Friday, September 4, 2009

On being different

This guy's a bit of a fish out of water: If you just see him as a statue, it feels a bit like he belongs on a busy street in Rome. And surely if he were real he would be near an ocean, perhaps even luring unwary sailors to their deaths.

And yet he's a charming addition to this Vermont landscape, which I found hidden at the end of a road after crossing a little bridge which seemed to be pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday talking with a dear friend who feels herself to be a fish out of water in her own family; I know my daughter has felt that way from time to time as well. And it seems to me that if we can step back from those situations -- however lonely it may feel to us when we're in them -- we can begin to see that we often provide, by virtue of our unbelonging, an important addition to the landscape.

I find myself thinking of a wedding I attended back in the 80's, held at a very swanky hotel in New York City. I lived in Vermont at the time, so I had no "city clothes" but I had acquired what I thought was a perfectly beautiful dark green satin ensemble; high neck, pleated skirt... and I felt very elegant until I arrived and saw that every other woman in the room was dressed in a wool gabardine coatdress in either black or red (except the bride, of course).

I shrank into myself, trying to remain least-in-sight, invisible (impossible, of course, given my green satin) and felt those horrible "you're such an idiot, you'll never get it right" voices chanting sneeringly in my ears. Fortunately it was a fairly brief wedding, and we adjourned to the reception fairly quickly to enjoy a lovely meal and a particularly memorable wedding cake (chocolate, many-layered, with marzipan between the layers and raspberry syrup dribbled over the top).

I was seated at a table with some extraordinarily elegant and important people, all strangers considerably older than I was, and had resigned myself to being excluded from conversation when the man next to me offered me the bread tray to capture my attention and then said, "I have to tell you, that shade of green is just magnificent with your eyes -- and so refreshing in a room full of red and black."

He turned out to be a lovely person, as was his wife, and we spent a delightful meal conversing among the three of us about the newspaper and publishing industries, in which all three of us were active at the time. And it was, of course, both amazingly thoughtful of him to have made that observation, and incredibly reassuring to me to be reminded that it isn't necessarily bad to stand out in a crowd.

It's possible, of course, that he was just being kind. But it's also possible that if you can stand back a bit and get the big picture it may actually be true that that which makes you feel so painfully different and excluded may be a deliciously refreshing -- and much needed -- ingredient in an otherwise bleak or monotonous landscape.

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