They have no idea how much I am like them.
They have no idea that I get it.
They wear their simple, modest clothing as they pass me in their horse-drawn buggy, wide eyes wondering about me on my gazillion-speed road bike, form-fitting biking jersey, very bare legs with skin-tight biking shorts. Suddenly I’m keenly aware of what’s showing, what I’m not hiding, how different my outside must look to them than my inside feels to me.
I wave at the little guy squished between his older siblings, my heart filling when he gifts me a grin and wave back. A 3-second connection more important to me than he would ever imagine.
You see, I used to be one of them.
Actually I still am. Not with the horse and buggy, the “plain” dress, or the distinct separation from the rest of the world, but I am a Mennonite, born and bred — like them — for service and simplicity and the belief in Something Greater than myself.
I — like them — feel the rush of a flowing creek in my blood, hear the whisper of plants waking up in the early morning light, and find God more easily when I’m engaged in manual labor.
I — like them — often still feel different, an outsider in this modern society of corporate ladders, packaged foods, and an insatiable need to see miracles in the midst of everyday mundane. Oh, yes, and the whole gay thing. Yeeps.
How would they possibly guess that I know them? And why does that matter so much to me?
Maybe because an empathetic part of me still remembers being gawked at by my classmates in elementary school because of my dresses and discomfort with the “real” world…
Maybe because a wistful part of me misses that comforting community connection — the unquestioned belonging to a group that shared the very qualities that set us apart from so many others in the world.
Maybe because a nervous part of me simultaneously fears my differences as a separation from connection, yet also clings to those differences as my true ticket to a full, meaningful life.
Maybe because I want them to know that I’m staring not at their differences from me, but at our similarities.
For many years, I — like them — didn’t have the choice of creating my own “packaging.” A certain dress code, a certain action code, a certain belief system, and certain acceptable methods of expression (dancing? OMG *never*!!! it could lead to s… se… cough… you know, that thing that makes babies).
And now — unlike them – my packaging matters a great deal, as my very own singular me-controlled canvas of self-expression, finally able to break free.
Until my eyes are mirrored in those shaded by a bonnet and I see she doesn’t recognize that our spirits match…
and my heart breaks a little…
…as I’m reminded again that in the absence of interaction, my external self-expression might tell an incomplete story if read only through the lens of observers’ assumptions.
The answer, though, is not in subduing my outer expression. It’s in amplifying my inner expression.
Today, and tomorrow, and the next day… let’s look to find new ways to wear our spirits every bit as proudly and visibly as we wear our favorite outfits, our most natural mannerisms, and our most radical haircuts.
BTW… I’ve seen yours… and it looks stunning on you.