more accurate, I remember the result.  I was excited to learn what I would be when I grew up.   I had lots of interests, and like an enormous buffet, it seemed impossible to choose one.  This test was going to help me.  No, this test was going to tell me.  Imagine my surprise when I looked at the result and saw a solitary dot sitting dead center.  I scored a bulls-eye at the exact moment I didn't want one.  The single dot in the center meant all options were open.  There was no direction., no answer, and no help.  Now what?


Although how can you know who you are 
til you know what you want (which you don't),
so then which do you pick?
Where you're safe out of sight and yourself, but where everything's wrong?
Or where everything's right and you'll know that you'll never belong?
Into the Woods


Without a defined course of action, I wrote my own and I did what I loved.  I surrounded myself with music and poetry and theater and books.  And with every class I took, every song I sang, opera role I learned, play I watched, book I read and adventure I dared to take, my eyes grew wider, my horizons stretched farther and I realized I was a wonderfully complicated, complex person.  Some still defined me, but without an easy employment distinction --   Doctor, Lawyer, CEO -- it became easier for others (and harsher for me) to define me by what I wasn't rather than by what I was.

All these years later, things have changed and yet not changed at all.  I have a job for which I am grateful.  It pays the bills, covers my insurance and keeps a roof over my head, heat in my house, and has provided for me, my family and our two furry monsters.  But I am not my job.  My job is a defined absolute with rules and requirements all predetermined like points on a graph.  My role is well-defined:  follow the rules, run the maze, get a reward.  But that's a job, and it could never, will never define me.

I'm that thing -- whatever it may be today -- that speaks to me down in my gut.  I'm the song newly discovered with the words that moved my spirit and the melody so beautiful all I could do is play it again.  I'm the book that made me think, the poem that made me sigh, or the play that made me laugh a little too loudly.  And tomorrow?  Who knows.  Tomorrow I'll be different than I am today.  But what I do know is I'll have all the tools necessary, not to define who I am, but to celebrate it.  


Your word is Capybara.
Is that a word?
That's a word, yes.
No way -- what does it mean?
"a tailless, largely aquatic South American rodent often exceeding four feet in length"
Awesome.  What else can I ask?
You're allowed to ask for a word's language of origin or to have the word used in a sentence.
Oh -- can you use it in a sentence?
Yes -- "Don't look now, Pedro, but I think that tailless, largely aquatic four-and-a-half foot rodent swimming next to you may be a capybara."
Wow!  That didn't help at all!
Putnam 21st Annual Spelling Bee


mary alice said...

This was simply beautiful. A wonderful way to start my day and will share it with our girls.

Carol, Song of Joy said...

So pleased for a chance to read your wisdom and reflections once more! They are always worth reading and "chewing on." Thank you. And keep climbing those stairs!

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