"Those sure are a lot of rings," the Subway employee said warmly, gesturing to the ring-covered fingers frantically rooting through my wallet in search of my debit card. I smiled back at him. "Any reason why you wear so many?" I extended my fingers and looked down at my hands for a moment before responding with a laugh, "It's a long story."
Prior to this interaction, I had just missed my train, which is way more typical than it should be. I busted out of the cold and into this little restaurant like a crazy person. "Please tell me you have coffee," were the words I filled the empty room with, still out of breath, laughing and carrying my bags. After talking with the guy behind the counter for a good while, I ran on to the late train, where I made four new friends, including the Amtrak employee with the pretty brown eyes, who helped me hang up my dress bag. As I was showing the lady beside me photos of my kitten (because that's obviously what normal people do to strangers), I again looked down at my hands, and remembered how alive the story of the rings really was.
It becomes far too easy to forget who we truly are. In a life filled with influence, our core existences can feel altered by changing circumstances. We can lose track of what truly make us, well, us. That doesn't have to be the case. Deep down, we all remember.
When I was a girl, I was obsessed with kindness. I was a bossy little thing, with a type-A personality and an incredibly affirmed love for people. At 7 years old, I founded "The Kind Team." Yes, you read that correctly. I rallied several other first graders under my new leadership and told them it was our duty to spread kindness in this world. We would meet every day at recess by the big tree, and discuss the kind things we were doing in our lives. Anything from helping the teacher pass out the napkins when we had a snack, to sharing toys with our younger siblings, would be recognized in the circle.
A few weeks prior, I learned that a wedding ring is worn on the left hand because the ring-finger possesses a vein that runs directly to one's heart. That made me completely obsessed. I viewed rings as some sort of special pathway to love. I nagged my mother to put all of my allowance towards these packs of plastic rings I could distribute to my team members. They all represented different words I was learning and asking my family about. Hope. Love. Faith. Friendship. We would walk around school with several rings on our hands, looking like little gypsies, but feeling like ambassadors of love.
Long after The Kind Team faded away, I continued to wear several rings on my fingers. Looking at my hands now, I can count 10 different rings. I wear them because they remind me of something genuine and pure. They remind me of a love untainted by the disappointment of others, and the darkness that life naturally instills upon our hearts. They remind me of who I am at my core. In a way, we were all members of our own Kind Team, we just don't always take the time to remember it. We let life rob us of that joy.
Many identities are ephemeral. We try so persistently to root ourselves in something that is naturally ever-changing. We build identities in jobs, talents, experiences, places and the other human beings we fall in love with. Those elements can change. They have to. It's OK. It's OK to start over. Pack up your bags and dreams, and just move on. The problem is that we often forget to pack our whole hearts. We forget to bring with us the truest parts of who we are. We lose pieces of ourselves in damaging situations. We let them fade away behind walls we build. We lose faith in other people because of the pain we have endured. We grow, but we sometimes grow apart from our souls. We lose trust in the child-like affirmation that the world can and should be a good place. We forget how glorious it felt to be completely satisfied with who we were. It was OK to be silly and hopeful. It was OK to love freely and with our entire hearts. It was OK to love everyone. It was OK to love ourselves.
Think about who you are. What are you truthfully passionate about? What do you want to do in this world? What fulfills you? What do you love? Whatever it is, you can spread. You can radiate passion. You can inspire greatness in others, and in yourself. You can believe in people and in life, the way you did when you were young. You just have to remember that. Remember it even when it's difficult, and feels terrifyingly irrational to do so. You have to remember the most basic parts of your unique and extraordinary soul. It isn't weakness. It's strength. It's a fight for your own happiness, and one you deserve to win. We all do.
So, I wear way too many rings. I talk way too much, shake even the most hesitant of hands, and wear my heart so openly upon my sleeve that I am certain even strangers can stare right into it. I'm the one that immediately gets down on my hands and knees with napkins to help clean up the drinks the waitress spilled. I'm the stranger offering to carry your bags and telling you my latest crazy story. I will always try incredibly hard at everything I do. I will always care. I will always be a dork. I will be the weak one in the eyes of many. Most importantly, I will be me. I will always be the little leader of The Kind Team who just got a tad taller and upgraded her ring collection. Even when I feel broken, and start to doubt myself, I know that I must strive for the pure elements of my being that flow beneath the exterior. My identities will change, but the truest one will always remain. Because even as the world teaches and molds me, I can look down at my hands and remember there are pieces of us all that we can't let go of. There are memories. There are dreams. There are rings. There are pathways to our hearts, that we should never close.
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