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?