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Living the Lie of Smallness
All photography by Angela Atkinson
“I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
How old were you when you folded in on yourself?
Was it when you got the message that a part of you wasn’t acceptable? Maybe you were a little too loud, or weird, or rabble-rousing. Or maybe you shone a bit too brightly, or your heart was too soft.
Maybe the messages weren’t even about you, but how you made other people feel…like your mother being jealous of your achievements, or your brother ridiculing your appearance because he didn’t like boys looking at you that way.
You, out of self-preservation, decided with a six-year-old’s logic to hide these objectionable parts of yourself away so as not to repel others or stand out. In your child’s mind, you had to find an explanation, and the most logical place to start was: “it’s me.”
So you folded. You became a little smaller. Less noticeable. To fit inside the box, you tried to rid yourself of imperfections, doing whatever it took to be accepted by the people whose love you needed to survive.
Like old love letters that were too raw and real and poetic for the world to see, you gathered up the unacceptable parts of yourself and hid them away. Stuffed in the back of a drawer lay the clues to who you were, what you cared about, what you dreamed of becoming.
The real, messy, delightfully textured, you.
Raised in the South, I folded myself in order to be “nice” and please others. I was rewarded with lots of friends and being the star pupil in the school of “being a good girl.”
Folded away were my sharp edges, temper, wild, and barely containable exuberance, physicality, and idealism. I learned how to function in the world, but waiting for me in the folds were parts of me I’d tucked away and forgotten about. Years later, these shelved selves started getting vocal and, frankly, pissed off about being ignored for so long.
Sometimes I wonder: what would the world look like if we all allowed ourselves to lift the edges of the folds, just a bit? What would happen if we let some oxygen and sunshine nourish these exiled selves, letting them out to illuminate and add interest to the world?
What if we, as Rilke says, stopped living a lie—the lie of living a fraction of our wholeness.
Nature offers us a template to follow.
As I venture into the unknown territory of bringing my creativity to the world, I see an outrageously yellow lily on a mountain lake—drifting freely, trusting in the surface tension of the water to hold its weight as it opens, petal by petal, to all that is.
Can I learn to trust from her?
Nature tells me “you’re not alone,” as she shows me a miniature colony of perfect, fragile mushrooms pushing their way through the loam to the sunlight. They’re alone, yet belong to something larger.
Can I, too, feel this connectedness?
I watch as a little girl dances and twirls at a music festival, oblivious to the hundreds of onlookers watching her spin.
Like her, can I be free?
And maybe as we unfold, we can find that 6-year-old refugee, the one we lost track of so many years ago.