Monday, September 13, 2010

Me and my walrus: Turning negative to positive when it's least expected

I'm going to tell you a story about how something very hurtful turned into a powerful badge of honor.  What does Oprah call it?  An "aha" moment?  It was something I had mostly forgotten about, and then one day, like so many other past experiences that show up unexpectedly...there it was right in my face.

I was 18 and in my senior year of high school.  I was "seeing" a guy, we'll call him Peach (that's my positive spin on "jerk").  I say "seeing" because he wasn't really my boyfriend, and I know I was way more into him than he was into me, but I chose to go out with him anyway, too young to see how bad he was for me at the time.  One afternoon we were hanging out together, and he burst into laughter.  He said, "I've finally figured it out!  All this time I knew you reminded me of someone or something, but I couldn't put my finger on it!"  Well, of course I was smiling and anxious to hear of my lovely likeness?  It had to be complimentary, right?  After all, this guy did ask me to the "big dance".  He went on, "you look like a walrus!"

I wasn't laughing.  When he saw the smile disappear from my face, he tried to back track, "I didn't mean it in a bad way, really.  It's just your face..." and then he burst into laughter again.  Just my face. Imagine what that did to the self esteem of a teenage girl.  I was mortified, shocked someone could be so cruel.  He went on to explain in detail the similarities between my face and that of a walrus. Can you believe that I was so insecure in high school that I eventually accepted his apology and still went to the dance with him?  Ugh.

Every so often, I have thought of that day.  Of course I am extremely sure, strong and proud of myself and my success now, but I never really forgot about the possibility of my apparent walrus-ness.

Fast forward two decades.  I'm sitting with my son and eight of his pals in a movie theatre for his eighth birthday.  We watched Disney's "Oceans", a documentary of sea life, the ocean and how important it is to conserve both.  Imagine the emotion that came out of nowhere when the documentary film zeroed in on a mother walrus and her pup.  It was such a moving scene, the way this mother creature, ever so gracefully, cradled her baby in her flippers, balanced him on her belly, played with him, taught him and was unmistakeably in awe of him, adoring him, nurturing him.  It was such a moving scene, even the eight year olds were quiet.  It was emotional for some just because of the sheer beauty of this beast and the respect given her, but me even more so as I discovered the truth about my walrus-ness.

What once was something shameful and embarrassing, within minutes became pride and strength.  I was that walrus with her pup.  I am a mother to two fine boys who are the greatest accomplishment of my life.  This walrus was everything graceful, beautiful, maternal and protective.  I embraced what I saw, and took it to heart.  Never again would I think of those hurtful words when I was a teenager.  I now wear any kind of walrus-ness like a badge of honor.  I even have a plush walrus on my shelf  in my office, to remind me of how good it feels to take something which once caused pain, and turn it into triumph.  In the eyes of my stuffed walrus, I see my success, my positive outlook, my wonderful life!

Who is laughing now, Peach?