From the time I was a very young child, I felt different. Different because my mother was unaccepted sometimes as a German, as a person with an accent, as an immigrant; different because of some peoples’ misplaced expressions to a child about the horrors of Nazism. Different because my home life wasn’t the same as the other kids I was around; different because I was raised Catholic too, attending Catholic schools, walking there every day in a uniform past all the neighborhood kids in their regular clothes; different because I wanted to do things that I wasn’t supposed to want as a girl, and feeling different because I saw things that didn’t seem right and, yet, were accepted by the folks around me.
In the midst of all that difference I learned an important lesson: that no matter what I did, or how I did it there was just going to be no pleasing everyone, no clear path to broad acceptance, so I might as well figure out what I wanted, what I valued and follow my own path to wherever that would lead me. I’ve been very lucky. It has lead me to make wonderful friends — friends who have often been considered different themselves because of their ethnicity or sexual orientation or their spirituality or any number of reasons – friends who I have learned much from over the years and who have accepted me with my with all my imperfections. It has lead to amazing experiences, to a richness in extended family and cross-cultural exchanges at home and abroad, to challenging and fascinating work; it lead me to my life’s partner and to this point in time when differences around me, around so many of us, while certainly not acceptable still by far too many, are often celebrated now, fashionable even, and appreciated for the valuable things that they can be.
In learning that lesson, and with it all the joys and challenges, the pain and failures, the victories and bonds that have shaped me, I have come to believe that what a person does, how an individual chooses to walk through the world, leaves footprints and generates energy. I believe those footprints define a path and that energy produces a kind of fruit that we must eventually consume, whether bitter or sweet or rotten, whether beautifully succulent or bland. When we try to leave a thoughtful footprint, I believe that we, each us, enriches the world as well as ourselves. Sometimes it’s easy to do and it feels so good. It does good, too, when others follow those steps in life.
But the real challenge is when it’s especially hard, when there’s a price to pay for it. When we are careless, when we forgo intent, when our intent is too self-centered, then I believe we leave a harmful footprint, putting negative energy into the world. Clearly, there’s a lot of that out there today, many people paying the price for the unfortunate paths of others. But I believe, no matter our differences, that what we have most in common is the power, each one of us, to shift that energy. It will take time, but I believe it won’t take quite so long if we all start walking with intent today.
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