Writing from the Heart: Different isn’t weird

Some people have passions we don’t understand, but that’s OK.

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The other night at a small dinner, one of our friends said she had just come back from Charlottesville, where she attended her 20th Dave Matthews concert this year. Someone said, “You traveled 20 times to 20 concerts?” “Sometimes, yup,” she answered, “but sometimes there are two in one weekend.”

“So,” someone else said, “you traveled 10 times to see Dave Matthews?” “Yes,” she grinned, and added, “and I do it every year.”

In the collective stunned silence for the next half-minute, I thought, Wow, who has that kind of time? Who has that much money? Who has that kind of commitment to … well, anything?

Everyone at the table knew her in varying degrees of intimacy.

For me, she’s a new friend. What I know about her is that she’s a sweetheart. I know she’s kind. I know she’s generous. I know she has great wisdom. I know I really like her.

But now I am sitting there knowing this other thing, this weird thing about her. I don’t like it that I’m suddenly thinking of her as weird. I don’t like myself when I do that. It’s not as if I’m about to throw the baby out with the bath water, but the baby has changed slightly for me.

I know I’m being judgy, and I silently repeat a quote I had recently come across: “Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are.”

Someone asked, “Have you ever met Dave?” “No,” she answered, “but I often get front-row seats, and once he pointed at me and smiled.”

Then our hostess said, “I’m curious — is there anyone else at this table who is so passionate about something that you would commit to going to whatever 20 times a year?” We went from friend to friend. Everyone said the same thing; nothing that I would be that committed to.

Before it came to my turn, I couldn’t think of anything I’d do over and over, and the more I thought about being that passionate about something, the more I felt a little envious.

We got her talking about her experiences over the years. She said she travels in her camper, and sometimes brings her grown kids. She said everyone gets there early, and they tailgate, and it just feels like family.

I sat there thinking, ritual. That’s what this is. I am the queen of ritual. I love ritual. And this is clearly a ritual. It’s community and connection and continuity. All the things I love.

And the more she shared, the more I realized how much fun she was having. She was twinkling and telling us, and totally unaware of my earlier judgment.

I was sitting there still thinking, I would never, ever go to 20 concerts of the same guy. I wouldn’t even go to 20 concerts of anyone in five years. And wow, she doesn’t even care that this guy she has supported for all these times doesn’t even know who she is? I would never do that.

But then I thought she probably would never eat spaghetti with bugs in the box. She probably wouldn’t burn the New York Times as kindling instead of reading it. She would never care that I only vacuum for company.

And then I started thinking of the hundreds more things I wouldn’t want her to know about me.

Yet here she was bubbling over about something I had labeled as weird.

What is wrong with this picture? How could I be so threatened by difference? Why aren’t I curious, instead of put off? Why isn’t weird a compliment? We’re all weird.

I thought about how hard I had tried to fit in in my younger years, and how hard I worked at hiding my uniquenesses. And how long it took me to understand that it’s my differences that make me interesting. That I love you not in spite of your weirdness but because of it.

But at this table, I had slipped backward, into the land of judgment.

I came home that night and knew from my gut that my reaction was an old habit, ancient, maybe even tribal. If she’s this way, then my way must be wrong.

I thought of the words, Judging a person doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.

Still? I think? Yeah, Nancy, still. But I promise to work harder on it. Starting now.