Not long ago, by way of explaining the distance that she’d been keeping, a friend said that I’ve changed so much over this last year or two that she has had difficulty reconciling that I am the same person. I told her that it surprised me, too, and I am still very much in a period of growth and change. It isn’t that I’ve changed at my core; I am more authentically me than I have ever been. Rather, it’s that my old ideas that were covering me like layers of paint on a second-hand chest of drawers, ideas largely brushed on by others and by circumstance, have been removed. The idea that I wasn’t good enough to deserve unconditional love, the idea that I had to believe what others believed to be accepted, the idea that safety can be provided by others, the idea that security comes from money, the ideas about what women are supposed to think and do and be, the idea that hard work guarantees success, the idea that we are all equal, the idea that poverty is a choice, the idea that drug addiction is a moral failing, the idea that education is a privilege, the idea that healthcare must be earned, and so many other ideas have been challenged and, ultimately, discarded. Every day I unearth some idea I have held that, upon examination, is not supported by the available information. In some cases that’s because the answers are not available. More often than not, it’s because my ideas were not based on evidence.
Don’t get me wrong, my transformation is far from complete. With luck, I will learn something new even on my deathbed. Rather, it’s that I’ve been stripped and sanded and now that my solid rosewood core is exposed, now that one can see which way my natural grain runs, I am ready to be properly finished. As any experienced woodworker knows, rosewood is lovely and dense and does not require much adornment to be beautiful and durable for years. All those layers of paint or shellac or polyurethane that folks are so fond of using do indeed have a protective effect, just as my old ideas provided a sort of insulation over the years, serving as a barrier to discomfort. Unfortunately, they also entomb the wood, locking it behind the coating and preventing it from breathing. Those layers disguise the true nature and appearance of the wood, leaving it dull, easily chipped, and prone to water damage in harsh conditions. It took a while to fight my way out of that tomb.
This time, I am being covered in teak oil. You can see that I am made of heartwood and that, despite a couple of pinholes and a very small pitch streak, I am sound. You can see the burls caused by old injuries and the well-scattered, watertight knots that have formed from pruning over the years. Made smooth again by careful sanding and protected with teak oil, these imperfections sparkle in the afternoon sun. Even I couldn’t see what I really looked like, what I was made of, with all those layers of paint on me. I really hated how I looked and felt all covered up with those ideas that were not mine. All the fear, all the pain, all the things I thought and did because I thought other people wanted me to, because I thought other people would like me and love me if only I looked a certain way or believed a certain thing or behaved according to their principles. It was exhausting. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It turned out that I had to be safe first, and free, before I could discover my true self under all those layers of hurt and shame and other people’s expectations. My experiences have made me who I am, so I won’t wish for it to have been different. If I hadn’t had all those experiences, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have had this last year nor those stretched out before me. Being a second-hand chest of drawers wasn’t all bad and some of the paint colors were pretty, for a while anyhow. Still, I’m glad that’s all behind me and that my core is now exposed and that you can see me for who I am, that I can see me for who I am. I’m glad that I have been restored and, thanks to the teak oil, I can once again play in the rain.