The Little Tent of "Normal"
If I open up the dictionary to “normal,” here’s what it tells me:
“Conforming to the standard or common type.”
Maybe the rebel in you is doing what the rebel in me is doing - shaking its head and saying, “Oh, heck no, that ain’t me.”
But it’s so hard to resist the brute power of normal. I’m not sure we can grow up without internalizing some of it.
When someone asks me how many kids I - a 34-year-old without partner or little ones - have, their question’s shaped by what’s normal for someone my age and gender.
Out looking for something to wear to a wedding, I see a lush blue-green vintage dress I love. Then I think, “But it’s so quirky and different. It wouldn’t be right.” And it’s the voice of normal coming in to chide me.
Normal has us asking each other, “What do you do"?” and believing that getting older is bad, bad, bad. Normal tells us what’s practical, which degrees and credentials matter, how we should behave, who we should become.
Normal is the air we breathe. And if our eyes aren’t open wide enough, we can become slaves to normal at the expense of our own fulfillment.
Because for many of us, what’s normal isn’t necessarily what’s meaningful. Perhaps rather than ask about work, we want to ask people what they do when their courage runs out. Perhaps we want to move to Johannesburg or dye our hair banana yellow or quit our job to canoe the Boundary Waters. None of it’s normal. But rarely will being normal be what makes us whole.
If what our deepest self longs for is in conflict with what’s normal, that’s understandable. Normal isn’t a big tent that allows for many different ways of living and being; it’s a small, narrow tent with rigid protocol.
Our mission, which is hard and on-going - as all the worthy ones are - is to decide that our big longings are more important to us than society’s little normal. And we will likely have to decide this many, many times. Which means our mission is also to be kind to ourselves when we are overwhelmed by the pull of normal.
But the more we move towards what fulfills us, the more whole our life will feel. And we just may push the edges of what it means to be normal and make that tent a little bigger for those who come after us.
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