All my life I was different. Always a foreigner, the new arrival, and because I went from very different places to very different places, I was always odd, clumsy socially. As I say on my personal twitter account, that often meant I was “always on the outside of whatever side there is” (Bob Dylan).
A natural charmer, people were often surprised by this sudden turn in what they thought was a pleasant girl eager to please whoever was talking to her.
For years, after moving from Arequipa, Peru to northern Italy at age 12 and being teased mercilessly for everything they could think of, starting with my lovely Peruvian jumpers, all I wanted was to belong. To belong to a group of friends, a social place, to a family, as mine was very scattered. But as life progressed I instinctively tore away from anything that attempted to hold me down. At maturity, I started to think: “What is that you want? Make up your mind!”.
A friend I was talking to yesterday about becoming independent said she wasn’t like me, she wasn’t as “free” as me. Her life had not been as… let’s just say complicated and drama-filled as mine. I was left thinking no, we are all the same. We all want the same thing, we want to be comfortable, warm, loved. It’s not always very easy and even when it occurs naturally we may not be loved the way we’d like to. So chances are, a great majority of people is not in an ideal situation. If you are, as I feel now, you feel privileged and so you should and you should cherish every moment. If, however, something is missing, cherish and embrace all those people you tend to steer away from: the weirdos, the foreigners, the scary.
People you feel are different than you are not actually different, they just face life a different way, be it for their inner feelings, their social circumstances, their culture, their psychological state… in any case what they are is not a threat to your status quo, to the life you want to lead. They are opportunities, to see a different point of view, to find out that there are other ways to do things.
Italy was especially harsh in pointing out to me how different I was (which of course makes it very ironic that I am often referred to as “the Italian” here in England, as there is very little about me that is Italian at all and I certainly didn’t pass as Italian in any way while I was in Italy… but there you go, people feel safer if they can define you).
If I could only count the amount of times I would be talking to someone about how something could be tackled and they would turn around to me with glaring eyes and say: “You can’t do that!”. “Can’t I?” I would say, truly and sincerely confused. At that point various things would happened: mostly scorn, sometimes lovable laughter “Oh you are so silly Val” and general amusement. Sometimes I would get a look from head to toe as though I were covered in alien skin. Sometimes anger, resentment, word-calling. Many reactions, the point being the same: just because you haven’t done it before, just because your particular circle, family, nation doesn’t do it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
People used to be justified with ignorance: they were born and raised in a single little town (or even city!) and knew no better… and those that did things differently were savages, foreigners, weirdos, criminals even!
I never committed a crime (as far as I can remember), even though I have hung around my good share of criminals. But if you could feel on yourself all the nasty looks and hear all the nasty words I have felt and heard, you’d feel like perhaps I was. The enormous majority of this nastiness came from that reaction to my words or actions: “You can’t do that!”.
Well, think again. That weirdo, that foreigner, that socially different person you tease, or hate, may hold the clue for your own life changing and becoming marvellous. They are all there to show you there are different aspects to everything, different ways of doing everything. Embrace them. Fight the cosy loop you are tempted to live in.