We were sitting outside on a patio at a restaurant in the city. It was loud and quiet at the same time. There was a soft, steady stream of city noise and other conversations that makes saying vulnerable things in public still feel private.
There were lights on wires hanging above our heads. Plates were served and glasses were refilled. Everything was dim, comfortable and perfect. We were forming a tribe, a group of women who engaged with the world in a similar way. A tribe that wouldn’t be perfect, but one that was built on a similar way of being in the world. Maybe it wouldn’t last forever, but that wasn’t the point.
I have always been a deep thinker and feeler. I have found best friends throughout my life, but I’d never met a group of them who saw and felt things with a similar lens at once. Here, at this table, depth was cherished. There was a similar disdain for small talk. (OK, they all happened to be therapists.)
A couple weeks before I was reading my toddler an old classic, Golden Book: The Saggy Baggy Elephant. The book follows an elephant through the jungle as everyone laughs at his shape and skin. The elephant thinks his differences must mean something is wrong with him.
Have you ever felt like you are made from a completely different mold than those around you? Maybe it is in your work, friend group or family. The funny thing is we rarely question the larger group. Instead, we think it must be us.
Have you ever felt like you are made from a completely different mold than those around you?
I felt my sensitivity was often misunderstood. Sometimes, I hid it. I feel deeply about most everything, and I probably take life far too seriously. Frankly, some of the people closest to me had no idea what to do with me.
I remember a moment of vulnerability with my family, sitting on the back porch of my parents’ house. One of them, I think genuinely befuddled by my sharing, looked at me and said, “Do you always live like this?”
Their shock named how different we were. It was almost a relief even though it was painful. I had always felt different from my family. It wasn’t bad they weren’t like me, but it also wasn’t bad that I am not like them.
I replied, “Yes, yes I do,” letting that declaration settle in with both the grief and the freedom it held.
I have learned to let it be. Let it be that I, that you, are different. Because the alternative is compromising who you are and all the good things you can do with that makeup.
I have learned to let it be. Let it be that I, that you, are different.
This is how I am made, and I learned throughout the years that it is on purpose. I do think and feel a lot. I am easily moved by people, art and music.
People often ask how I handle being a therapist, and I sometimes think, well, I am always swimming at this depth. It is how my lungs are formed. I can swim with others as they are in their deep places that often involve pain. It is not that it’s easy. It’s just that it makes sense.
Now, back to our saggy, baggy elephant book. As I rocked my daughter in her room, I wondered what was going to happen to this little elephant. He felt so alone. Well, he unexpectedly comes upon a group of big, saggy elephants. All their skin is droopy and loose, and they welcome him in. Then, they dance. They actually stand up on their thick elephant legs and they dance in a circle. What a celebration of belonging!
On that patio, with the bulbs hanging above us, casting warmth and shadow all at once, I looked around to these women, and I saw my elephants. I told them, a little nervous to be comparing almost middle-aged women to saggy elephants, and they all nodded. They were finding what I was, a kindredness of belonging.
They were finding what I was, a kindredness of belonging.
If you feel like you are too much, then maybe you haven’t found your people yet. It’s not you, it’s them. If you feel that you are too much, then you need to change the filter you are looking at yourself through.
We are all delightfully different. You are not made to be like the people you feel you are too much for. Somewhere out there, inside or right here right now, you can claim that circle of elephants for yourself. You are just who you are supposed to be. I will celebrate that with you just like those elephants did dancing in that circle of belonging.