Susan walks into the supermarket looking for some tomatoes. A few paces past the doorway gives her a good view of the grocery. In there, the vegetables and fruits are grouped in different boxes, each labeled so she can pick the one we want. She hurriedly picks one from the box of tomatoes.
“I’d like to buy this tomato,” she says.
The attendant stares blankly at her for a moment. “That … is an onion.”
She blinks, apparently realizing her error. Sure enough, she was holding an onion! The whole box was full of onions. “Oh, dear me! For a moment there I thought the box said ‘tomatoes’.”
The attendant notices that she was right. There had been a labeling error. But he tried to shrug it off. “Well … one man’s tomato is another man’s to-mah-to–”
“An onion’s not a to-mah-to–”
The attendant folded his arms. “Look who’s talking. You thought it was a tomato.”
“You can’t accuse me. The customer is always right.”
“But–” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“See? That would’ve saved you a lotta time, wouldn’t it?”
Labels are a good thing. They keep you from accidentally putting salt in your tea, instead of sugar. We like to sort our fellow humans that way. We stack people into certain culturally accepted groups and relate to them based on the generalized stereotype of the label we’ve given them. Of course I’ve since learnt that people are a lot more than their apparent labels seem to imply. But that did not keep me from yearning for a label.
While we give labels to other humans, we subconsciously find security in appending labels unto ourselves. Once we find that we fit into a particular stereotype we feel secure knowing that we belong somewhere. We conform to the prevailing conceptions and norms of those labels until we somehow forget that we actively tried to become that way in the first place. When we can’t find where we fit in, what our appropriate label is, we feel queasy and set about finding out what our true label is. We all do it.
Stories and movies these days tend to depict that fact, with humans grouped into classes, expected to conform to the prevailing expectations of those classes. That’s what endeared me to stories like The Divergent Series and The Giver.
I know better than to define people by labels and as such I knew that there was no sufficient label for me. But that did not keep me from thinking that lacking one meant I was missing something.
I had made it an ambition not to conform to any predefined notions since I was young. I wanted to zig when everyone else was zagging. For example, while my entire family was in the medical line I chose to study a course that was so not medical because … reasons. In church it was years before I raised my hands in worship or did or said anything everyone else was saying, because I wanted to understand why we had to do those things and what they really meant. But I could not openly defy the status quo due to fear and bashfulness, so I rebelled in private. I listen to rock music in secret, screaming my heart out with the tunes in my head. I embraced my eccentricities because they helped me feel special, different from the clones I saw around. Call me a skeptic. I wanted to be a radical. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t become the ‘Rebel’ I wanted to be. For one thing, I did not have the right clothing; the dark gothic piercings and tattoos. Really, I didn’t even want all that stuff. I might as well have gone about holding a giant sign that read: PLEASE, OH PLEASE, NOTICE ME OH CRAZY WORLD! Also, I love God above all else and any life outside of Him just seemed pointless. So I found my Rebellion in this: while my mates gave their time to youthful pleasures and stuff, I gave myself to God, studying His Word and getting to know Him better. I still love Rock music, though, because the screams, loudness and fast-paced tempo give expression to some of the rage and emotion I love to express. But all the Rock music I listen to is Gospel rock, so while I express raw emotion when jamming out in my room, it’s all to God and in God because it’s the cry of my heart that’s in those songs.
I tried to be a geek.
I thought I saw the qualities of a geek in me and I really wanted to be related to that way. So I beefed up my interest in movies and comic books. I got into the world of Marvel and DC Comics, their movies and TV series, their characters and their backstories. Right now I can say I’m an authority on them all, but that’s a discussion for another day (P.S.: I sooooo can’t wait for Legends of Tomorrow, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Daredevil Season 2, X-Men: Apocalypse …ALL IN ONE YEAR!!! AAAAHHH!!!) I still haven’t watched all the Star Wars movies, but I’ve caught up on the lore and everything. It was fun. Still is. I think what attracted me to their stories was the consistent theme of uniqueness, of flawed people with supernatural or abnormal qualities that set them apart from the rest of humanity and their desire to fit in or use their uniqueness to help others. I saw myself in that, somehow. It resonated deeply within me. But I could not live a life that was all out for these things alone.
But, you know what? Geekiness never did it for me. Sure, I’m also into computers, but I never got to learn programming. I love and am good at computers and such, and sure I probably spend more time with my laptop than with other humans (and I know that is SO wrong) but I guess what turned me off from going through with it all was the dissatisfaction with the expectations of geekdom. Once everyone sees you’re a geek there are certain expectations and limitations they place on you. I liked geekdom, but I knew I was not a geek.
I tried to be a writer. I’d been writing stories since I was a child and I’ve never stopped wanting to. Creating new worlds and new characters gave me an opportunity to retreat into my imagination, to create a world where everything turned out right, where everything turned out the way I wanted it to. If I had no control over the world outside, I could have control over the little ones I created. I loved it, and everyone called me a writer. But then when you put yourself into the jar of ‘writers’ it places certain expectations on you. When you read the works of others and behold the darkness, loneliness, gloom and bleakness their words are coming from, you wonder if you could ever live up to that, or if you’re in the right room. I understand where they are coming from, and I’m there a lot of times. If that’s what being a writer means, I’m outta here!
I tried to be a comic. To make people laugh every chance I got. It was depressing.
I tried to be an academic.
I tried to be a revolutionary.
I tried this…
I tried that…
I even tried being a romantic, whatever that means. Didn’t last.
I kept trying to fit into a mold, and trying not to fit into others. In the end I never fit into any. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t measure up to some standards and expectations I had placed on myself based on the stereotypes I tried to conform to.
But they never did it for me.
And it made me feel, somehow, less than others. Not belonging anywhere. I would be walking down the road, trying to convince myself that I’m not the idiot I was certain I was. I felt I deserved crap and so I did not expect the best things to come to me. I’d get into friendships, places and associations and expect things not to work out. Expecting the worst kept me from getting into many things. And when they did work out, if they did work out, I kept expecting things to turn out badly. With no sense of belonging or acceptance, I felt like a vagabond, though I was in no way related to James Bond.
But looking back, you know what I see? I see God walking with me through it all, showing me Himself and in so doing, teaching me more about myself. What I thought was my ‘Rebellion’ in leaving youthful raves and embracing Him was His way of setting me apart for Himself and for His use. My love for cartoons, comics and movies embodied an even deeper love for stories that depict the human situation and our quest for something bigger and something better. He teaches me and shows me how He is turning our stories around so that we can see our need for Him and how He changes us and makes us live as His people in a fallen world, in this world but not of this world. My love for comics and stories also birthed a passion for producing godly and wholesome entertainment.
He used my love for computers to help me get better at computers and to help people with their tech issues. Oh, I get great joy when help someone solve in 5 minutes something that they’ve been trying to solve for hours or days on end. No, I don’t love the misery they’ve gone through, but I love the joy and relief they get when they find it’s solved.
And through my quest for a good jar to jump into in this grocery store, for a good label to tack unto myself so I can belong somewhere and so that people can relate to me in a particular way … He’s been there.
He’s been here.
I see that the labels really just don’t do it. They’re just words on cards that can be taken off. It’s the substance, me, and you, that really matters. You are much more than the labels anyone can give to you.
Nerd, Geek, Slut, Jock, Neanderthal, Liberal, Republican, Conservative, Hippie, Bohemian, PDP, APC, Ajepaki, Ajepako, Ajebota, Ajebo’a, Yuppie, One-Percenter, Klutz, Butterfingers, Four-eyes, Ne’er-do-well, Idiot, Casanova, Area.
Labels based on observations, and nothing more.
If you think you are nothing but what the labels say you are, you limit yourself to only a small percentage of all that God made you to be.
Even worse, the labels may just be a lie. A big, fat, blatant, lie from the armpits of the pits of hell.
I see myself as one loved by God. And because I have received His love, I can love Him and love others too. I see things in a bigger, better and brighter perspective. I have a bigger heart and can take anything from anyone. I can take crap, but I can also take a compliment. I can expect much more and I can expect better because God has made me His son. He has given me a life that transcends all mistakes and limitations that once held me down and held me bound. Every day I learn more about who he has made me to be.
So while I’m done with labels and am content with who I am in Christ, I still struggle with insecurities once in a while. Sometimes, simply saying hi, making phone calls and taking phone calls feels like a chore when I’d rather just be left alone. I used to think it was fear of rejection, but it’s just downright rude. I still prefer to stay in the background when I don’t know what to say to people. I still make eccentric wisecracks and artsy quips to conceal all of that, making everyone smile and laugh to avoid exposing myself or feeling vulnerable.
I still zig when prevailing sense says to zag.
I still love Rock Music.
I still read comics, and make some too.
I still write (as in, DUH!)
But beyond all that, I live a life that’s bigger than all that. The life God made me to live, that I may be a blessing to all. And that is how I get better, how I grow into the person He already sees me as.
I am ME.
And God loves ME.
I can’t think of a better label than that.