During those seven magical years spent growing up on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, our parents were like most parents. Just trying to pay the bills, raise their kids with good morals, and hopefully give them a bright future. They tried to educate us five kids and give us the tools that we’d need one day to be successful in the world.
Looking back at that time, I think they did the best that they could while juggling jobs and the demands that five kids bring. But there was one thing they couldn’t make us understand that would’ve really helped me out. They either didn’t know, or they wanted us to find out by ourselves.
Everybody is different, but everybody is actually the same.
Growing up, it was easy to see the different part. All the kids who lived on Flamingo were different, but some more so than others. For example, Bubba Hanks was about twice the size of anybody else his age — that was easy to see. Goofy Steve was by far the tallest and skinniest kid in our neighborhood. Ben Rutkowski — Ski — was the only kid who lived on Flamingo with dark skin and jet-black curly hair. Betsey and her friend Tina shared a special talent — somehow, they always knew all the secrets on Flamingo.
Down the Street Bully Brad also had a special talent. He was always able to find one of us kids, no matter where we hid, and then beat us up.
Neighbor Thomas could catch anything thrown near him, and Candi was the prettiest girl who lived on Flamingo. These are just a few of the kids who looked or acted different, but there were many, many more. And if asked, they all would say they didn’t fit in.
In reality, everybody actually fits in … in their own special way.
Due to his great size, Bubba helped defend all of us against Down the Street Bully Brad and his gang of three. He went on to earn a four-year football scholarship to a major college. But despite his great size, Bubba was kind and gentle, and he fit well into this world.
Candi was beautiful, but also one of the smartest kids in all of Mt. Olive Elementary and Briarwood High School. She received an academic scholarship and eventually became a doctor.
With his jet-black, curly hair and dark skin, Ski looked different from the rest of the kids living on Flamingo. But back in Italy he looked like any other kid. By age eight, he could speak three languages. As an adult, he became an interpreter for a multi-national company.
Neighbor Thomas’s ability to catch anything made him the best receiver Briarwood High School Buccaneer football team had ever seen. He too went to college on a football scholarship.
My archnemesis, Bully Brad wasn’t a bully because he was mean at heart. It was many years later that we found out the origin of his meanness. He was really a normal kid like the rest of us, but with one exception. None of us ever knew being tough and uncaring was his way of surviving a nightmare home life. As an adult, just what kind of job does a childhood bully have as an adult? I heard he was a counselor for troubled youths. Then again, I also heard he was a prison guard.
Even at our house, Twin Brother Mark and I were different while growing up back on Flamingo. He was short; I was tall. Mark was a fast runner; I was much slower. I loved wrestling. Mark? Not so much. While he was sleeping, I enjoyed jumping on him. He didn’t like it at all.
The point is, even we twins couldn’t have been more different, but then again, we were still brothers and had more in common than differences. Due to our twin talk, we both had trouble learning in school until we reached the third grade. We also believed in fairness and in a fight would defend each other to the very end.
We are all different.
But if we look past our differences, we’re all really the same. Growing up back on Flamingo, it was the one thing my parents failed to make me understand. But it wasn’t for the lack of trying.
They told me many times, “It’s okay that you’re different. If everybody was the same, it would make for one boring world, now, wouldn’t it?”
And each time, I didn’t believe them because I was too focused on what I considered to be my weirdness — my differences from the other kids who lived on Flamingo.
It’s taken a lifetime for me to embrace the things that make me different from everybody else. I thought those things made me an uninteresting person — one no one would want to be around.
But now I know the opposite is true.
Sadly, too many folks out there can only see the differences in people, and they stop looking any further. If they took a closer look, they would see there’s so much more to folks than their outward appearance or the way they talk, walk or even act.
So embrace your differences! It’s what makes you — you. Stand up and stand out from the crowds and be the unique person that you are. Remember, we are still all the same on the inside. If everyone realized that, wouldn’t this be a much better world?
The great secret is this: No one thinks that they fit in — but actually everyone does. And that is Life Lesson #9.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]