I’ve hated myself for years for many different reasons. As far back as grade school, I can remember looking into the mirror and wishing I was somehow different. Not me, most definitely not me.
As a child, I lived in a predominately white neighborhood (at the time) in South Philadelphia. I grew up in the homes of friends whose families readily accepted the quiet, socially awkward child that desperately wanted to be like them. Unlike my Black school mates, I didn’t grow up in what I would call an “Afro-centric” home. I was always told that my “Blackness” would be my Achilles heel. I would have to work harder and be better than everyone else, to get noticed. All the while, making sure that I never acted in a stereotypical fashion. Don’t talk loud, dress low key, blend in, and most importantly, never use slang. Heavy stuff for an eight-year-old.
I hated my reflection then as I do now but for different reasons. The mantra of my youth, fortunately, doesn’t completely apply to the 21th century. Yet, my loathing of myself still does. The great thing about getting older is that you realize it’s less about what you look like and more about what you do. Therein lies the problem of growing older, self-awareness. My decisions and sometimes lack thereof haunt my reflection now. When I look at myself, I see a trail of missed opportunities and poor choices that litter the last fifteen years of my life. I see my children and my desperate desire for them not to make the same mistakes I did. I struggle with myself to walk that fine line between living my life through them and letting them fall on their face so they can learn.
I used to think that life was all about what you had and who you grew up to be. Now, I know it’s simply about living. You get to wake up every morning to a clean slate. The ability to turn all the missed opportunities of yesterday into chances taken today is a wonderful thing. It took a long time for me to realize that I’m not a failure because I haven’t done “X” by “X” age. I no longer have to feel like I’ve let my family and friends down because I didn’t live up to expectations that weren’t even my own.
There is also the ever-present reminder with each new grey hair that the clock is ticking. While 37 is far from old (a statement that would have never fallen from these lips 10 years ago) the passage of time weighs on me. I feel there is an urgency to at last get it right or literally die trying. All of this, I see when I look in the mirror, the passage of life written across my face.