My dad was a restless, ambitious man. By the time I reached puberty I had attended 9 elementary schools across the country. Utah, California, Oregon, Wyoming, Florida and back to Utah in time for the 7th grade. I know, there aren’t nine states – trust me, the math works – but that’s a long story maybe for another post. I’m not a shy person at all in my old age, and I’ve always pointed to the fact that every 6-24 months we were packing up and moving to a new place, a new school, and I had to start all over again with new friends – learning how I fit in. Then just as I figured out how I fit in, BAM, time to move. So I got good at talking to new people because I did it all of the time as a child.
You see my dad suffered from “Grass is Greener Syndrome”. Yeah it’s a thing – but I made it up – at least the name. The next move was always going to be IT – our Shangri-La, the Xanadu of prosperity and happiness. Dining on honeydew and drinking the milk of paradise! So by the time I entered the 7th grade I had no idea where I fit.
As if junior high school isn’t awkward enough – add to the fact that I was joining hundreds of kids that had known each other most of their lives in one way or another. I was desperate to fit in, to belong, to have just one friend. The way I set out to do this is by attaching myself to a group I might fit and transforming myself into what I thought would fit in that group. That kind of artificiality backfired on me in so many ways – and I just could not understand why nobody would be my friend!
In fact it turned out that some of the groups became my tormentors. Sigh – nice to look back on that as ancient history, but it was terrible to live through.
My point is this. In my experience when you say and do different things to try to fit in, things that aren’t true to who you are, you lose track of who you are, and generally people are put off by the uncomfortable feeling of you pretending… it’s a lonely place and I didn’t know the solution for many many years.
A few weeks ago I was driving up a highway that runs kind of northeast out of Moab, Utah toward Monument Valley. I was stopping by the Colorado River that runs along the bottom of that canyon to make images like this:
While I was standing there sweating in the heat while working my camera to make this image – I heard the oddest sound echoing down the canyon. I could have sworn it was a trombone! I had seen something “brass” as I was driving just a few minutes earlier. I wondered if that was where it was coming from so I jumped in my car and drove toward the sound and this is what I found:
A french horn concert! As I pulled off and parked I said “well there’s something you don’t see everyday!” and laughed at the absurdity of me talking out loud to myself. I wondered if the heat was finally getting to me.
I walked over and motioned to my camera, asking if it was ok it I made photos of them – they nodded their agreement and kept playing. The music was amazing. I’ll try to explain it in text…
One horn would be playing a pulse – a quarter or maybe a half note every measure and the other horn would be playing way above it in this melody that wove in and around the first horn’s foundation. Then slowly the second horn would start to imitate the pulse of the first horn but higher in a tight harmony so it was hard to tell which horn was making which sound -the second horn would continue the pulsing while the the first horn dropped into the lower note range and would begin to weave a harmony lower than the second horn was playing…
I hope that gives you an idea at least – it was mesmerizing and completely beautiful. They were playing off of the sheet music and I heard no mistakes – they knew their instruments well! And in the acoustics of the canyon walls the music gave me chills even in the heat of a Moab summer day.
Ray and Erica met ten years ago or so when they both showed up for an audition. They both got parts and ended up sitting next to each other – and Erica’s husband got a part too and ended up sitting directly in front of them. Over the course of the next several days they talked and worked together and became friends. They have been close ever since. I wondered out loud if it was based on the bond of the love of the french horn. They both laughed politely, but didn’t answer my question. They adjusted their music and began playing again. They were there to play music – not talk to curious people who happened to stop and want to talk.
On their next break Ray explained to me he had wanted to try playing his horn in the canyon with all of the rock walls – he was curious how that would sound. He had come up to practice a week earlier and once he heard the amazing sound it created he called his pals – Erica and her husband – and arranged a group outing. Erica’s husband was there, but far below in a river rafting expedition. they had stopped for lunch and were playing noisily in the river below.
Suddenly it felt like 40 years ago – to my mind the rowdy party below were the jocks and other tormentors (the “cool” kids) of my earlier life. Here I was with the band kids and for a split second I felt self-conscious about it. The jocks always tormented the band kids and the kid who didn’t fit in very well – there it was again. That ugly expectation that had been programmed into me by so many unfortunate, ugly experiences in the locker rooms and hallways of youth. This irrational fear was but a fleeting feeling washing over me… just for a moment, and then I was ashamed for letting that fear have power in my life again…
And then I was back to myself – back to the present as Ray and Erica lifted their horns to their lips and filled the canyon with music again. Echoing and reverberating and touching my heart. It was beautiful. They were doing what they loved in a beautiful place they were learning to love.
They were bold about who they were, giving the gift to the “cool kids” along with the rest of the world. There was no apology in them. They were proud of their talent and aware of the beauty they were creating. And seriously, why shouldn’t they? If what you create is beautiful to you – and someone doesn’t like it – too bad for them! right? A lifetime of being a commercial artist has taught me you can’t please all of the people all of the time – not even close.
In that canyon I learned again – be who you are. Be genuine and people will respond. Share what you have with the world, stand in your power, and the world will respond in kind. The people that love you and your work will gravitate toward you. You will enrich lives and many will love you.
If I had a time machine and could go back and teach a younger me those things that have taken me a lifetime to learn… I wonder if the younger me would even listen. Doesn’t matter, I have no control over that now… lessons are learned and on I go.
Here’s what I can do. I can tell you that those painful experiences of youth helped forge me into who/what I am today. It’s all part of my life path. I’m grateful for the things my life path has taught me through both pleasure and pain. And I can stand in the power of who I am and be confident that I can bless the lives of people I come in contact with by simply being me.
I’m grateful to know more of who I am and the contributions my uniqueness makes to the world. I’m sure that you being who you are makes the world a better place too.