In my new home town, I often find myself in the rather unusual position of being the only person in the room without some sort of body modification.
(This includes rooms filled with a high percentage of senior citizens.)
I am not one for piercings and tattoos myself, but I love other people’s stories about theirs. Oftentimes the body art is a line of demarcation, chronicling either growth and the moment when something – or someone – vital was lost.
I think it can be very powerful to choose to wear that kind statement on your body. But most of the time, we are left with the variation that we do not choose. The scar or wound. The shape that isn’t in keeping with cultural norms of attractiveness. The skin and bones that droop with age.
Sometimes we want the comfort of blending in with the crowd, of knowing our role and knowing we can play it well. Even within the most “alternative” crowd, there is also a sameness. Groups norms as to appearance and behavior don’t have to be minivans and Costco memberships. They can also be motorcycles and ripped denim. Or twin sets, pearls and four vodka tonics before dinner.
We are wired for acceptance and inclusion even as we long to be known for what is unique and special about us. We want the interesting variation we choose instead of the differentiator that is thrust upon us. And we want to choose our tribe so that we can fit comfortably even as we express ourselves fully.
I’ve visited the tulip fields twice this spring. At first the eye is dazzled by acre after acre of flowers, blooming harmoniously in tidy rows.
As you walk through the aisles, you notice the variation in shape and size of the various blooms, in addition to their spectacular colors.
But then, if you aren’t hell bent on looking at yourself in your phone and taking a selfie, you’ll start noticing the variations. Sometimes it’s an outlier bulb that clearly is in the “wrong” row. But sometimes it’s the slight flaw in a flower – a mutation that might land that bulb in the compost heap, but that makes its flower special in a sea of glorious color.
We all carry these competing desires for sameness and uniqueness. And we accept variation from ourselves, our children and our neighbors with varying degrees of equanimity. Can we do better? Can we learn to see the beauty in difference – in ourselves and others?
All photos taken by me
with a Nikon DSLR at the
Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
in Woodburn, OR.