by Joanie Butman
The scientist who earned fame cloning the first sheep, Dolly, died recently. Do you think we can bury the practice of Clone Day along with him? My friend was sitting at my kitchen table last week lamenting the annual phenomenon of Spirit Week (the bane of my existence and the source of much family angst over the past 6 – 7 years). As with so much nowadays, a week might be overkill. Couldn’t a Spirit Daysuffice? Then, amidst all the distractions some teacher always throws a test into the mix in a valiant effort to keep the focus on academics - commendable but delusional.
I remember a while back going in for surgery and planning for every contingency. I left my husband and parents a tome of instructions: schedules, names and numbers of kids’ friends and their parents, doctors, dentists, coaches, teachers, school counselor, and who knows what else. I thought I had covered anything and everything. The evening after surgery I received a panicky call from my children, “Tomorrow is Superhero Day! What are we going to wear?” I immediately pressed that blessed button they hooked me up with to deliver more pain meds to help me deal with this ‘crisis.’ Kids are so narcissistic, which fortunately protects them from some harsh realities. My hospital stay was an inconvenience. Not having an outfit for Superhero day was a catastrophe of epic proportions. “Make one up” was the best advice I could muster. You’d be amazed what you can come up with using a white t-shirt, some markers, and a little ingenuity. Only problem was they were going to be different than all the other kids. Horrors!
Clone Day has got to be the most challenging theme of Spirit Week – especially for those kids who don’t belong to any particular group. I was one of them – a floater of sorts. I still am. I enjoyed different things about different groups but never wanted my identity to be defined by any particular one – until I became a Christian. This is one group whose underlying beliefs and principles are at the foundation of my character. My faith is inextricably tied to my identity. This group also boasts members from all walks of life. It transcends all boundaries – social, racial, national, geographical and economical. Our only commonality is our need for a savior. It is the most diverse, ragtag group of individuals I’ve been honored to be a part of. Even Christ himself was considered to live on the fringe of society. Look who He surrounded Himself with – those everyone else rejected. Now, that’s my kind of group!
Regardless, everyone knows adolescents spend most (if not all) of their middle and high school years desperately trying NOT to be different. Is it really necessary to have a day which serves only to highlight the ones who haven’t succeeded? When my daughter was younger, I enjoyed watching tween movies with her. The Princess Diaries may not be the deepest one we watched, but its theme has always resonated with me. Mia and Lilly are friends whose physical attributes and strong personalities destine them to the dreaded nerd category, shunned by the “populars.” After discovering her ancestry and undergoing a royal makeover, Mia succumbs to the allure of the popular boy at Lilly’s expense. Frustrated by her friend’s sellout for popularity and her stubborn refusal to accept the obvious, Anne Hathaway’s quirky sidekick finally confronts the reluctant princess. “Why are you trying so hard to be like everyone else when you were born to be different?” Because she’s 16!!! Being different is anathema to most teens, and something they won’t embrace for years to come.
Here’s a novel idea for Spirit Week - how about a “Be Yourself Day?” Would anyone even know what that was? I doubt it. It will be years before many of them figure that out – a lifetime for some. It is a pilgrimage of discovery, an adventure that leads to people and places you could never imagine from within the confines of adolescence.
The best part of aging is the process of becoming your own best friend, of developing an appreciation for that which makes you (and everyone else) different – warts and all. It is an acceptance of the complete package, acknowledging the unique combination of strengths and weaknesses that you’ve been given and being grateful for both. It is a journey of self-awareness as the opinion of others becomes less important than being true to yourself and your own convictions. Yes, our outer beauty fades, but it is supplanted by an inner grace that’s more radiant, more lasting, and more attractive than anything I ever enjoyed in my youth. It’s the kind of beauty that is felt rather than seen. I suppose you could say we grow into ourselves.
I will close with a suggestion from Oscar Wilde. He doesn’t necessarily present it as a choice, but it certainly is an important one that we all face repeatedly. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” And besides, as my mother always told me, “no one else knows how to do it.” How could they? Even I’m at a loss some days.
Good video for anyone who feels like they are existing on the fringe.