Growing up I was the black sheep of the family. At times this made me feel special, indignant, feisty—ready to fight the good fight. At times it made me feel different, separate, like a sore thumb rather than one amongst the clan. Much of my life has been driven by this push and pull—wanting to live full throttle by my black sheep ways, and wanting to feel a part of the family flock. Teenagehood was especially defined by my fight to express the person I naturally am (colourful/wild/free) against the backdrop of reasonable, nose-to-the-ground practicality. I won that fight eventually, my family learned to let Maria be Maria, to not ask questions, and to keep their opinions out of ear shot. I was okay with making mistakes if those mistakes were all my own. I only wanted the freedom to make whatever decision felt right, to experience circumstance and consequence, and to know it was I alone who got me to that place.
Somewhere in my twenties I lost colourful/wild/free me. It may have been amidst some personal dramas that left me emotionally dry. It may have been after meeting my husband—also colourful/wild/free, and me feeling the need for one of us to be reigned in. It may have been not knowing how to be colourful/wild/free around my salt-of-the-earth in-laws (for being a black sheep around your own flesh and blood is not the same as being a black sheep around your spouse’s). It may just have been the realities of adult life, the spiritual toll of being out of my home 50 hours per week, working to afford that home… I don’t know. But lost it I did, and life for a while was lived in a stress-induced state. When you are not living as your natural self, you are stressed. Your body responds physically to what is not right within you.
I’m currently reading How to be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World, by Colin Beavan. It’s interesting…to a black sheep like me. Someone who, by Beavan’s definition, is a bit of a lifequester.
How to be Alive is a book about living authentically rather than following a protocol on how we think we should be living. Specifically, its premise is that if you live your life by doing the things you deeply enjoy, that you will naturally share what you love with the world around you, which will naturally enhance your community and society, and thereby naturally bring meaning back into your own life. So, basically, you get what you give. Choose to give value, and receive value in return.
Value is a concept I’ve been working with a lot lately. As is authenticity. I find people shy away from the word authentic because it’s come to be related to new agey hippie talk, but that’s stupid. All authentic really means is truth. Being true means exhibiting your values; living by your values. That’s all. If you shy way from that, you shy away from life. As I was, as I in some ways still do.
The road back to black sheep me has been a slow one, which is something I’ve come to accept— change takes time. I’ve found it necessary to take baby steps, and I’ve decided that baby steps, as long as they are in the right direction, are more than okay.
These baby steps have unfolded themselves in many different ways: They’ve brought me closer to my creative self, they’ve changed the way I write, they’ve provided me with a sense of purpose, they’ve gotten my head out of my butt, they’ve had me stop looking only at my own life but also at life all around. Because of these baby steps I’ve come to understand that one person’s decisions can indeed affect the world. They’ve had me doing things teenage me would never have questioned, like buying only fair trade coffee, thinking about how the animals who provide my family’s milk and eggs are treated, and upping my caution around owning too much stuff.
Mostly, they’re changing the way I parent.
I don’t want my kids to follow the grain, I want them to go against it. I mean, if it’s in their nature to. I care to teach them about being good people, about being grateful for their lot in life, about being kind to others, about caring for their community, and about following their hearts. I care to protect their inner freedom.
I used to care about what other people thought about my kids and my parenting, I’m letting go of that. I’ve realized that I can’t both nurture their inner spirit and care about what other people think. I also had allowed fear and paranoia, something I was most shocked to realize I’d inherited from my mother, to interfere with my parenting choices. It dawned on me that it isn’t fair to allow my unfounded fears to exist as a shadow over my children. This is the stuff that helicopter parents are made of, this is the stuff that inhibits rather than promotes a child’s ability to learn freely.
In How to be Alive Beavan states that “if you pursue Truth for yourself, you cannot help but pursue Truth for everyone.” I think, if all I do as a parent is encourage whatever idiosyncrasies my kids exhibit that make them uniquely themselves, and as long as I encourage loving kindness to others, that it will be a job well done.
What made me a black sheep growing up was believing that there is magic to life, being loud, being creative, wanting to experience everything, wanting to see the world, being fearless, believing I could make a difference, not being afraid to die, believing I was worthy of everything, being afraid to miss out on living.
There is nothing on this list that doesn’t still ring true, which makes me still a black sheep I suppose. Or maybe that just makes me alive, a lifequester, interested in getting the most out of this lifetime.
All I know is that at my worst, I didn’t own up to any of the above, and at my best, I am the above. When I am being that authentic me, I feel valuable and I want to share it. I want to give, I want to help, I want to do. If that makes me a black sheep, baa baa.
But what if we were all black sheep? What if we each did things we love, purely because we love them and without worry or excuse? What if we all went against the grain, and formed a new grain, a grain that spirals out in 360 different directions? How much better could we be, how much ground could we cover, were we all black sheep? What if it really does only take one person to change the world? What if we were each that person?
I’m not saying quit your job, sell your home, move to another continent (although I’m not not saying that either). I’m talking about baby steps. In my life, I have kids that just keep wanting to be fed, and the bank keeps asking for mortgage payments, and I’m not really willing to trade in my kids, and well, I’ve always been a homebody at heart, so, well, I kinda hafta work. All that means is I pay extra attention to how I use the rest of my time. We don’t have to make grand sweeping gestures, we don’t have to give up everything we own, we don’t have to do anything at all, except, of course, participate in a life filled with all you value. And in doing so, change the world.
Scriptures say it takes only the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains.
Baa baa, I say. Baa baa.