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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Ain’t Nobody got Time for That

If anyone has ever told you that it is possible to have it all together all the time, they lied to you. They were also probably lying to themselves. In the same vein, if you’ve ever been told or if it has ever been insinuated that you are supposed to be self sufficient and be able to fix yourself, that was also a lie.

If there is one thing I have learned this past day and a half it is that going through things alone is miserable and impossible. I don’t know if it is the same for you, but dealing with a loss alone makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. When I deal with painful emotions alone I get lost in them. I lose touch with what is real and true. I have nothing with which I can ground myself and I end up drowning in a sea of emotions alone, which makes them all the more painful.

My grandma passed away on Saturday. I was at Comic Con International when I got the news and I didn’t deal with it. I repressed it, I soldiered on through the convention, and I enjoyed myself. In that moment, there were enough things going on to distract me that I did not have to dwell on the loss. I didn’t have to deal with the fact my grandma was gone.

Then I came back to reality, already exhausted, and the emotions hit. The temptation to return to old habits came up. The desire to curl up in a hole and hide from the world over powered me. I didn’t want to talk with people or share what had happened. The day I got the news I texted three people and that was it. I did not tell the two girls I was with at the convention what had happened. I didn’t tell anyone at work when I finally returned on Monday. I kept it to myself because in a moment of weakness all of my walls went up and I was fighting to protect myself.

The other day I hit a really low place.

There is a place in the midst of isolation where the loneliness is so overpowering the only thing a person can do is give up and give in to despair. Bereavement is an interesting and painful process, and going through it alone makes it even worse. It is in this dark place of sorrow and mourning where one’s only desire is to have someone notice and sit with them in it. Yet very few people are actually willing to do that.

You see, I think one of the biggest problems in American culture is that people run away from emotions. They run away from pain. We drown ourselves in television, the internet, movies, books, and music all so we don’t have to actually feel. We isolate ourselves because we’re raised to be independent and self sufficient. On the flip side, when we see someone hurting our first instinct is to fix them. We don’t want to be people who experience emotions for long because it takes time, it interrupts our schedules, and it is inconvenient.

So when we go through hard times we isolate ourselves because the last thing we need when we’re hurting is to be given five easy steps to fix it. When I hurt I don’t want to be told how to fix it, I just want to know it is okay to be hurting. I want to be able to cry in front of someone without feeling like a weakling. I want someone to ask how I am and actually mean it, and when I give them a real answer, I don’t want them to respond by telling me what I should do to fix how I’m feeling.

Honestly, I just want permission to feel and to be able to sit with someone as I’m mourning and have them be comfortable with it. Yet society does not lend itself well to that. We want to slap a band aid over it and soldier on because processing emotions takes time, and to put it simply: Ain’t nobody got time for that. It is certainly something to work on as an individual and as a society.