I’ve been an outsider all of my life.
I longed to fit in, but I never did. I could not force my soul into the shoebox required to squeeze into the assembly line of children at school. I dreamt of carbon, stars, the alphabet, space travel, piano chords, and choirs of angels – while my classmates read Tip and Mitten and colored line drawings of triangles red, yellow, and blue.
I read about Amelia Earhart, flying her plane around the world, or, Helen Keller, blind and deaf, but still able to go to college and become the voice of a generation. I found stories about girls who were strong and smart and used their own wits to get themselves out of tight spots. In daydreams, in books, I found solace. I found individuals like me, people living on the outside. I always felt as though I was watching the beautiful holiday party standing outside the window with snow falling silently around me. For as long as I can remember, that is the chalk drawing I have of myself.
It wasn’t a sad place. I lived in a world of my own making, starring in my own movie, sure of my lines. In fact, I felt sorry for anyone who wouldn’t allow herself to step out of line, to dance outside the circle, to wear a mismatched outfit or sing off-key. I usually liked being the invisible one, the one with rough edges, the velvet-black sheep no one understood, wearing the coat of the maverick. That was how I thought of myself, and I was OK with it.
But now, when I look at photographs of myself as a child, I see a solemn, mercurial little girl. A child who spent her time alone because the children she met didn’t relate to the way she saw the world. I see a lonely child with fireflies for eyes, who could find no one to talk to, no one to tell her secrets to, no one to untangle her mysteries with.
I realize now, being an outsider has made me an artist. I tend to observe the smallest nuance of a situation and remember details, the threads that tie things up, the hairline fractures, the dirt in someone’s eye. I hone in on things that others don’t pay attention to – patterns, tone, undercurrents. I’ve lived my whole life pulled by the undertow of each day. I’ve found myself in too deep, seaweed swirling around my feet, unable to swim away – swallowing salty water and wondering about the truth of things.
I have always wanted to reveal the truth. I became the truth-teller in my family, much to their chagrin. Lies become comfortable for most of us, so easy to muck about in, but lies don’t reveal what is really needed in the world now, except if you interpret them as opposite of what’s being said, as mirror images, as the truth spelled backward. It is only now that I am 48 that I have begun to understand my own life, to see it as a spiritual journey full of necessary losses and bits of light and shadow. It is only now that all the pieces of me and the mosaic the shattered parts, make, is clear. It is only now that I am able to discern the roads I’ve traveled, the reason I’ve been alone for much of the trip, and the ways in which this journey has stretched me all the way up to the sky. I have lived on the outside of society, of relationship, of school, of work – for all of my years. That solitude has forged me into a woman on the verge, a woman with a sense of her mission, a woman who knows what is true for her.
I don’t have to look outside for answers. All these years I have been tending and watering, weeding and raking, the soil of my soul, the garden inside me. I know who I am. As a child, I knew – but didn’t realize what I was doing. I was shaping the clay of my soul, even then. So, I followed true north and wove all the strands of my isolation and my sensitivity and my sadness into the tapestry of my life. And now I have a beautiful, inconceivable, glittering life to wrap myself in and stay warm.
I am still living on the outside.
I am still waiting and watching. I was put here to do just that, to give voice to those of us standing in the rain, standing on the outside, looking in. Whether we realize it or not, each one of us, is an outsider – in one way or another. Each one of us longs to be known and understood and found out. I learned early that no one but Spirit could answer my questions, so I went inside myself to find the mystery. And there, lo and behold, I found everything I needed.
© 2008 Shavawn M. Berry
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