Now well into their teenage years, both of my kids have found themselves stuck in the middle of a problem I can well understand:
the only thing worse than standing out among their peers is fitting in.
I’d tell them that’s normal, all part of growing up, and anyway they’re likely to feel some hint of that for the rest of their lives. None of it would do any good. You can’t tell teenagers much. I should know, seeing as how I was one of them once.
Sometimes I’ll catch either one of them looking into a mirror and watch their eyes moving back and forth, up and down, taking in their hair and face and cheeks, how wide their hips are or aren’t. (Don’t let anybody fool you—boys look into mirrors just as much as girls do, and they’re just as picky about what looks back at them.) Though neither one will ever say it, I know what they’re thinking:
Ugh. Look at that hair. That’s stupid hair. Just laying there like some kind of roadkill. And those pimples — sheesh. Gimmie a large pepperoni with extra cheese, will ya. I need more muscle in my arms. My legs are too big. I need makeup. When am I going to start growing whiskers already? I wish I was taller. I wish I was shorter. I wish I could play better/sing better/look better but I can’t, and no one will ever love me because I’m just too normal.
I get it. Like I said—been there myself. And I’m right to say that sort of thinking isn’t going to change for them anytime soon. There are still days when I linger in the mirror and curse my own normalcy. There isn’t much that sets me apart. Normal looks, normal brains, normal talents, normal experience. Just like you. Just like everybody.
In fact, you could say the great majority of people who have ever lived aren’t so special.
Sure, you have your da Vincis and your Beethovens and your Einsteins, your Alexander the Greats, but such people are really few and far between. They come along maybe once every few hundred years to remind us of what we all could be but aren’t. We read about them in books and watch documentaries about their lives and then sit around wondering what’s so wrong with us that we can’t be like them.
Writers are notorious for this sort of thing. We say it’s all about the art. That’s a lie. What it’s really all about is being admired. It’s standing out. It’s putting words on a page that are so pretty and compelling that you stand out from everyone else.
Every writer dreams of not being normal just like every person dreams of not being normal. Because normal sucks.
Adolphe Quetelet may have the answer to all of this. Born in the French Republic on the eve of the nineteenth century, Adolphe ended up building an astronomical observatory in Belgium a few years before revolution took hold in the country. His job was effectively cut when rebel soldiers took control of the observatory. That’s when Adolphe began looking around at people instead of up at the stars.
He began poring over population data collected by governments all over Europe. Studying things like height and weight and general appearance, income and marital status, sorting them all in pursuit of discovering unified rules and models for human behavior.
It worked. Some few short years later, Adolphe Quetelet had succeeded in constructing the idea of what we now consider the average human. You, in other words. And me.
But before you go blaming this poor little Frenchman for all the sorry feelings you harbor for yourself, remember this: Adolphe was a scientist. He was an important astronomer and a highly gifted mathematician (which means he wasn’t very normal at all, I guess) and so could not think in anything more than scientific terms.
In scientific terms, the average of a thing is whatever places it closest to the true value.
And what is true value? Beats me, so I looked it up. Pay attention now, because this is important:
According to the GCSE science dictionary, true value is “the value that would be obtained in an ideal measurement which would have no errors at all. In other words, this is a value that is perfectly accurate.”
Perfectly accurate — I like that phrase. Sort of goes along with Psalm 139, which states that we are “perfectly and wonderfully made.”
Personally, I think Adolphe was onto something. I just might keep him in mind the next time I look into the mirror. Maybe you should, too. Don’t see the wrinkles and the fluffy places and the disappearing hair. Look instead for the true value and then give a nod to the Good Lord above for making you so normal, because that just might mean you’re as close to perfect as possible.