“Our individuality is all, all, that we have. There are those who barter it for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it in, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life's bittersweet route.”
-- Tom Robbins, “Jitterbug Perfume”
our little Off ones go to school this week. For years and years, “Grammy” Swanson would be at the end of her driveway, waving to the early morning “commuters.” She so endeared herself to our community that the high school presented her with her own official vinyl “Bronco” banner. What a wonderful example she set for our kids of how simple it is to start someone’s day off right and bring a little joy into the lives of others.
I think our world is losing these types of characters. As a child growing up in Southern California, I remember a fellow in Laguna Beach, “The Greeter.” Tall, with white hair and beard, he stood at the road into that seaside town waving and smiling at everyone. He did this often for hours at a time. Aside from getting to go to the beach, I looked forward to day trips there just to wave back to this kind soul.
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Love of My Life told me, “We had ‘Goiter Man.’ He was a short fellow that walked all over town with his head bent to the side because of this enormous growth on his neck. I think people deliberately taught you to be prejudiced in those days. ‘Don’t go near Goiter Man. He’s weird!’ By the age of 12 or so, I decided to find out myself. There was nothing wrong with him except that he’d been through a lot in life. I knew then and there not to take the mere word of others and judge too soon.”
I’ve never understood why it was so important for people to conform to certain norms that who-knows-who contrived. Luckily, my mother always taught us to revel in our uniqueness. She had trouble, I believe, with that issue herself, growing up in the ’20s and ’30s, but certainly grasped the concept in the ’60s for her children.
“If you are happy with what you’re wearing,” she’d say, “what does it matter what anyone else thinks? You are only responsible for your own happiness. You’re not hurting anybody. If they don’t like it, maybe that means they’re jealous that you are confident enough to do as you please.
“People usually put others down when they’re feeling bad about themselves. If you feel happy, look happy and act happy, they cannot take that away from you. That’s your gift to yourself.” Sometimes you share that gift with strangers by smiling and acknowledging them as they drive by.
I hope this year when your kids come home and you’re sitting around the dining table (at least once a week!) and talking about your day, if your child comments on how someone smells, the wrong answer someone gave in class, the weird noises they make skipping across the quad or the plastic bag they used for their book bag, that you make a point of helping them understand these people. What simple thing might they do to make that person feel so not alone, not so different, make them feel accepted for who they are?
“There is no such thing as a weird human being. It’s just that some people require more understanding than others,” is one of my favorite Tom Robbins quotes. That is what I wish for us all—more understanding. I think childhood and school grounds are the perfect time and place to learn it.