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Putting away my boots (and their straps)

December 31, 2009

I don’t know what your week has been like. In my world, the myth that hard work will be rewarded died on Tuesday night at 6:53 PM. It seemed significant.

It’s funny. If you’re from a community like mine, you think you’re going to be the one to make it out. We all do. We’re all special. And if you’re from a community like mine, you realize one day that you are part of your community, you end up in this other world, you’re carrying the weight of your community on your back through this other world and speaking for it.

You don’t speak for it because it’s a cohesive and agreeable community. You speak for it because others don’t know about you and where you come from and so you must. You become a token of your community. Easily assimilated by your new world. And you are all right with this assimilation.

And then one day something happens and you find that your assimilation is not as thorough as you thought it was. That moment might be as simple as that little thrill of surprise that I get when I turn on a switch here and find that it actually causes light. Or it might be, as I have felt this week, that slow ache of finding out that the bootstraps story, that if I pull hard enough I will pull myself out, is just a story. It is the story that begins with “once upon a time we became successful.”

My heartache is that once upon a time is not this time. Not for me.

I was going to stop there, but rereading, I found that my words sound more depressing than I intended them to. So I shall say that this myth breaking for me is both heartache and hope.

It is heartache because I wanted it to be true. I wanted to be the special one in more than a token way. The demise of my bootstraps myth is unsettling and a little painful not because of what it says about the myth but what it says about me. I found it comfortable and now I am unsettled.

And yet… am I not now more free? I have always hated being the special token of success in my family and among my friends. It is a burden. The success that they point to isn’t any internal happiness. It is the ability to win an award for impersonating who I might have been.

Somehow, I translate the failure of successfully passing, of passing leading to success, into the hope that other actions will lead to success. Unapproved actions. Actions that fulfill me more than conformity does. And so I am hopeful. For what comes next.

I mourn the myth. Just a little. And then I will move on.

Ed note: Originally published December 4, 2009.

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