I was folding laundry early this morning when I started musing for those of you who don't have our English II vocabulary workbook, musing means daydreaming. I love doing mundane chores like laundry, because it allows my mind to wander, even to go blank for a while, and then my thoughts come freely. So ... I was folding the laundry, and it contained two of my son's uniforms: his soccer uniform and his McDonald's uniform. And in my musing, I started thinking about what makes us the same, and what makes us different.
"Same" and "different" are important concepts. One of my favorite Sesame Street segments was when the show would display four things on the screen, and Ernie would sing, "One of these things is not like the others; one of these things doesn't belong..." Starting when we are little, we learn to put things into categories, and we look at the world through a lens that distinguishes what is alike and what is different.
And so uniforms make us alike. In wearing the same-colored soccer socks, shorts and jerseys, we say we are part of the school's soccer team; we are alike. Similarly, wearing the red McDonald's shirt, black pants, black shoes, and black cap, we "say" with our clothes that we are part of the team of McDonald's employees, and customers can identify us as part of that team.
No one wants to be totally alone. And so part of us strives to be like everyone else. It is uncomfortable to be different; human beings crave companionship and belonging. My daughter who is in China placed herself in a situation where she looks different from everyone else her eyes, her skin color, her hair color, all draw stares. She said it didn't bother her and wasn't the reason she decided to dye her hair black, but she did notice that once her hair was black, like everyone else in China, it was more comfortable to walk down the street without drawing stares.
It is very hard to be an individual. Teen-agers try to become different from their parents, and to be their "own" person. In my day, wearing tie-dyed shirts and bell-bottom jeans made me different, but it also made me look like every other teenager who was also trying to be "different." Nowadays, some teenagers try to look different by wearing baggy, saggy pants and having piercings on their tongues and lips ... but as they walk by, in trying so hard to look different, they look oddly similar.
It is hard even to keep ourselves the same as we once were. We change into a different person, even within our own skin, as we age. It is not possible to stay the same.
One of my favorite pastimes when I worked at the Reflector was to go into the drawers (with digital photography, I wonder if they still maintain those drawers) of mug shots of public officials. Once an official had a new photo taken, the new one and the old one(s) were placed in an envelope which was filed, in alphabetical order by name, in that drawer. And so, when we needed a picture to go with a news story, we would pull it from that file drawer, but we could also see the succession of old photos of that person, as he/she mutated into his or her present form. It was fun to see older versions of a public official in his or her younger days. We stay the same, but we also change in the aging process, and we have no choice about it.
With all the things that change in the world our own bodies, our families, our towns, our lives it is nice to cling to what makes us alike. It is an anchor in an ever-changing world, to feel like we belong, like we are part of something. And so I don't mind washing the soccer uniform; it's amazing how dirt and grass stains can come out and make it look good as new, at least until the next game.