Thursday, May 5, 2011

Definitions: Part 1

There may be some of you who might wondering, "What does he mean by 'canary'?  And why does he keep calling himself that?"  Given that most people have the association of a small, golden, usually captive, songbird, I figure an explanation is due.  Here we go.

Do you know how canaries were once used by coal miners?  Long story short, before coal mines had ventilation, coal miners used to keep a caged canary with them while they worked.  Canaries are particularly sensitive to dangerous gases like methane and carbon monoxide, so as long as the canary kept singing, the miners kept mining.  And if it died, immediate evacuation.  A short, but heroic life.

So fast forward to 2007, when I first started working at The Steeping Room.  One night, Amy March, one of the owners called me a "canary."  She might have left it at that, but the quizzical look on my face probably compelled her to elaborate.  "I'm a canary, too."  And with a little chuckle on her part, she disappeared into the kitchen.  Now even before I eliminated gluten and dairy from my diet, there was still a long list of things I would not eat based on allergies and preference. 

Laundry detergents with dye or perfume make me break out in hives and rashes.  Respiratory allergies like cedar or ragweed tend to hit me a day or two before everyone else.  Caffeine brings on full body cramping and sweats.  Full moons keep me up all night, etc., etc.  So when she called me a "canary," a  lightbulb went off.  All my life, I had felt freakish, ashamed, and at times, angry, about all these idiosyncracies and quirks.  But with that one word, that one chuckle, that initial recognition of a kindred spirit, a complete overhaul of my self-schema was set in motion.

Words have tremendous power, both to confine and to liberate. And at that point, I was ready to be liberated.  Instead of someone who was a "difficult, dramatic, fussy, picky, psychosomatic, hyphochondriac," I was going to choose to be a "canary" who is "particular, sensitive, special, unique," and "self-possessed."  I would no longer be resigned to my lot in life.  Instead, I would choose to celebrate my differences, all of my differences, empowering them to help me be "more than," rather than "less than."  And as opposed to being defined, I would be the one who defines. 

So yeah, one word.  That was what I needed to start this journey of self-discovery and self-love.  That's all that any of us need.  We just need to open our ears to hear it.

Now, it's my turn to pay it forward.

Remember that the words with which we describe ourselves are the same we words we grant permission to others to use in describing us.  Choose lovingly.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - Lao Tzu

Thank you, Amy.  For taking that first step with me. :)

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