He’s not wearing a red cape, nor is he rescuing orphans from a burning building. He’s just standing there. Smiling, watching the motorized world go by and accepting the occasional Good Samaritan’s coin.
A dry erase board hangs on the pole behind him, swaying slightly in the passing cars’ collective wake. It reads: “I am here to support you. And you me.”
Below it hangs a framed poster – the glass cracked, shards missing – with an image of a woman with 1990’s hair leaning seductively against a Porsche, the hand-scrawled message reading: “No criticizing or complaining. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
The light changes, a car honks, and the mid-morning rush to work continues. His smile never breaks.
Radiohead’s “Karma Police” is lulling my hazy mind into mental balance, just as my stomach starts gurgling.
This isn’t a soy mocha.
This is what you get…
But then “My Humps” cues up, and I’m doing my best to twerk in the driver’s seat. Then, as I’m mouthing along with “No no drama…you don’t want no drama…” and waving my finger from side to side, I glance in my side mirror and stop cold.
Part of my mirror’s message about objects being larger than they appear is centered and framed by a white painted square on the dumpster, the subtle message reading, “Hey.”
I’m quiet. Then belt out, “…gurl, heyy!”
Then, I’m back to the music – getting this party started with Pink. But that moment – that bizarre realization of something reaching out and shaking me – has an oddly grounding effect.
It reminds me of the importance of stopping to read the world – the ways I can try to see things differently, embody them, and weave them into my day to lift my spirits. Not complaining about this or criticizing that. Just taking it all in.
To glean from the most random acts the slightest scraps of heroism – the ways we encourage one another to realize our potential, our dreams; to employ infinitesimal coping mechanisms to get through the seconds, minutes, hours, days – the vastness of time; to conjure a smile out of a sullen visage – like a rabbit from a magician’s hat; to have the courage to apologize and mean it when we’re cruel.
To reflect on where I’ve been and how I’ve gotten to this particular point in my life. And to have a little bit of pride about it all.
My new favorite barista has just finished calling me a slut after learning of my first tattoo’s location – her fluorescent red fingernails grazing my shirt.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t really strike me as the kind to have a tattoo, much less a massive chest piece.”
She nods to my tattoo, exposed by my partially unbuttoned shirt. She smiles, shifts slightly in her acid wash overalls, then regales us with a few stories of her tattoos before leaving us to our sweating caramel mochas.
Andy and I smile at one another, take a few gulps, then get back to writing.
But something about the whole exchange strikes me – the way the tiniest peek of my tattoo unlocked her desire to tell us about the people behind her ink – and it makes me realize something. That I’ve always wanted to be someone who surprises people in unexpected ways – someone who has a little edge and smarts underneath it all.
Being a late bloomer doesn’t have many perks. Throw in jacked up teeth, a lisp, and the most protracted prepubescent period in the history of the world, and self-esteem wasn’t exactly in high reserve.
For so long, I aspired to be like anyone else – someone attractive, fun, mysterious, and a little bad ass: all of the people I never saw myself even closely resembling. So I just kept being myself. Changed with new experiences – struggled and won, got stuck in ruts, and played a violin or two in a dark apartment, thinking about how hard I had it.
But it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized that most of the people I aspired to be like as a youngster have since settled. And I’ve kept going. Because I have a lot to do, and only one life to sandwich everything into.
Which is maybe why the last voice over in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button resonates with me – because it reminds me of how each of us can be heroic by leading the life we want to lead.
For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
And so far – over these nearly 29 years of life – I feel pretty good about who I’ve become and what I’ve done.
But most importantly, I’ve become the slightly barbed, quirky person I’ve always wanted to be. I own who I am, and draw strength from it. And doing so makes me feel excited – like the moment before walking through a door to a room full of friends.
Like I can take on anything if I pursue it with gusto.
Like realizing that the hero I wanted to be was here all along – just wearing glasses instead of a cape.