"You are weird." The words landed, flat and cold on my eleven-year-old ears. My heart went from light to heavy as the afternoon phone conversation with my "best friend" began to change quickly. She had decided that I was not cool. It doesn't seem like much of a heartbreak, but looking back, it's the first time I recall starting to question myself. "What if I am weird?" "Why don't they like me?" "Maybe I am stupid or maybe something is wrong with me."
It's so easy to start believing the labels that others put on you - the stereotypes that we so casually toss people into, without knowing anything about their story.
Recently, I have been thinking about labels, and (oddly enough) the first picture that came to mind were apples in the grocery store bins. Different fruits are labeled with different numbers; "4104 Gala" or "2307 Red Delicious".
What can the label really tell me about the apple itself? It doesn't tell you precisely how many thousands of pixels of different colors could be found in it's skin. It doesn't state whether or not the apple has bruises or how many seeds are inside. It won't tell you what farm or which tree the apple came from - or how old the tree was where it once grew. It won't tell you the number of bees that visited the blossom or how deep the roots of the apple tree have grown. It doesn't tell you exactly how the apple is going to taste or predict the feelings that you could have from eating an apple. It doesn't tell you the health benefits of eating an apple, or describe the effect that it will have on the cells in your body.
Why? Because it's just a label. It's not the apple.
It's a little sticker that tells you really only one or two things about the fruit you're buying - what sort of apple it is and it's current price. You would have to get to know the apple and it's background to really know it's true story. You would have to spend time and energy, observing and learning about the apple to really know about it. The barcode simply can't provide you with those kind of details.
And while you and I are vastly more complicated, detailed, and precious than a piece of fruit - I believe the analogy to apply to humans in much the same way.
I've held on to the dangerous questions in my mind for far too long. And as life has progressed, they have changed somewhat, but they still nag at me. "What if you said the wrong thing?" "What if your life doesn't matter?" "You will never make a difference." "No one cares." "Everyone hates you." "You are never enough."
It becomes a landslide very quickly. Doubt and fear collide to make you question your very existence. Those voices seem louder than the truth and the darkness seems to black out the light. The questions nag and drag at you. You start choosing to live with the labels that others callously stick on you, without knowing you or your story. Just like the apples are labeled "Number 4104", we start to accept our one-word-titles, instead of realizing (or even beginning to grasp) the amazing miracle of humanity that includes each and every one of us.
It's time to toss out the garbage of those old nagging questions and start asking ourselves: What is true? What really matters? Why do I feel this way? Why am I here? Who am I really? Who do I want to be?
It's time to start believing in ourselves and our stories. The things that have happened to you (and are happening right now) are for a reason.
Your story deserves to be told. No one else is living your life. You matter. You are valued. You are enough.
It's time to take off the labels. You are a human being. You have life and breath - beats in your heart and hope in your lungs. Embrace who you are right now and who you are becoming.
The apple is not "Number 4104". You are not "weird". And while I'm at it, I'll list a few more.
You are not "a freak".
You are not "worthless".
You are not "fat".
You are not "thin".
You are not "mentally ill".
You are not "homeless".
You are not "divorced".
You are not "an immigrant".
You are not "a single mom".
You are not "black".
You are not "white".
Those are just labels.
You are a human being.
You are not your labels... You are you.
No single word can encapsulate who you really are. There are more details about you than I could ever possibly try to describe...
You are: A unique, individual, beautiful human being.
You are: Capable of things that you never believed were possible.
You are: Loved by more hearts than you will ever realize (including myself! I love you!)
You are: ALWAYS Enough.
You are: Here for a reason.
You are: Going to do great things in this world.
You are: Going to make a difference.
You are: You.
Your humanity is so distinctly and serenely beautiful. You are unique to you. Your gifts are your own. Your fingerprints are your own. Your heart beats are your own. Your thoughts and ideas are your own. Your voice is your own.
I know that this is something easier said than done, as I still struggle with my own labels and nagging voices. Healing is not an overnight process. But I encourage you - today - to start peeling off your labels. Throw them in the trash and embrace you.
You are an amazing human being. :)