While driving to work the other morning, I had one of my "moments." One of the moments in which my otherness overwhelms me, and I find myself thinking there's no place for me in the world. At least, no place where I fit in. Early on, it was easy to let those types of thoughts slip me into self-pity, but this time, I found myself stopping to think. Sure, it hurts to be an outsider - but is it really necessary to fit in?
Inexplicably, I started thinking about pearls. Pearls are made when a small object, such as a grain of sand, is washed into an oyster. As a defense mechanism to an irritant inside its shell, the mollusk creates a pearl to seal off the irritation. A substance called nacre (mother-of-pearl) is deposited on the surface of the object, forming the pearl.
The object itself (a grain of sand), is not bad. But to the oyster, it was irritant and was treated as such. On the surface, not a great interaction. Yet, the result is a beautiful pearl.
I though about the many examples of this type of interaction I've seen in my life and others' lives. I've known people who had bosses that drove them crazy. During the time that they worked for that person, they longed for a new boss. Years later, they look back and realize that, as much as they hated it at the time, that boss taught them something, brought something out of them that would never have come out otherwise. The boss was the grain of sand, and through their existence, they forced the employee to make a pearl.
I've had debates with people whose opinions are vastly different from mine, and found that I came out the other end with a new understanding, a new facet that I had not thought of before. At the time, I might have wished that they would magically "see reason" (my way), but the fact that they didn't was actually a blessing in disguise. They forced me to make a pearl.
I recently heard an interview with Colleen Barrett, former president of Southwest Airlines. In it, she talked the difficulties they faced in the early days of the airline, and the resultant "Warrior Spirit". How did it form? Because of opposition - the big airlines filed lawsuits to keep them out of the air. Looking back on those days, Ms. Barrett was actually thankful for their opposition. Without it, she said, she wasn't sure that they would have made it through the early years. The opposition gave them solidarity to hold strong. The lawsuits forced them to make a pearl.
In a world where conformity is valued so highly, difference is often seen as an irritant. That irritation can feel like ostracism, and can be very painful. There are times when you long to find a place in world that feels harmonious, where you don't feel constantly under judgment for just being yourself. Where others won't be annoyed by you, but accept you as you are. It can be hard to find.
But, when it isn't an option, that doesn't mean that all is lost. Life may just be forcing you to make a pearl.