26 and Oxidizing

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Today I hit Fe on the periodic table of elements. That’s iron, and I’m rusting as I write. You might ask, Why is she comparing herself to iron on her birthday? Iron, my friends, is known to be “soft, malleable, and strong.” Seems like a contradiction at first glance, but let’s put it under a microscope.

My 2011 New Years resolution was to be courageous. Still is. In my earlier post about Oprah, I talked about “the courage to unapologetically live as my authentic self.” At times, being myself is effortless: when I’m alone, for instance, or with my immediate family. But as I write, I think even that’s not true. I’m talking about more than the courage to shave my head and wear what I want, though that’s definitely part of the bigger picture. The real courage, at least for me, is in connecting with the rest of the world. In order to truly connect, even with family, I need the courage to get hurt without hurting back. Emotionally, that is. Most of us can’t even stand the risk of getting hurt, much less being hurt and not serving that eye-for-an-eye kind of justice. We see this in a remotely comedic form when kids get into arguments:

Vomit face!

I’m not a vomit face! You’re a vomit face!

At least I’m not a pig’s butt!

Who you calling a pig’s butt, sewage breath?

By the standards of society, failure to retaliate when we’ve been wronged means we’re weak. In our society, so called “weak” people are considered “lame,” “uncool,” “unattractive,” “unworthy,” etc. Because so many of us fear labels like these, so few of us possess genuine courage. Considering how much strength it takes to overcome fear of these labels, who’s stronger: those who run from them at all costs, or those who see them for the lies they are? Brene Brown, who’s spent over a decade studying this side of humanity, explains the hazards of being cool in her blog post “cool: the emotional straightjacket.” Most compellingly she says, “The greatest casualty of the endless pursuit of cool is connection. When we don’t let people see and know our true selves, we sacrifice connection. Without connection, we struggle for purpose and meaning.”

Iron rusts because it’s “connecting” with oxygen, a process called oxidation. The magnetism between iron and oxygen is a natural part of their molecular structures, and unlike humans, elements don’t arrest their own nature; they live up to it wholeheartedly. We too are coded with the need for connection. Unfortunately we’ve also acquired a coding of fear. We don’t want to genuinely connect. It’s not pretty and shiny. The process corrodes us and will continue to corrode us until we’re gone. What I’ve learned in 26 years is that I’ll die whether I connect with people or not, but if I make meaningful connections, I won’t have to die alone. Plus it makes the years of living much more enjoyable. So here’s to 26 and oxidizing!

Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand? How do you use it to connect?