The Only Ones

Last winter, Aviva and I read a book together to her preschool class called The Only One Club. It’s about Jennifer Jacobs, a little girl who’s the only Jewish kid in her class. While her friends are making Christmas decorations at school, she cuts out dreidels and menorahs to tape up on the windows alongside the Santas and candy-canes. She goes home that night and creates a button for herself that says, “The Only One Club.” At school the next day, all of the other kids are curious, and then envious. But Jennifer wants everyone to feel special. So she goes home again, and makes an “Only One Club” badge for each of her friends, even their teacher.

After we read the book, Aviva’s preschool teacher handed out little circles where each kid could write what they were the only one of. Then she laminated them and made them into little buttons. Aviva wrote “I’m the only one whose name is what I am: STRONG.” That’s my girl.

***

The underbelly of being the only one is that we feel like the only one. It can be so isolating. Some days, I feel like the only one who can’t for the life of me pull together a fashionable outfit with tall leather boots that look womanly; the only one who’s short and shlumpy and wears ancient clogs and jeans whose belly will probably never be firm and taut again, two babies later.

The underbelly of being the only one is we feel shame. Some days, I feel like the only one who spends so much money on lattes; who eats too much cake and ice-cream; the only one who reprimanded my two-year-old this morning for hurling “Go Fish” cards all over the living room and who snapped at my six-year-old this morning for breaking the thermometer; the only one crouching on hands and knees on the kitchen floor, searching for the mercury that could poison my babies; the only one who is tense so much of the time, tense and hurried.

The underbelly of being the only one is that we feel inept. Some days, I feel like the only one who goes straight to my husband when the dishwasher’s leaking and the crib needs to be dismantled and the weather-stripping on the front door is peeling off and needs replacing and the screens on the windows need to be taken down for the winter.

The underbelly of being the only one is that we feel obsessive. Some days, I feel like the only one who checks this site (and this one and this one) multiple times a day, sometimes even multiple times an hour; I feel like the only one who reads People magazine not only in line at the grocery store, but sometimes even online in my living room. Some days, I feel like the only one who wastes colossal amounts of time obsessing about things that are not my life.

The underbelly of being the only one is that we compare and contrast and judge and gauge and assume and tell stories – about ourselves and about each other. Some days, I feel like the only one who struggles to be a good enough friend, who gets overwhelmed by the different pulls of my time and energy, who wonders if I’m a good enough mom, who isn’t saving for retirement or college or next month’s gas bill, who got an Ivy League degree and is using it not to get poems published in The New Yorker but to write on this blog, who judges myself so harshly, who assumes all kinds of things about other people, all of “those other people” who don’t really exist, since they’re all the only ones, too. We’re all those other people, people.

***

And then, there’s this. All this only-one-ness, all this alone-ness, is so much illusion. Yes, we’re all the only one of something. Yes, we all have shame and obsession and ineptitude and fashion-challenges and judgment and isolation. But then we share. We share stories, we share lives. And we remember. We’re ALL the only ones.

As I write this, surprised at the direction this post has taken, I realize that I am needing a reminder today. A reminder that for every one of our only-one’s, for every underbelly, for every shadow and corner and hiding place, there’s a crack where the light gets in. There’s a crack in the coconut shell – wedge it open and let the milk cover your hands, drink it in. There’s a crack in a door to a room so vast and light-filled that you will be blinded by beauty when you bust it open.

The Kabbalah describes that when God created humans, God had to draw all of the divine light into a vessel to make room for this new life form, for us. But the light was more than the vessel could hold, and it shattered into millions of shards, splinters, sparks of light.

That’s why we’re here. Each one of us contains a spark, a shard of divine light. It is our job to repair the damage, to put the vessel back together, to heal this broken world, to expose our light. We do this by being the only ones, by expressing ourselves in the way that only we each can. We do this alone, and we don’t do this alone. (Thanks for that wisdom, Karen.)

We are all the only ones – and we can only do this alone, together. If it’s scary, then just do it little by little, let the light shine through the cracks, and let your face crack into a smile or a cry, let us see you. And tell us, please: What are you the only one of?

15 thoughts on “The Only Ones

  1. Mrs. B. Roth says:

    Such a perfect post. The thoughts I think, wondering why I am the only one who can’t get it together … so I’m not the only one?

    Right now, I feel like I’m the only one who literally HATES her own mother and my greatest fear is that my precious new amazing daughter will grow up and feel this way about me.

    My mom lives with me, my husband, and my kids … I really try, but I just have no warmth or gratitude and I have no idea how to let any light in for her…

    Like

  2. Beth P. says:

    “Damn, girl, you write good” (ok, I stole it from a review of Patti Digh’s 37 days)…but it’s true for you.
    And more than that, you feel deeply and think with your heart.

    Thanks so much for the book. I wish I’d had more (any!) competition!

    I had bright, copper red hair as a child. I was the only one in my school with hair that color. I’d always liked it until I went to first grade and the kids began to sing-song stuff like, ‘better be dead than red in the head’. I’d hide my hair under hats, try not to take the hat off in class. Then somehow I was able to tell my mom.
    She (a stawberry blonde) said: “Beth, honey, how many kids in your class have brown hair? (I said some number). Yellow hair? (I said some number). Red hair? (There was one other girl, but it was dark, auburn red, and didn’t really count in my book.) She pointed out to me that I was the only one, and that made me special and could, if I choose, make me proud. I took the challenge, and have never looked back…

    Thank you so much for this post, Jena. Love your heart! And I read your post every day or at least every other one!!!

    Like

  3. Honey says:

    so sweetly sadly true.
    and we are the only ones in those acts all of us lonely together rejecting the other’s compassion and love when we treat ourselves so harshly so unfairly.
    be your own best friend today, be gentler and kinder to yourself and that crack will burst open.
    x

    Like

  4. Rowena says:

    Hey, Jena. I’m going to repeat what She She repeated. Your onlies? Me too. That’s three of us. We can start a club, now.

    My Flying Girl has fabulous outfits because I am short and stubby and my clothes are a mess and I can’t afford new ones… just so you know.

    Like

  5. Lindsay says:

    Wow ~ Like you read my mind.

    I feel like I’m the only one who second guesses.

    By the way, I’m glad you’re writing here instead of The New Yorker.

    xo

    Like

  6. Mere Mortal says:

    i come to your place – your place of only-one-ness – to find rejuvenation and words that resonate in my heart.
    you are not the only one. of course you know that. but sometimes it helps to hear it, again and again. in fact most of those things you mentioned are me too. :) connection.
    here’s me, the scary part of me that’s hard to show: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57608147@N00/2948802986/
    I am the only mama who sometimes puts her baby down to nap even when her baby may not really be tired, because this MAMA is tired. I am the only mama who is does this because I take advantage of the fact that my baby is good at sleeping and loves to sleep and will do it pretty much anytime. I am the only one.

    Like

  7. GailNHB says:

    I am the only daughter in a family of four children. I am the only one of the four of us who graduated from college in four years. I am the only one of us who did not go to a Christian college. I am the only one who knows how many other things I am the only one of.

    I am the only one who knows what I know, who has seen what I have seen and lived what I have lived, and managed to survive. I am the only one who can tell the story of my life journey.

    And I am the only one who knows that you wrote this blog just for me today. I’m the only one.

    Like

  8. deb says:

    Lovely post and no, you’re not the only one. And yeah, I feel like the only one a lot. It’s hard to remember sometimes that we’re all the same, all connected.

    Like

  9. RocketMom Cheryl says:

    I’m sure I’m the only one who hasn’t posted to my blog for 6 weeks. And I must be the only one who has trouble getting to preschool on time at 8:45. I feel like the only mom who not only doesn’t look put together, but who hasn’t colored my hair in almost a year leaving it looking dull with grey strands on top and shiny golden on the bottom. I must be the only one who dared to let my husband cut my hair and hasn’t bothered to have someone even it out in the two months since then. Am I the only one who pretends to be a binky to my 9 month old? It is so much easier to talk or listen if he’s nursing that if he’s squealing for attention.

    Yes, a good time for a reminder. As always, thanks for sharing your words.

    Like

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