If everyone blends in, who stands out?

Published 1:00 am Sunday, December 13, 2015

I laugh at rules and conformity. In the sixth grade, I became the best ventriloquist at Richton Elementary School, maybe even in the world. Maybe not. Did I mention I was also the only ventriloquist in Perry County?

At fourteen I had a Mohawk, bright yellow Converse sneakers, and a T-shirt that said “B Real.” Perhaps I should give Mama the credit for always going against the grain. Tell us we can’t. Watch us show you that we can.

While all the other boys were seduced by sports, winning the gold medal at jumping rope entranced me, and I have that red, white, and blue ribbon to remind me that being different can be rewarding. Kids are under too much pressure to conform, belong, and blend in these days, more than ever, and my wish is for the world not to put so much pressure on children to be anything other than whoever they are.

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Peer pressure, competition from coaches, teachers and sometimes even parents, are all too familiar to me as the awkward child put in the back of the lunch line for sitting with the girls at recess, hiding in the shadow of the big brother who was quarterback of the football team. Whether it’s lavender-colored hair dye, eyebrow piercings or guitar lessons, the things that make us different are helping us find our way through a sometimes less than beautiful world. After all, if everyone blends in, who stands out?

Luckily, nobody put Mama’s baby in the corner for long, and she bought me binoculars when I announced my fascination with bird watching, clapped the loudest when I jumped across the stage as 10 lords ‘a leaping in the Christmas show, and drove me to the mall to purchase my turquoise parachute pants.

Oh, she knew it was not going to be smooth sailing for me. People laughed, stared even, but somehow it was all right with her on my side.

One of my favorite childhood activities in art class was folding paper and cutting out heart shapes with my scissors. When I opened the paper, I marveled at the different sizes of fancy hearts created with just a simple cut or two, no two ever quite the same. Every child’s story is much the same because it begins with all the folds and careful cut-outs creating an original piece of art, a masterpiece that should be revered, never reviled.

I don’t have a thing against team sports, cheerleading, beauty pageants, or the honor roll. They’re great for those kids who are naturally drawn to them, and aspiring to success is a good lesson. I ask only that we be open to a broader definition of success, one that is big enough and kind enough to accept every child’s natural gifts.

I still color outside the lines, belt out show tunes in my pajamas, and wear pink socks. When someone asks “why,” I usually ask “why not?” But this stopped being about me long ago. There’s another child out there marching to his or her own drum. Why not invite that child to be part of the band?

David Creel is a Vicksburg resident and a syndicated columnist. Contact him at beautifulwithdavid@gmail.com.