Outsider (Or, The Definition Of Faith)

My outsider status
Earned with my own blood.
I rock it like a Purple Heart.
I’m destined to be kept apart and
It all started
Before birth and
Since my arrival on earth
It’s only worsened,
Or better yet, let’s say, intensified.
My DNA was forged in the fire
Of generational exile and
Ancestral diaspora.

Check the rest of my outsider pedigree:
Severe ear infections rendered me nearly
Deaf in my infancy.
Hence, I was an outsider in all conversations,
Didn’t know what I was missing,
This went undiagnosed
Until I was 4 years old,
(Hidden within my no-doubt significant
ADD-doused hyperactivity.)
Until the day my mother grabbed me by the arms
With tears in her eyes,
She’d been yelling from behind,
“Rachel, can you hear me?”

A minor operation
Performed by a pediatric surgeon
With a sadistic aversion to anesthetics
Fixed me.
The pain was indescribable.
But not-hearing had already shaped me:
My other senses had been heightened,
Attenuated as a matter of survival.

Then there were
My childhood night terrors,
The early stages of full-blown
Misread for decades
By doctors—who labeled it anxiety
And prescribed fistfuls of sedatives
Until, finally,
A map of my brainwaves
Laid plain the reality.

Outsider black belt status awarded in
Leaving my body,
Consciousness popping off
Like a bottle rocket
Even more often
Than I wanted,
Which was already a lot.

And then there’s the suicide gene,
Dominant and double-helixing
Through my system.

Like my fingerprints,
Or height, or dark hair:
Definitively a part of me.

Been a stranger since the beginning,
An outcaste since jump.
Has never made sense to me.
I don’t get “that mainstream feeling.”
That’s something other people receive.

I was first sent off
From California to summer camp in Vermont
For two months, alone,
At eight years old,
But before I could go,
My waist-length hair was chopped off
In a haircut so ugly, so hideous and stupefying,
I left other kids crying, like,
“Mommy, what is that? A girl or a guy?”

Back at school, I’d wear my parka inside,
Using my hood to hide,
So I’d always lose at “Heads-Up 7-Up,”
Because they’d hear me rustling by.

And there was the 4th grade trip to Catalina Island
When the blonde popular girls lied and
Told the chaperones I’d given them locoweed.
I was framed as a drug dealer before I’d hit 9.
Labeled as the dangerous type.

And it triggers something primal,
It’s a matter of survival,
Some reptilian brain-type-situation
From back in the caveman
Days when
Being ostracized from the tribe
Meant your definite demise.

Kept apart, I had to get smart
Had to rub sticks together
To make sparks.

Build my own campfire,
Build my own empire.

I’m glad I was an outsider
At a high school
Where the football team—
Following their coach’s lead—
Spit on the AIDS quilt
When it came to visit.

Come to think of it,
There’s no one I’d rather be.
I have no desire for acceptance
From a world so racist and sexist.

They tried to homogenize me,
Make me assimilate,
Melt my distinct snowflake
In the fiery furnace of normalcy,
Occupy my unique moonbeam,
Swallow me whole.
That was their goal.

But I’m just too much of a weirdo.

I got pushed so far outside,
I went to the edge of the sea,
Still, the enemy army advanced,
So I banged my drum and I danced
Into the rolling ocean,
Sang my redemption song.

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I got pushed so far outside,
My daredevil heart flew out of my body,
Up to the obsidian midnight sky,
And even the stars sent me packing,
Back to my
Earthly existence.

And the truth is, I’m grateful.
I am grateful for the stacked odds saddled
Onto my beast-of-burden back.
Thank you, deafness, for developing my sixth sense.
Thank you, narcolepsy, for teaching me to journey to seventh heaven.
Thank you, suicide gene, for granting me the sideways-eight of infinity.
Thank you, feline nine-live’d destiny.

Thank you for everything
That makes me so awkwardly, perfectly me.

It’s got to not be for naught, obviously.
It’s all been shamanic boot camp.
I’ve got this wounded healer gig on lock.
My outsider status grants me access to realms unknown.
Now I’ve got room for every outsider to come inside me, make me your home.

This is for the Tibetans exiled
From China who become more Tibetan than ever.
The Hebrews who refuse to blend, and
The Raindancers estranged from their sacred land.
The African diaspora High Priestesses forced to syncretize
Yoruba goddesses behind the names of Catholic saints just to keep them alive.
The Women of Juarez and their righteous cries beyond destiny.
The Koreans kept under lock and key.
The gawky teen goths
Dodging lobbed lunch remnants on the high school quad.
The toddlers who refuse to stop speaking
To imaginary friends more real than you or me.

I am here to sing the song of your pain.
My outsider heart can contain
All of your suffering.
I will abide and chant you into healing,
Revealing the sweetness
Of your deepest
Inner being.

Warm your lonely bones by my campfire.
I’m getting off on your grace.
What I’m saying is, yo:
You’re my freaking hero.

There is value in suffering and surviving.
I am grateful to you for remaining alive.
I’m in awe of you.
I honor you.
I am unwilling to give up on you.

When the darkness comes,
When you can’t see your own beauty,
Babe, let me show it to you.

All this professed independence
And self-sufficiency
Sounds excellent in theory,
And yet, I am here to reveal something simultaneously ancient and revolutionary:
In this very moment, we are believing each other into being.
We need one another in the dearest, most etheric sense.
And this interdependence is the most difficult,

Is the definition
Of faith.



Photo Credit: Rudi Schlatte


This piece had its debut at Write Club Los Angeles, with many thanks to the Write Club LA Fam.

Thank you to Jennifer Michael Hecht and Krista Tippett for their inspiring conversation via “On Being.”