I’m eleven years old and in sixth grade. I’m staring in the mirror thinking, “I’m smart. I’m nice. And I’m a little bit pretty. So why don’t boys like me?”
Back then, I would have changed to get the boys to like me if I had known how. But I didn’t know how so I stayed me–shy, awkward around kids my own age, happiest in a book or with adults, and lonely a lot of the time.
I grew up. I worked hard, striving for competence, excellence. Maybe I thought that if I were smart enough, successful enough, helpful enough I would be enough. By thirty, I felt like I was finally becoming the woman I wanted to be. Then tragedy demolished me and it took nearly ten years to put myself back together again.
Only to be told that I’m scary.
But then this writer said, “You don’t have to try so hard.”
You don’t have to try so hard.
This refrain bounced around my head, snuggling up with a few lines from Mary Oliver that seem to be in my every intake of breath these days:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
It won’t matter if I try harder or make pilgrimage through the desert. It won’t be enough to make all the boys like me or to make me un-scary. And that is a thought full of freedom.
I don’t have to try so hard.
I can love what I love.
And suddenly, I’m singing a song from Rent and feeling light on my feet:
Take me for what I am, what I was meant to be.