An excerpt from Alligator Pants: Walking Beyond My Faith
In the bottom of my bedroom closet, there is a box containing a sewing machine. I use it every once in a while to hem a pair of pants or fix a seam somewhere — no major projects anymore. But back in high school? Shiny alligator-print faux leather pants? A long-sleeved leafy autumnal dress with tons of buttons? A bright red and orange Chinese-style dress called a “cheongsam”? Oh, yeah, I sewed it all, and I wore it all, and I was darnproud of it. Nowadays, part of me cringes when I think about that, but another part says, “Well, good for you, young Tania! You did your own thing!”
A few years after my sewing days, I read “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die,” by John Izzo, Ph.D. He interviewed a couple hundred people over the age of 60 to hear their suggestions about making the most out of our lives. I wrote down the five points and kept a copy in my wallet for a long time. But the first point didn’t hit home until I deconverted from my religious faith about seven years ago. In some ways, I’d been living the first point already — just look at those pants! andh
that short spiky hair! — but in small ways in comparison to what was to come. That first point is “Be True to Yourself.”
Ah, yes… Being true to yourself. Letting the outside match the inside. Doing what you want to do or need to do, instead of allowing other people to make your decisions for you. Being honest with yourself. To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau: marching to the beat of your own drummer.
It’s not always an easy thing to be true to oneself. It can be downright heartbreaking to let go of parts of your life you thought would always be around. I watch a co-worker struggling with a marriage that doesn’t seem to get better. My guess might be wrong because I don’t know the whole story, but I imagine a battle going on inside: “This is what I signed up for, this is what’s expected of me, this is what I’ve spent years investing in. But I don’t want it anymore; I’ve tried and tried and I think I’m done.”
I know, too, from personal experience, the pain of knowing that what you’re doing — in my case, leaving my religious faith — is going to hurt your parents, your friends, your church family. It hurts to realize that what was once so important — so real, so vital — is no longer so. I know that in many of these instances, I’ve tried again and again to make things work, to make them go back to how they used to be. But in the meantime, I’ve grown. I’ve learned new information. Other people have changed. What was such a big deal ten years ago isn’t anymore. I realize how short and precious life is — and that I don’t have an endless supply of time and effort to spend on everything that shows up on my path.
So, my words of wisdom? Do life your way. Do what makes you feel fulfilled, purposeful, rich. Spend your time with people who make you feel happy, not just with people who are “age-appropriate” or have the same level of education or who are “cool” or whom you’ve known for years and therefore “should” be in your life forever. Pick up the phone and make an appointment with that marriage counsellor, even though you’ve been telling yourself for years that you’re fine, your marriage is fine, and you have no need for marriage counselling. Spend a Friday night at Tim Hortons by yourself, with a good book, if that’s your idea of a fun weekend activity. Fork out a pile of money for a trip to Cuba, or to pay for scrapbooking supplies, or to donate to a cause that you have researched and think is worthy. Do what makes you feel good.
And by all means, go ahead — sew yourself those shiny red alligator-print pants!