I am the first to acknowledge that I'm kind of a dork.
I don't think I realized it until my freshman year of college. I had always known I was different, had always known I liked school more than my classmates when I was younger. I had always known that I was not one of the Cool Kids, simply by nature of the things I liked. And that was okay with me. But no one had ever called me dorky before.
Oddly, the first recollection I have of it is from my then-boyfriend.
"Sara," he once told me, "when I met you, I thought from the way you dressed that you were gonna be kinda preppy, a little bit like a sorority girl. No. You're a huge dork."
I beamed with all the force of my sunshine personality. "Thank you!" I chirped.
And it's a label I wear with pride to this day. In the cultural categories we've carved for ourselves out of soap or something impermanent, I know I fit most neatly into the nerd/dork niche. Studious, bookish, dedicated. Likes school. Growing up, I would get in trouble for not going to bed on time -- because I was reading a novel that I couldn't put down. Looking back, I'm sure my parents rolled their eyes as they took my book away from me as punishment. I'm sure they couldn't believe that they were taking a book away from their child, but this was what their lives were about now (I got it back the next morning, in case you were worried). If my brothers were the athletes (they were and still are), I was the nerd.
Of course, we're never just one thing. But somehow people like labels. After high school I became more athletic; in high school I was also the musician. More accurately, I was the music nerd. And I was that in college, too, even among the music majors. It's progressed from show tunes to opera and back around to include both, as well as movie soundtracks. I remember a particularly scarring incident toward the end of my senior year in high school: I was yelled at by a classmate, who told me we weren't going to sing "some stupid classical song" at our graduation. I had not even suggested such a song, but that was my reputation.
Time and again, my mother said, "Honey, they're just uncomfortable because you don't like what they like, and you don't make apologies for it." I've never been one to make apologies for things like that, which I suppose is an asset.
I don't say all this to make you feel sorry for me. I am proud of who I am and who I've been, and I was proud then, too. Maybe a little too proud. Like I said, I was pretty unapologetic. My mom has remarked that I didn't care who I antagonized. I guess I still don't. I guess I've always been a warrior at heart, a fact that I'm proud to write.
Throughout their lives, my younger brothers have ruefully shaken their heads at their big sister's taste. It's all in love, but I've always known my brothers were cooler than I am.
A subtly transformative moment occurred my junior year in college, the year of my short hair. It was one of those moments that passed sweetly in the moment, but when I look back, it stands out in shining relief against the wood-cutting of my past (How's THAT for a metaphor).
I was talking to a friend of mine, and he told me I was one of the coolest people he knew. I'm pretty sure I laughed -- "Really??" -- thanked him, and moved on.
But I'm sorry -- one of the coolest people you know?
For someone who had never thought of herself as particularly interesting, this was like finding gold. But, of course, I didn't know that at the time. For some time I continued to think of myself as a nerd.
To be a nerd or a dork just means to love things really hard. And to be unashamed of showing that you love things really hard. To set your heart free to be in love with something. How did it get to be a derogatory term, when what it means is that you wear your heart on your sleeve about what you love? And we all love something.
So I reject that label out of hand. I refuse to identify this way.
Because like I said: we are never just one thing.
Yes, I'm bookish. I bought my purse, a really pretty wine-colored Fossil bag, with one thing in mind: can it hold books? (Update: yes, it can; several.) Most days you can find me with at least one book in my hand. Yes, I love school. Y'all, I wish I was in school now. School is absolutely my jam. But. I'm also an athlete in my own right. And I don't know a ton of young women of my own acquaintance who can throw a baseball as far as I can (at short distances I'm not great, but I've discovered that long distances make my throw look better, as well as actually effective).
Do I love the opera? Hell yes. Do I also love folk music? I do.
I have a profoundly active inner life; I'm a writer, a trained classical singer, and I've worked in customer service for over five years. I have a dense, near-complete knowledge of produce codes (which I've accepted I'll never be rid of); a thirsty interest in the liturgical calendar; and a loving relationship with Jesus. I love tea and La Croix; I'm the most feminine person I know, and I've played a dude in an opera. I like the color pink as well as my navy slacks, I eat SUUUUUUUUPER healthy, I work out every day, and I have at least four journals. I love Lord of the Rings and Jane Austen and CS Lewis and also, by the way, food memoirs (somehow).
We are never. just. one. thing.
So I reject that label out of hand. I will not label myself, and I will not label you.
We like to categorize others because to do so spares us the trouble of having to know that person, to really delve deep into their complexity and beauty. It saves us effort.
So I will not label you except to call you unabashed or kind or brave or strong or tenderhearted.
Because we will not be reduced. We will be multifaceted and shining, and the sun will glint off of all our faces, and our one Face, because we are whole and we are one and we are gems that are reflecting and refracting the light of God in all His million little ways.
We are not one thing. We are people. We are humans. We are not identified by our love for a single entity.
We are ourselves. And that is all we need to be.