Three years ago, when I was an instructional coach in the Bertie County School System, a dear friend and colleague turned to me and said something that would change my life.
“You know, McCullough? I think you should read ‘Tacky The Penguin‘. It’s a children’s book about a penguin who was very different from the other penguins (Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect), but they didn’t see his value until his differences benefited them in the end.”
Sitting up in my chair, I gave her a half-smile. I was appreciative that she noticed and seemed to understand the fact that I was different, yet somber because it made me say to myself, Gosh. I guess I really am different.
My mother knew I was different, and she loved me for it. I was hers, and no matter how strange or different I was from the other children, I knew that Mom owned me and encouraged me to just be Joan. I think what most people find perplexing about me being stuck in 1983, is that I often reach back for that sense of approval. It’s not here because she’s not here.
I’ve had to make some tough choices in life since then. I have tried to fall in line with others (which often becomes grueling experiences), and to listen incessantly to the reasons why I need to be a certain way. I have even attempted to temper myself in order to fit into a mold to which I never belonged in the first place. However, I have finally realized that I am different because God made me this way.
Unfortunately, here is the problem with being different; I am often misunderstood, and I think people see me as this powerful being with colossal intentions. I am talented, sure, but I am no Victor Newman when it comes to my intentions! Actually, most of the time, I am that 8-year-old who just wants to simply be, and I’m tired.
If I am just like Tacky The Penguin, the third installment in the trilogy goes like this:
After Tacky saved all of the Penguins from the hunters, he realized that he was valuable to the penguin community. He decided not to let the others’ opinions of him get him down anymore. What he began to do thereafter, was to stand up for himself whenever they criticized the way he swam, walked, or sang (like a broken horn) the way they used to.
The other penguins found Tacky’s defensiveness shocking. They were not accustomed to him asserting himself with them, so they still tried to redirect him. The new penguins he’d met did not know about his history of being different and his struggles, so when he asserted himself with them, they accused him of talking down to them or being condescending.
Tacky had just had enough of penguins constantly trying to “fix” him. He felt drained from trying to justify the way he was. All Tacky really wanted was to just be apologetically, himself.
Tacky usually tried to consider the circumstances that made Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect turn out the way they did. Only, he grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of consideration about what made him Tacky. They’d say things to him regarding his dealings with the other penguins like:
“You cannot yell at Lovely! You might make him cry.”
“You know, Perfect has been through a lot, so you have to just deal with him in a different way.”
What about what I’ve been through? Tacky thought. Why don’t I get a pass for my shortcomings? Why am I so misunderstood?
That’s where the manuscript ends, because I am still searching for those answers.
Am I really misunderstood, or am I the one misunderstanding the people around me? I bet the latter is the correct answer.