The Joy I Declare

Breathing large 'this new liberation':

July 27, 2002

Channel hopping tonight, we paused at one station long enough to hear a young woman tell a young man, ''Don't be afraid of what people think. You won't be happy until you can get past the point where you don't care what other people think!''

As we didn't stay on that channel long, I didn't learn whether the young man followed her advice. But advice, it is true. I recall with heartache the many years I've wasted on just such sickening pursuits. For they did sicken me. I would worry so much about what people thought of me, I became a nervous wreck. Sometimes, even, the anxiety would build to a fever pitch in which I felt odd chemical changes take place in my brain. I can only describe it as an odd 'trickle, trickle', as my brain felt like a jelly that just became liquified, even though turning colder.

This has been a vex with me. It's been a life long process, and only now that I am in my middles ages am I finally mostly free of its ugly grasp.

But I do not always remember life as this. I was not a nervous youngster. I remember as a youngster being certain I ''was born to do great things!" Somewhere in my childhood, I lost this happy confidence. It got replaced with timidity and shyness.

I can not recall a turning point, as in one point confident to one point not. It was a gradual process. But I do remember a particularly nasty preacher I heard when about ten years old. He blamed ME personally for Jesus' death: ''YOUR sins nailed Jesus to the cross!'' he screamed. I slid down in my hard chair, oddly nervous, terrified even, though I didn't know what specifically I'd done. But, oh, I felt so guilty, just the same.

That guilt stuck to me like a shroud that would not go away for many years. I became imbued with the feeling I just didn't measure up. I could sense it. I was too loud, too awkward, too quiet, too bold, too . . . .

It didn't matter. I just couldn't fit in. Oh, there were times when the veil lifted, and I was not so unhappy. But then it would settle again, on my shoulder, like a reminder I should not forget, should not ever forget.

For I'd killed a God, and I didn't know what other terrible things I'd do. Why did it seem other people absorbed these 'truths' without the soul rending guilt?

Though it did. Their world went on, it held together. It made sense to them. Because it made sense to them, it must be so.

And so I tried to fit in. Perhaps I could be 'redeemed'. But I knew it. I did. I never really fit in. Come my teen years, I had enough curiosity to walk down my own mental paths, and it has been my salvation ever since.

Not Jesus, some fictional somebody who got nailed to a cross. Though doubtless, many Roman prisoners did meet such a painful end. However, I wasn't the one who drove their nails into them.

So I am here, at age forty three, discovering anger in me I didn't know I had. I'm discovering tears I did not know I still carried unshed, for the pain of that adolescent who never felt beautiful, who was scared even to look at that stranger's face in the mirror that was mine.

I would not look long. It was too horrible. I was too fat, too pasty, too retarded-looking. Only a flitting eye movement, long enough only to make sure the part in my hair was straight. I'd shudder at the 'ugly' visage in that mirror.

I believed this shame was good, for was I not 'the wretched sinner'? I did not confess my fears. I don't know if they would have re-assured me. I walked funny. One leg shorter, or higher on the hip or something. I still 'walk funny'. Gramma tried not to shame me with knowledge of it.

Yet I knew I 'didn't fit', wasn't pretty. I knew. Such knowledge gets engraved on one's back as if it were chiseled in. Chiseled in with those disapproving looks. Ah, the futility of it all. And yet I had the strength to rebel.

And rebel, I did. I would not be pretty, by giving into their standards of what a woman should be.

Though a hard and lonely path it was. And I'd learned the fear so well. It was easier to shy away from others, than to face their stares. In my own mind, I could be King (or Queen). That body was just that weird thing that carried my mind about. It was best not to think about it too often.

But as I read 'Wuthering Heights', how I identified with Heathcliff. His love would not choose him, the dark sheep, dark elf, outsider. I feared I would not find love, the kind of love in which your beloved looks at you, and to them, you are beautiful.

But I did find that love, for mind, separate from body, could write letters. And I did, and someone became attracted to that mind. That Laura found its beauty shining through my hither to inadequate frame has became my life's greatest blessing.

Fragile it was, though, in our early years, for I believed no one else could. But then Julia did, and there were two. Gradually I learned others could genuinely like me.

And soon I lost most of that old fear. But oh, the ''Somebody's talking, I thought I heard my name'' fear, how it had nagged at me. ''They're talking about me. I am a thing to pity.'' And shame would come. And shame would come for the shame, settling itself into me, like a heavy chill.

But then gradually, I could think, ''What IF they don't like me? What's the worst that could happen? So they don't like me. What if they think me too strange, too nervous, too this, too that?'' And finally, the liberating thought, ''What the hell if they do?'' I may not be beautiful to them, but that does not mean I don't have my own beauty. And then, comes a feeling of wild liberation. I can be raging me. I can be quiet me. I can be . . . Whatever I am . . . I can be me.

And not have to worry about someone else's judgments. Let it be, let it go, I am free and loose with this freedom. I can love me, simply, quietly, and happily. I can, and the joy of that I declare to the heavens. I love me. I can say it now. Not shyly, and in whispers, but with a happy smile. I breathe large this new liberation, and smile.

© Joan Ann Lansberry
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