Monday, May 31, 1999

Amuss in La La Land

'Twas back in the first grade when I first discovered that I was different. Up to that point I had lived under the watchful and secure eye of my family. Things in my life had been rather uneventful and the closest thing to excitement was one day when my brother got home from school I showed my fondness for him by proceeding to run straight into a wall and thus needed three stitches in my forehead. In kindergarten I immediately made a puppy dog like friend in Dee Dee Hasselberg who followed me just about every where I went, but it was in first grade when I first heard the taunts of others who noticed I didn't quite look like them. "Chink," they teased as they made their eyes slant with their fingers. It hurt because it was clearly derogatory although I wasn't sure quite how, and it also hurt because I was the only one (besides Sally Murakami) who looked the way I did. It wasn't exactly something I had control over and something I clearly could not change (not that I would ever want to).

Still I had my friends and it wasn't long before I came to believe that "looking different" was an advantage of sorts. While others struggled to get noticed, to stand out and get attention, I did so automatically in almost every situation I found myself in. I found it easier to just be myself because I, unlike most others, was noticed no matter how I acted. It was much more difficult trying to deal with the feeling that the insides were as different as the outsides appeared and wondering if the person in front of me reacted to me the way they did because of the way I looked and not necessary the way I acted. Was the way I looked being judged by their experiences (or lack thereof) with people who looked similar?

Two years ago when Al and I visited Japan, it was the first time I was no longer in the minority and was surrounded by people who looked like me and I no longer felt like I stood out. It was a rather disorienting feeling, melting into the background without strain, and yet the oddest feeling of all was knowing I was just as different from the people that looked like me as I was the ones back home.

Life can often be a rather lonesome journey. We all struggle with defining who we are and who we ultimately want to be. I am always grateful whenever I come across someone who makes things seem just a little bit less confusing. Over the years I have found a few special people who I got close to and even let get a little close in return. These handful of people helped me define what a friend is, and helped me sometimes appreciate that differences can be a source of strength as well as a source of difficulty. Recently I have discovered another of these unique friends.

Ten years ago she was given a second chance. With ten percent of lung capacity left, suffering from a severe asthma attack she was turned away by a hospital, gray and shaken she, with the help of her mom, hung on. And she has been determined to make the most of every breath since. Her passion for life can be as breathtaking as it is inspiring. She has the indisputable ability to get under one's skin like autumn pollen to a hayfever sufferer. I've seen her put a smile on a face or two, some of them the most important faces I know. I for one am glad that a decade ago she was indeed blessed with that second chance and I never stop feeling quite fortunate that the events that have happened since somehow made it so our paths have crossed.

We haven't always seen eye to eye but that's mostly because she's a couple of inches taller than I am. After about each and every one of our conversations, I feel energized and often times I leave with a different perspective on my world. There are things I've told her about myself that no one else knows. It's not that I have many big secrets it's just there are certain things you don't share with others because if they don't understand or appreciate the magnitude of what's being revealed you just end up feeling bad. She has a rare remarkable ability, a keen insight, intuition and perceptive mind that proves she's been listening all along.

On this Memorial Day, I salute my dear friend on her very special ten year anniversary. A word she recently ran across in her trusty thesauras isn't quite appropriate but I for one am grateful for the lessons she has already taught me. Thanks Mish.

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