On being Messy, Feisty, Beautiful Humans.
Being a human brings with it a multitudinous, and at times, overwhelming number of challenges, joys, heartaches, questions, and discoveries.
No matter who we are, we’re all strangely capable of something I can’t quite find the right word for…maybe “large scale-ness?”
I’m inclined to believe that we are at our very best as a society, and as a species, when we welcome the capacity we have as humans to live in this large-scale-ness.
I’m convinced that we’re at our best when we ask the hard questions: Who is hurting? What can I do to really help? How am I listening and learning and not adding to the noise? What do I need to change about myself?
That last one is hard and can sometimes feel like a punch to the stomach. Maybe it’s cliché, but I’m convinced it’s also true; sometimes our greatest stumbling block, our greatest barrier, is ourselves and the boxes we put ourselves in.
I have never been more sure that the most damaging thing to our society is when good, strong, passionate, smart people, are told that they need to fit themselves within the four “safe” walls of a box that subdues them. These boxes tell them to sit still and look pretty, and to stop asking questions, and they’re seemingly safe, small and well-organized. They’re traditional and neat and tidy and pinterest-y and really, they just belong on Instagram.
But, they don’t allow for innovation or collaboration, and they refuse to ask the hard questions that go against what we’ve fervently accepted as truth. These boxes did not birth the Gloria Steinems, Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, and certainly not the Malala Yousafzais of the world.
Admittedly, I put myself in one of these boxes. I had convinced myself I had to be thin, and pretty, and smile at everyone and be nice, and not ask questions, and not make a fuss, and just find a nice boy and have a nice wedding and maybe don’t go to grad school. Deep breath. I put myself in that box because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. That’s just how it was. That is just what you do when you’re 21 and you live in suburban America.
I’ve spent the last five years trying to cram my non-skinny, too-feisty, large-mouthed gusto into that box. I’ve spent the last five years agonizing and obsessing about why I wasn’t fitting into that box—couldn’t this box be bigger or have less rules? Why wasn’t I good enough to fit into one of those damn boxes? Why was the life I wanted to lead so different from the life I had somehow been stuck with? Why wasn’t I doing it right? What was wrong with this box—no, what was wrong with me?
That’s the thing, you know—we don’t ever question the box; we don’t ever question the rules or the traditions or the establishment. We question ourselves, we question our worth, and we examine every fiber of our being for the kink or the snag that would explain all the times we cried ourselves to sleep at night because this horrible box wasn’t big enough for us, and it couldn’t foster the lives we timidly dreamt of leading.
So alas, we convince ourselves we’re not good enough to fit in one of these boxes, but honey child, we will find a way to fit ourselves into one of them if it’s the last thing we do. We pour all of our energy into this somehow simultaneously flimsy and yet impenetrable box and then…it hits you— the box is f*cked up and it’s ridiculously unnecessary! It was created to stifle and to control.
We slowly realize that we don’t want to live in that box and we don’t want to live small; we want to live life big and we want to revel in life’s large-scale-ness. We decide not to let our fears and insecurities dictate the causes we publicly care about and we decide to attend that protest, and stand in solidarity with people whose voices may not be as easily heard as ours. And in so doing, we see that this box is foolish and we throw the box away. We throw that damn box on the bonfire of all the sh*tty things that don’t belong in our great big, beautiful, messy lives anymore. We want to be kind, and passionate, and present, and generous, and feisty, and powerful—not nice.
The box can’t exist if we consciously listen to and learn from people whose opinions and experiences are different from ours. The box can’t exist when we educate ourselves about what is going on around us and acknowledge that there are issues we’ve been ignoring in favor of pretending that everything is orderly and perfect. The box can’t exist when we choose to stand up for the marginalized and the oppressed and when we stop being silent about issues that matter. Life is way too short (for other people) to not speak up when injustices, whether they are spoken or kept palpably hush-hush, are happening in our own backyards.
Life is messy without neatly organized pinterest-y boxes. And if it’s going to be messy anyway, shouldn’t we roll up our sleeves and take ownership of the things our world is doing to our people? If life is messy, shouldn’t we just go ahead and give people the benefit of the doubt, and believe them when they tell us their stories? We belong to each other, as Glennon Doyle Melton says, and we are each other’s keepers. It’s time to get out of these annoyingly perfect boxes we put ourselves in, love on people recklessly, do the messy, hard things that actually make a difference, and stop worrying about our hair so damn much.
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Fink
Apprentice Editor: Stacey Zlotnick; Editor: Travis May