One of the great memories from my childhood was watching the movie, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer during the holiday season. I could relate to Rudolph, who was different than others because of his red nose, and the elf that just wanted to be a dentist instead of making toys, which is what was expected of “good elf’s”. Realizing they did not fit in, they set off on our journey together, to escape the frustration and pain. I too had set off to escape from the pain and misery I was feeling, to find myself, and to confront my own abominable snowman (my fears). One of the most profound segments in Rudolph, was when they arrived on the island of misfits. Living on the island were the toys that were different than “normal toys”. A toy train had square wheels, a plane that could not fly, they were all rejected because they were different, yet still just wanted to be loved and played with. I would cry every time I saw this part, in large part because I recognized that I too was different, never able to fit in no matter how hard I tried, and wanting to feel love like everyone else.
What do I mean by “different”? Generally speaking, I am referring to a feeling that you do not fit in with others; your peers, colleagues, family, etc. You are perceived as different because of the way you think, feel, see things, look, act, dress, or believe. Different in this way is that we do not fit into the mainstream views of those around us, or what is culturally considered to be “normal.” Unfortunately, we come to believe that since we are not accepted for who we are, that we are the problem, just like the defective toy, that we do not fit in, that we are the problem.
I recall a time in high school when I was fortunate to have been invited with the other “cool” guys to hang out at the water tower. We were laying on the ground drinking beers, while the other guys shared stories about sex, cars, and other cools stuff. At one point the others asked me what I was thinking about, since I lay there quietly not knowing what to say. Nervously, I told that I was looking out at the sky and wondering what infinity really was, and if there was infinity, what was one inch beyond this. To my amazement, everyone laughed, thinking I was joking around. I lay and enjoyed fitting in for what was one of a very few moments I had this feeling in high school. Yet what I learned was to make light of my serious nature which often resulted in laughs. But inside, I believed that I was defective since I did not think like others, or have stories like they did.
For so much of my life, I would strive to do what others expected of me. I would be in a continual search for approval, often a side effect of feeling different. In each case I would hang with those that were considered normal people, living in a constant state of trying to fit in. And yet, in quiet moments, I would feel all alone, wondering why I could not just be like the others. At times, I would meet others who felt this similar lonesomeness, yet never talking about it. They often became my best friends, until I would leave them stranded for sake of hanging with the cool gang. Yet the loneliness remained.
It was not until my early thirties that I began to realize that I was indeed different, and that different did not have to mean being inadequate or defective. As I share in my story, Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide and Story to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery, I began to meet others following a traumatic time in my life, that had similar feelings and beliefs. It was the most amazing time in my life when I hung out with these people. For the first time in my life, I felt loved and accepted for who I was, not for who I was supposed to be. It was sad when everyone began to move on with their lives. I realized that I had to return to the mainstream in order to raise a family. And although the feeling of begin alone and different continued, I knew now that I was not truly alone. My spiritual search helped me to realize that there was indeed meaning to life, which was enough to keep me going. My personal challenges and struggles continued, but I persevered and developed a strong resilience.
Today I see things very differently. I am more drawn to people that share in common significant trials and tribulations. They are more “real” to me since there is not a lot of facade to them. It does not take long to talk about their personal struggles. I recently met a young man (twenties), who talked about his life within a gang, and showed me the many scars and self-made tattoos from these times. He went on to talk about how he wanted to end his life and while on a bridge, was stopped by a homeless man who offered to buy him a cup of coffee. Although there was little conversation, it was the fact that someone had reached out to him that saved his life. It was so inspiring to me to hear this story. It reminded me of my own personal passion to someday develop communities for those who are also on the island of misfits. We can share our life stories, high five each other for persevering, and remind each other that we are not alone.