It was me and four other girls crammed in the back of a small dark pickup truck. We were enclosed under the cab cover surrounded by all our camping gear -- sleeping bags, back packs, and various boxes of food. This was in the 80s. I was probably around 10 years old.
Background info about me is that I was and am an introvert. I wasn't comfortable talking with adults. I wasn't comfortable talking with my peers unless I had already established a relationship with them. The only places I was really comfortable and outgoing were in the confines of my home and in my mind.
Why was I in this truck with these four other girls, one of whom was my older sister? A Girl Scout camping trip was the answer, but it really wasn't, because even then I wondered why I was there. Now I would be saying, "Why the hell am I here?" I didn't want to be there. I was terrified to leave my mother, my home, my comfort.
I have always been an observer. I observe all that is around me, the people, the sites, the energy. I feel comfort in this. I am a silent observer and even then at 10 I was this way. I listened to the other girls tell stories and tried to include myself as much as I was comfortable doing but still I was in a strange truck, with mostly strange people, going to a strange location.
We arrived at the camp site where numerous other GS troops had already arrived. The five of us girls were directed to our canvas covered decking, our place of sleep. It was dark and dank. It was not home. We all set up our sleeping areas then proceeded to the covered porch kitchen where we would be served our not-so-appetizing camp food.
I stayed close to my troop, never letting them out of my site. I would love to say that I found comfort in the presence of my sister, but she was 12 and having nothing to do with her little sister.
I felt like a foreigner in a foreign land. In truth I was miserable.
That night we grouped around the campfire singing songs and telling ghost stories. Yay! It was exactly what I didn't need before walking the distance to the bug-encrusted latrines. Eek.
Back at our tent, the other girls and I talked a bit before lying down. This is the moment this story of my lesson starts. This is the moment my sister used her older sibling power to embarrass me. She thought it would be funny to let the other girls know that I liked Kenny Rogers and all his songs. This may seem like no big deal, but to a girl of my age liking a non-cool-to-our-age-group musician, it was crushing. The laughs I received made me feel worse than I already felt. I didn't have the power within me then to not give a care. Instead I internalized it and curled up in the confines of my sleeping bag no longer caring about the spiders crawling all around me. I wanted to not care, but I did. I did care about what others thought about me.
Then it happened. I started to stop. I started to stop caring what other people thought.
Hallelujah 40, how I love thee. I am free of caring about other people's approval or validation. It was a long road from that one camping trip to this moment today where I can honestly say that I have let go of external validation. Within me I have grown the confidence and self-love needed to be okay with who and what I am.
I often get asked how I managed this feat. As I mentioned above it was a long slow road but the destination is glorious. My journey didn't start with Kenny, and it sure as heck didn't end there, but Kenny brought me a gift of conscious awareness. It was through him that I became aware of caring.
As he said, "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run."
These are great words to live by, You've got to know when to hold on to what matters, know when to let go of what doesn't, know when to walk away from that which doesn't matter, and know when to run.
It's time that we all learn to accept ourselves for who we are. It's time to love ourselves for our special gifts and our differences. It's time to be proud. Once we can love and honor ourselves as we are we will be lifted up from the confines of judgment. Value yourself and the world will value you -- just the way you are even if you are different.