Boxes

In high school I wrote the following poem:

Achieving Perfection
Always too much to do
Never enough time
Placed in a box by well-meaning family and friends--
trying to help, only making it worse--
Walls closing in
Suffocating
Trapped

This still encapsulates how I feel today. There are many themes in this short poem that apply to me and my life. But the part I want to focus on is "placed in a box by well-meaning family and friends."

I think there is something about human nature that wants everything to be neatly labeled. Things are black and white. You are a Blue. This is evil. This is good. I am right. You are wrong. In a blog comment on one of the blogs I read, a commenter said on the topic of discussion (which is irrelevant to this post): "We all love simple answers. We all want guarantees. But maybe there are none." And I agree. Life is not black and white but rather multitudes and meritudes of shades of gray. And within these shades of gray are darker tones and lighter tones. Despite wanting life and the answers in it to be easy, simple, referenced, and quotable, life is just not that simple.
People are not that simple. We may think we know a person, and we can, to a degree. But people are not easily defined. We cannot be indexed and catalogued and placed into little boxes, our names stenciled on the front. 

We all make boxes for each other. The more time we spend with them and the more things we learn, we add it to the box. We take things out of the box when we find that we put things in there that don't belong. Over the years, these boxes should change. Just as people change. And though I find the process of boxing people up limiting and potentially damaging, it can, with provisions, be okay. Because I understand that some people feel the need to understand others by placing them into boxes. However, the problem comes when the boxes we make for others do not reflect reality, but reflect what we want the box to look like, i.e. who we feel that person to be. What we think and want that person to be. Another problem is what if when that person changes and grows, as we all do, what if we refuse to modify that box? And what if then we claim erroneously that someone has changed in ways that they have not changed or refuse to acknowledge the ways they have changed?

But I think the most dangerous way people use boxes is when they feel that they know what that box should look like, despite anything the person may think, feel, or say.

Recently in my life I have found people becoming frustrated with me because "I've changed." To that I say, so have you. We all have. We all do. Every day changing and growing and learning. What is this life but one of change? Did we not come here for the precise purpose of changing? I am not the same person I was 2 years ago. I am not the same person that married my sweetheart 4 years ago. I am not the same person I was in college, nor in high school. I am not the person I was in junior high and I have definitely changed since elementary school. But yet, I maintain that I am still me. I am still Tracie. I am still kind, passionate, loyal, playful, and headstrong. I am still stubborn, compassionate, tenacious, silly, smart, and true. I am still cautious, deliberate, lazy, logical, efficient, patient, and a procrastinator. I have always been these things. I will always be these things. (Though I hope to improve my so-called negative qualities.) To say that I am not the "same Tracie" is on one hand true because I have changed. And I expect I will continue to do so during my time on this mortal coil. But on the other hand, it is deeply hurtful. It is a slap in the face. It shows a deep misunderstanding of who I am. It pains me to realize that I cannot be accepted for who I am. And who I am really? I'm not even really sure some days. If I cannot even fully know myself, how can anyone? How can you?

So to those who have found that who I am today does not reflect the box of me you have on your shelf, please understand that box is not me. I am standing in front of you. This is me. Please throw away that box. I have tried to tell you the deep parts of my soul only to have you misunderstand because you cannot understand. When you point to your box on the shelf and say, "But Tracie, this isn't you!" Know that I am filled to the depths of my soul with sorrow, frustration, and exasperation. Because I continue to say "you don't understand." And I know that you cannot. Because you are not me. You cannot think the way I do. You cannot know me until you can understand me. You cannot understand me until you start to listen. You are hearing what I say, but you are not listening. I understand that there is a person that you wish me to be but you don't get to decide that. You see that I am making different decisions than you would. But you are not me. You don't get to decide what is the best path for me to walk. You don't get to decide what should make me happy. What makes me happy may not be the same things that make you happy. You must accept that. I refuse to be placed in a box. I don't place myself in a box because I know that I am ever changing, ever growing. I do not know where life may take me. But know that only I get to decide which road to take, how to take it, why to take it, and why it matters. Please throw that box away. It is stifling in there and painful beyond anything you can ever know.

P.S. Know that this works both way. Know that long ago I burned the boxes I placed on my shelf. I have decided that I don't need them; they do no good for me or for anyone in my life.

Comments

Tracie, this is beautiful and hauntingly poignant. You have found a lovely and concise way to describe some of the ambiguous things I have been thinking and feeling lately. I have tried talking to Ross about it without a good concrete way of explaining myself. Thank you for sharing this.
Tracie said…
@Amanda. Thank you for your thoughts and kind words. Though I did write this to a particular end and meaning, I was hoping that others could relate to what I thought was a universal message.
Wendy McMillan said…
I love the box analogy and the call to throw the boxes we make for people away. I definitely keep some people frozen in a certain time, to preserve memories of the good old days and/or because I don't relate to their modern version even though it's usually no one's fault. People change and it's not necessarily for good or evil. In some cases I don't allow people to change for the better so I can hold onto memories of how they hurt me (why do we do that?). This reminds me of the movie You Again because it addresses some of these issues. I highly recommend it, if anything for cameos from The Rock and Pushing Daisy's Kristen Chenowith (Olive).
Tracie said…
@Wendy: I think that preserving memories of people from a certain time is fine. I do that all the time too. I just think we shouldn't expect people to still BE that person or BE the person we think they should be.

But good point about not letting people change who have hurt us in the past. I didn't even think about that. Not saying we don't get to still have our feelings, especially if we haven't worked them out. But even those who have hurt us may change into someone better and/or different and we need to allow them to be that person.
Austin said…
There's a great song this reminds me of. It goes

"I know who I want to be,
But you may not agree."

I think the job of a friend is two-fold: on one side, we are to love our friends for who they are, but on the other, we should not accept adequacy and motivate our friends to become better.

However, I don't mean our definition of better, I mean helping someone reach their full potential of being and self-satisfaction.
Otherwise, it's not a friend, it's a sculptor making a lump of clay into a statue when it really wants to be a duck. A friend helps the lump of clay be the best duck it can be.

Austin's overly long rant over. For now.
Mark said…
To paraphrase the old country song, "don't box me in"
IMHO, I think that what you are saying is that you (we) want to realize our full potential, whatever that may be, and when people try to shape our potential based on their limited expectations, they are not letting us grow in the direction that our spirits may/should be taking us.
Good luck in an unboxed world.
Tracie- Very well said. Something I completely understand. Tmr my box is heart shaped. The next day it will be tall and thin. The next day might not be a box on the shelf at all because all the boxes are gone and I am still building myself a new one.
Tracie said…
@Austin - Yes. This. Some people just don't get the difference between helping someone be the best them and trying to mold someone to be what they want them to be. And thanks for quoting part of one of my songs. ;)

@Mark - Yes, I am saying that too. (Though I wasn't writing specifically from that perspective, it works.)

@Heather - Interesting. How does creating boxes for ourselves help us? How does it limit us?

@Everyone - thank you for your thoughts. I'm surprised to see different people interpreting this slightly different ways as it reflects their own personal life. I'm glad it was meaningful to you in your own way. I did write it for a very specific purpose, but I also wanted it to be universal. Looks like I succeeded. :)

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