I don’t often think of myself as a contrarian of any sort. I follow most basic rules. I drive the speed limit (more or less). I stop at stop signs. I send thank-you notes. I don’t steal, cheat, or lie. In general, I don’t like to bend the rules. If a hotel’s policy is no dogs over 40 lbs, I feel uneasy about bringing my 65 lb goldendoodle. If my grandma’s dining room requires “no jeans,” then I wear a dress – even if no one would ever know the difference. My transcripts are full of A’s. My taxes are filed on time. My credit cards are paid each month. I arrive a full two hours early for international flights.
But there is another side of me. This is the side that, when someone tells me I should do something, it makes me not want to do it at all. When someone tells me I can’t do something, my eyes flash in defiance. And then I really want to do it. Some might say I “walk to the beat of my own drum.” My freshman year of college someone reprimanded me for wearing white pants after Labor Day. From that day on, I wore white pants every chance I got – especially around this someone. When the sorority girls came knocking that year with their tidy list of what to wear, and on which days, I impolitely slammed the door in their faces (though, in retrospect, I probably would have enjoyed the experience). I always want to push the red button on the Boston MBTA train (the one that says “do not push except in emergency”). I have to exercise real restraint on that one.
As an adult, I see manifestations of my convention-bucking spirit on a daily basis. The feathers that often adorn my hair. My apparent inability to be cooped up in a cubicle. My tendency not to brush my hair in the summer. My scorn for needless authority. Loud clothing. Brash language. Unconventional career choices. Even my social behaviors indicate a need to break away – to make my own path. To operate in a manner that is contrary to the expected. All, of course, within the confines of what is socially acceptable – but still rooted in thumbing my nose at “normal.”
This morning, as snow dumped and the sidewalks became mushy with thick, cold slush, I decided that, precisely because it was a terrible day to go running, I should. Armed with Pearl Izumi leggings, a pogo-stick-bouncing goldendoodle and a Chilean knit hat, I emerged into blinding white. It was slick. It was cold. It was wet and, as my body temp rose, uncomfortably sweaty. But there was nary a soul at the park. Just a smattering of brave footprints. Me, the dog, and the big winter sky. Wide open spaces for thinking, breathing, feeling my feet hit the snow.
As I began to round the lake, I noticed a perfect perimeter of melted ice that revealed a small oval of cold water. The seagulls, ducks and geese had assembled themselves perfectly along the ice perimeter, roosting on frozen solidity. I paused to see if there was a deviant among them – a bird willing to step into the center – to break the rules – to make its own way.
Suddenly I felt a presence above me. There he was: the bald eagle. He was defying the perimeter in every sense. Soaring above us, on his very own plane, with purposeful grace. It was an unexpected, inexplicable gift. Perhaps it was because there were so few people at the park. Perhaps the snow provided the perfect backdrop for the eagle to spot prey. Or perhaps it was my special gift on this contrary snowy day – a soaring reminder that it is okay to break away from the pack.
To be more feather than flock.
In any case, I stopped, lifted my arms in silent salute, and held on to the trill of delight.
As I continued on the barely-trodden footpaths, I considered whether or not to share my discovery with the few fellow park-goers I might encounter. Should I point out the eagle, perched at the top of the tree?
No. I decided to keep him to myself. All to myself. A contrarian’s gift on this cold Denver day.