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To the little girl staring at me on the plane two rows ahead:
I know you probably think I’m really cool-looking. With my tattoos, ripped jeans, Jesus sandals, torn tee, oversized flannel, and my paint-stained fingers gripping the alien-looking pen in my hand while I’m writing this in my journal.
This is not unusual.
You’re not the only kid who loves to stare at me, intrigued with possibility.
I see your dad nudging you from time to time, telling you to stop staring. He thinks he’s teaching you to be respectful but it’s possible he just doesn’t want you looking at me in particular. Maybe he doesn’t want you getting any ideas. If he’s anything like most parents, he wants you to “turn out” in the precise way his limited vision for you allows, which for most parents of kids your age, does not include tattoos or ripped clothing. Not yet at least.
I used to be just like you. I stared at all the older girls when I was younger too. I had what they called a “staring problem.” The captains of my high school basketball team even put stare on the back of my practice jersey as a nickname when I was a sophomore. Right before I quit.
I pretended it was funny. I laughed along with them. But my staring was actually the result of wanting to be someone else—anyone other than me. I was drawn to anyone who seemed comfortable in their own skin, so I stared at them. A lot.
As I’m about to return your gaze with a smile and a wink, I want you to know that I get it, kid. I see you. Stare all you want. Because I’m just a reflection of you.
You’re actually seeing yourself.
And my hope is that by staring at me being 100 percent myself, a seed is being planted for you to someday cultivate the permission to be 100 percent yourself. Even if it takes you many more years to find out what that is.
Keep staring. Keep seeking.
You will eventually find and be able to unapologetically express yourself. I know this because you’re staring at someone who finally discovered how.
Stay true and always be you. And then someday show someone else how to embrace being herself, too.