Free to Be ME

I just arrived home from attending a showing of Katy Perry’s movie, Part of Me.  I don’t think I would have seen this film normally but I went on the recommendation of a group of people who rarely steer me wrong. (More on that later)

I really enjoy Katy’s music but, at 44, I feel kind of old to call myself a fan. I can certainly appreciate what her music does for today’s young people, however.  In my day, Howard Jones and Annie Lennox were the voice and face of my teenage angst.

My mother and I did not see eye-to-eye on many things.  I just wanted to be ME but I often felt that wasn’t good enough for her.  But the ME in me would not be put down so when Howard Jones sang, “Look Mama I love you but you gotta let me live my life”, I sang out loud and proud and when he said, “Things can only get better“…I KNEW that was true. I was going to be ME no matter what but it took me a long time to get there.

I was a tom boy growing up, and, truth be told, I still am.  Until age 10, I lived in a neighborhood of all boys (save one girl m age).  I built tree forts, booby traps (though being the only girl I was always a bit frightened of the name) and tried chewing tobacco.  I had mud clod fights, played kickball AND tried to get the love of my life to love me back.  (He never did!)  I had a great life and I was HAPPY!

When I moved to rural SC in the summer before 5th grade, I had a reality check.  People spoke differently, acted differently and I suddenly had to be around lots of girls in my neighborhood – real girls: cheerleaders, curvy flirtatious girls and snotty girls.  I still preferred to hang with the guys.  We played tackle football, baseball and basketball in my back yard and when the guys got old enough to have neighborhood jobs, I wanted one too. I had to cut the grass in my own yard so figured I could make money cutting other lawns as well.  My mother wouldn’t have it.  She said, and I quote, “Only lesbians do that.”  I later learned from my mother that “Only lesbians…play the saxophone, the drums and fly helicopters”. (who knew?)  I still didn’t understand that but at least knew that lesbians must be alright because they liked a lot of the things I did.  Being a girl, I had to take piano lessons, learn to dance Shag and babysit.  I felt stifled but guilty at the same time. I was a goody goody and a designated driver which made me the target of teasing.  I sat in my closet and meditated, read Shakespeare and thought of becoming a minister.  I read that “your body is God’s temple” so I worked out like a fiend to keep my temple in top shape. Still, I felt like there must be something wrong with me because being ME wasn’t good enough.  I couldn’t understand why I would want to do all these things if they were so wrong.

When it was time to go to college, I chose to go to my father’s Alma mater, an engineering school.  I was artistic and nerdy, not analytical and geeky.  That was not a good match, and again, I felt like an oddball.  I didn’t fit in there either. What was wrong with ME? I became suicidal.  I just wanted all this anguish and feeling of failure to go away but I couldn’t figure out what to do.  My mother came to visit me at school and asked me to promise her I wouldn’t do anything foolish.  I told her I could not promise that.  I left school before I was asked to leave and dabbled in art classes at community college.

The really good thing that happened to me in all this was that I met a boy – a wild, try anything, do anything boy – completely uninhibited.  I loved that. By this time, I was so inhibited it hurt.  This guy (who became my husband) noticed that I wasn’t like other girls and told me that was what he liked the most about me – that I was different and real.  I still didn’t drink or do other substances but I allowed myself to get yanked out of my shell and have fun.  Except that my mother didn’t approve because I spent nights at the fraternity house and my boyfriend’s apartment.  I was happy and head over heels but somehow, I was supposed to feel guilty still.  My mother, exasperated, finally said, “I don’t know what to do.  Just go live your life and be happy and I’ll deal with it.”  LIBERATION!  I was released with those words – just live your life and be happy!  And I did and I was and I am.  I struggled off and on with depression over the years and it took me a while to find my place but now, older and wiser, I realize during those moments when I felt inadequate it was because I was trying to hold myself to a standard that wasn’t ME.

So, as I sat in Katy Perry’s movie, and I watched her tenacity to be true to her self and watched her fans tell how they felt empowered by her music to just be themselves, I celebrated the knowingness they all possessed.  I thought back to those times when I didn’t realize it was okay to be me.  I now know it was always okay to be me.  And it still is.  And, getting back to that recommendation to see the movie, it came from a group that accepts me for me.  And when I am being me, I am uninhibited because I am “with my people”.  My daughter with autism uses that phrase when she is with other people with autism. No one judges, no one questions, they just allow the others to BE.  And I realize that really that is all any of us really want.  We desperately want to be ourselves and for that to be okay.  We don’t need any one’s approval, though that’s nice.  We don’t need another person to complete us – though a snug fitting someone special is wonderful.  We just need to find our niche.  I have found mine and I am not alone.

I have a group that wants me to be the best ME I can be and I want the same for them.  We don’t have to be the same, we just have to BE.  And as I realized that, I realized how unfair it is to judge others because they aren’t living up to my ideal or living the life I think they should.  Unless they are harming themselves or others and they are happy, I should be happy for them too.  When we get to the end of our days and we meet God face to face and he asks us what we did with OUR time, he isn’t going to ask about how we did compared to everyone else, he’s going to just want to know how we impacted the world with the talents he gave us and I intend to use mine up!