The Thinker of Tender Thoughts

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Shel Silverstein was a favorite of mine when I was a child. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” seemed to always be checked out of the library growing up. Yet after all these years I let him slip by the wayside; I forgot about him and his images and his poetry. I forgot about the whimsy in his work and the way it used to speak to my very core.

The above is called ‘Thinker of Tender Thoughts’ and I think it sums up more in pictures than I could ever explain in words. It makes me think of my two year old niece and her unbridled personality. She is truly her own person and I marvel at it every day. As of yet she has been free of the cruelty of society. No one has laughed at her on the playground, she has never had her sense of self questioned, and in all of her childhood innocence she is beautiful. I wish with all my heart that she could remain in that state of pure, unhindered her-ness.

Yet as the image above shows, even as we develop ourselves, our personalities, and our thoughts, we are easily cut down by the words of others. The man in the wordless poem thinks and dreams and dances to the beat of his own drum. The flowers represent his thoughts and his divergence from everyone else. He is different, he is unique, he is himself, and from the look of it he is content with who he is.

Problems arise, however, when he is faced with the people around him. Across the page are men without flowers growing from their head, men who have torn away their own uniqueness in order to fit in to the societal standard. They think like they are supposed to think and ridicule anyone who believes otherwise. This leads them to ridicule the man with the flowers growing out of his head who has, until that moment, embraced his differences. In the face of societal pressure he caves and decides to fit in instead of standing out. He cuts off the symbolic flowers and steps in to join the rest of society.

It is utterly depressing to realize just how accurate this image is. When will my niece come home from interacting with her peers and decide to throw out things she loves because someone made fun of her and called her weird? How many times as a child did I give up something that was inexplicably me because my peers ridiculed me for being different? By the time we’re shaped and thrust into the world of adulthood, we’re left to either continue to conform to societal norms (whatever they may be) or fight to regain our sense of self, our sense of originality. We have to find ourselves again.

I can’t help but wonder if that is why so many young people find themselves in the midst of an existential crisis when they should be focusing on accepting themselves and living life fully.

To conclude, my one hope is this: that we will be able to find ourselves in the midst of the pressures, expectations, and obligations society thrusts upon us daily. 

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Farewell to 2013

The final day of 2013 is often times a day of reflection. My Facebook has been full of good memories and vows to make the most out of the New Year. 2014 is just around the corner and as I sit here in my living room in Oregon I find myself decidedly underwhelmed, but glad.

2013 has been a year of self-discovery. From beginning to end I have had experiences that have reminded exactly who I am.

My friend Tom has a blog and he picked a word for the year. His word was identity and strangely enough I think it is my word, too. It is really the only one that appropriately sums up the year for me. Facing down the New Year I believe I understand who I am just a bit better than I did when I was waiting eagerly for the clock to strike midnight and 2013 to arrive.

2013 was a year of friendship. I got the chance to live surrounded by people who accepted me, encouraged me, and loved me even when I didn’t necessarily love myself. Through friendship I got a glimpse about what it means to be accepted and finally figured out it is okay to accept myself, too.

2013 was a year of accomplishment. I lived out of state for the first time on my own. I paid rent, bought groceries, and worked nearly full time in two jobs. In the fall I began my own research project. I TA’ed in two classes and learned that I loved teaching and am not half bad at it. I graduated from University. I moved back home.

2013 was a year of challenges. This one is kind of a misnomer because every year has its own challenges. However, this year I faced some new ones. I felt severe loneliness (often self-inflicted) during the summer as I lived on my own for the first time. My grandmother passed away. My dad had a stroke. I had to move back home after graduation to a post-stroke father and a mother with an injured ankle. I have been challenged in many ways but have persevered and learned.

2013 was a year of freedom. I celebrated four years of no self-harm in early December. I learned what it meant to love and be loved. I realized that I did not have to fit a specific mold, graduate on time, get a certain job, or go to grad school right away. I found peace in the fact that the life society thrusts on people from the very start often isn’t attainable and that more often than not life never fits the standard mold.

Finally, 2013 was a year of finding purpose and meaning. The most valuable lesson was one I learned from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: every situation has purpose and meaning, even the bad ones…and as long as there is meaning then despair has no place.

What will 2014 bring? I don’t know. A new adventure, perhaps. A new job, I hope. More friendships, accomplishments, challenges, freedom, purpose and meaning, I expect.

So bring on the New Year. Let’s do this.