On New Year’s Day a dear friend of mine lost her eighteen year old son in a tragic accident. He was walking home in the dark hours of the early morning along an elevated train track. The guy walked everywhere, all times of day... he knew his Chicago neighborhood and the el tracks well. Yet, he was inadvertently clipped by an unexpected train and plunged off of the 2-story tracks. His life, gone... way too young!
We all read about tragedy; and well, we usually ask questions to process or understand. “What happened” or “why” are typical responses. Especially for us moms. We are the primary care-takers of all children in the world and our minds constantly migrate to our innate protection-processing mode. We're always pondering and networking with other moms around ways to nurture our kids or how to find the best techniques that encourage healthy flourishing in a complex world. Care-taking is an integral part of the female DNA.
Though, what happens when you have a kid that marches to the beat of a different drummer? A child that just isn’t a conforming “rule-follower”. One who sees right and wrong, but chooses a third way of risk-taking adventure, because, well… how he sees the world is not always right with it’s systems and rules.
That was this tall, vibrant, red-headed kid, whom I affectionately nicknamed the Ginger Rebel. The boy simply marched to a different beat... He was free-spirited, a deep thinker and creative. He had impeccable taste in design, clothing and with his personal artistic creations. He also had no fear in being a nonconformist. He was a kid filled with so much potential for making this world a much better place with both his questioning and creative ways.
I always find myself especially fond of these “risky” kids. Maybe it’s because they force me to think deeper about life and a Western world filled with conforming “normalized” systemic ways. Or, maybe it’s because I always wanted to be that kid. I was always the timid girl, nurtured by an overprotective mom. A mom that had many heritage-induced fears from her own formative childhood years growing up very poor. She instructed my sister and I to always choose what was "safe" within our social norms. So, as a kid, I could never break rules or choose to do anything associated with too much risk!
Now, as an over-50 mom, I do know that we humans need our systems and rules. They are especially necessary for those in the first half of life. But, I have also learned in this "second-half" life season that we need to be constantly reforming and changing our “systems and ways”. Our rules and law do not always mean justice, or life prosperity for all humans in a world filled with ever-changing dynamics.
It seems to me that many of these “risky” kids see that, too. Most of them tend to be deep-thinking and emotionally intelligent. Gifted in part with a skillset that is not highly valued in a Western world now bent on competition and performance excellence. Think about it… how many people do you know that introduce themselves as deep thinkers? Or, who admits that they have the gift of emotional intelligence? We always tend to share an identity tied to a job, or some type of cultural leadership role representing system-induced wisdom and/or success.
Many of these brilliant-type, nonconformist kids can see that reality; and, they know that it’s not totally… well, right. It also seems that our culture has not created or allowed too many spaces where these kids really fit in or flourish. American success standards tend to always come from conforming or winning and we create many of our spaces to simply nurture these competitive ways.
Where do these emotionally intelligent kids have to go with their creativity and amazing thoughts? Our education systems, church world logistics and sports arenas are all about complying and excelling to a set of "standards". We have crafted a culture totally obsessed with following along and achieving many different types of excellence. Our compliant and winning performances always seem to trump deep thinking and creativity, or any other different way.
Where is the “place” created for those who think different in our society? The place where these free spirit types are nurtured in both their God-given creativity and thoughts to support everyone's common good? Schools just no longer seem that place, especially for boys. They have to sit all day long and that just doesn’t work too well for hunter-gatherer mentalities or active bodies.
Then, for those of faith, we have church and religious systems. There really doesn’t seem to be a place for these kids there either. These kids are about risk and adventure. And, well, everything within faith-world seems to be about following rules… That’s really the last thing these kids want to do.
I am most sorry Ginger Rebel, that you left us so young. That there just weren’t really many good places for you to “be” in our culture of conforming. I’m also sorry that the liminal spaces most kids like you find only come within partying and rebellious stunts that allow you to live out there, on the edge of adventure.
Dear people of the world, especially faith people… can we begin to think deep, engage our own creativity and change our ways with a changing culture? What if we all strove to get way better at meeting others where they are at and empowering their God-given gifts? It just seems that there is so much potential for all of us to be so much better though reforming many of our life-numbing systems that we all accept as "normal".
Dear Ginger, some of us could really see how special you were, and who you were created to be. We really loved your firecracker spunk. Quite simply, you were a prophetic voice about our conforming systems; and, many times just a breath of fresh air. (Though you were a pill for your parents to parent!).
May your short life serve as a catalyst for deeper conversations and authenticity around our Western normalized ways. Ways that aren't always affirming or healthy for those that march to the beat of a different drummer. May our culture change and begin to provide enough room and creative spaces for those gifted like you. And, I promise dear boy, that we care-taking mamas will step up and do our best to accelerate change in your memory...
May you rest in heavenly creativity and blissful peace.