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Individuali-Tea (in·di·vid·u·al·i·ty)

What in the ee-i-ee i-o!!?? Did someone really just take the thing you created, slapped a different label on it and tried to pass it off as their own? Wow—this happens more often than you might think. At first, I use to be upset about it, until I remembered the famous saying: "Imitation is the highest form of flattery (Oscar Wilde). Then it dawned on me, if you're being duplicated, emulated, or fabricated in any shape or form, then you must be doing something right. But then again, can it be that most people are merely existing rather than functioning? Content in their pineapple under the sea?

I can't sit here and pretend that I have the answer to the Matrix, know who is 'the one or can deduce what God had in mind when He created each individual—because I don't. The fact that 7.5 billion people all have a different fingerprint says a lot about God's appreciation of variety. This is why humans were not created for the sole purpose of taking up space. I can confidently say it is absolutely intentional that no two people are alike. So I wondered, "Why is conforming readily acceptable, but being different (or the things that are innately you) are things we must advocate to be normalized?"

Individuality is defined as the quality or character of a particular person or thing that distinguishes them from others of the same kind. For example, anyone who has been around me for any length of time has heard me say, "There is no Raquel more Raquel than me!" While I can confidently say that now, it most certainly was not always the case.

The question, "Who are you?" is quite a common one—though many people can't adequately give an answer. I was most people; most people were me. I adapted to the societal norm of the masses who'd start by announcing their profession when asked this question. Others tend to add in their marital status or civic accomplishments and let's not forget the number of unrequited followers. But outside of everything you can give a label to, think about it, without a career or spouse or kids or degrees, at your core, "Who are you?"

While I'm known to have a way with words, my snappiest comeback couldn't be as apt as Beenie Man's retort, which echoed he's the girls dem suga, and while that must be nice, is that really enough? Is being widely liked and admired all you aspire to? I suppose I hadn't ever really considered my personal answer to the question either. There was never a doubt in my mind that I loved writing. Additionally, when I was in environments I deemed comfortable and familiar, I would chatter endlessly, sometimes to my own detriment.

For a long time, I did not have an answer to this question, nor could it be adequately validated because I was so busy imitating and collecting bits and pieces of what I saw other people do. It could be anything from the way a person laughed to how they spoke, adopting mannerisms or using phrases I heard or even adopting people's views on things that weren't necessarily my own. I applaud all the people who always knew who they were and stood in that stead confidently without apology. I, however, can only conclude that I obviously needed the mulberry bush/mountain experiences so I'd have these stories to tell. 'Cause, let me tell you, what a journey!

Anyhew, in today's storytime, let's blow some dust off the preacher's kid chronicles. Today, we not about to dive into the stigma which such a title carries. But as most folks know, we've been labelled 'the worst' from time immemorial. I suppose we are classed as the chief among sinners. There's Jezebel, Delilah, Barabbas, Judas, then us. But we are not going too deep into all that. Instead, I want to let you in on a beneficial side of the coin.

Preacher's kids are well versed, talented unlimited and almost trained to a fault. We're often involved (mostly against our wills) in most aspects of churchdom—everything from the Brigades to band or choir, right on up to offices of leadership. I, however, come from a musical stalk. My parents were singers, and my father, a former bandmaster, was about that theory life. As such, my siblings are all musically inclined. My four older sisters (not including my biological sisters) had a singing group. I mean, these chicks had voices like angels that could lull a baby to sleep or set the church on fire. If Joe were their daddy, the Jackson 5 would have been all girls.

My siblings, brothers, included, can play a musical instrument, and they can perhaps read music as well. But as expected, I missed the musical gene, and my now 'ability to sing is more of a calling than a honed natural gift. Moreover, my earliest memories of holding a mic are cringy, to say the least: good grief, talk bout pitchy and no control. So, it's kind of funny how I got labelled as a singer long after the gospel destiny's children had disbanded to start their families. Go figure!

The sister before me is about six years older, our age difference rather visible. She was taller, her skin of a mocha hue, and she has an open gate as wide as the sky. To add to our apparent differences, she is left-handed, she sings alto, and by alto, I mean a voice smooth like butter but strong like an oak tree. But I was brown and round, short, squeaky, and I not only sang but even now, I talk in soprano. Yet every Sunday, without fail, some church mother called me by my sister's name. I would understand if our names rhymed, shoot, they didn't even have the same amount of syllables. Yet without missing a beat, I was often mistaken for her. Though I smiled and softly corrected whomever, a sassy inner Raquel wanted to clap back with something cheeky. Needless to say, I would have no doubt been labelled brazen or even worst; I'd probably still been picking up my teeth today. Make no mistake; I grew up in the time when parents didn't play that—the village could lay a kid out no questions asked. Eventually, I stopped correcting people and just answered to a name that was noticeably not my own.

This attitude carried through my life more than I had realized. I started adopting the habits of the preconceived notions even when it made me uncomfortable. If you thought I had an attitude, then I had an attitude. If you thought I wasn't the brightest tool in the shed, then I dimmed the light. If you thought I was dramatic, then I cued it up—lights, camera, action, baby. And before long, I was acting in so many roles that were not naturally me. Call me the professional understudy. It took some time to strip away the parts of me that I picked up along the way. The process was so tedious. I promise you, it felt like trying to separate the sand they poured together at someone's wedding ceremony. All I know is if you find yourself out there trying to be like Mike, I say zero stars, do not recommend.

When I finally got to a place where I was confident enough to let my Raquel-ness shine through, oh, that was it. You could tell me nothing. Annoyingly, I embraced myself, to the full extreme—Ultimate Rejects who? I went all the way left—the incessant need to be different turned into an obsession that morphed into stubborn pigheadedness. Rather than just walking gracefully in my stride, it all became too much, eww—pineapples, I don't like it (in my Kevin Hart voice)! Whew, chall, this one life of mine really had too many sheeple moments.

After many trials and countless errors, I believe I've balanced out. And as it stands, I'm usually remembered for being the girl with the animated facial expressions, the bubbly personality or the curious life story. I can be called the quiet one or Sis, who talks way too much. All depending on where and when you've met me. In my defence, though, I've just always had a story.

One friend of mine says when she sees me calling, she gets excited because she's bound to hear a comical but sobering tale. I'm, by far, the most interesting person she knows. Then I have other friends that if they're on the phone for over an hour, their spouses chime in the background, "That only could be Raquel you're talking to!" Okay, so maybe I'm the girl that talks a lot—is more accurate! In any event, after an encounter with me, you walk away with some things to ponder. Most folks know I'm going to give some transparent insight, and I'm going to pose some provocative questions.

On the other hand, I am known for leaving indelible marks in my relationships as well. Now, all the imprints aren't good, but hey, you gonna remember me—even if it's for the chick who irked you because she stood her ground. Anyway, I had an opportunity to talk to whats-his-face sometime after we'd parted ways. Surprisingly, I can't remember all the conversation details, which I'm sure was interesting, but one line stuck with me. He said, "I keep dating all these girls hoping to find you. Thinking they'd be like you or better, but no one is you." In my mind, all I could hear was the movie caption: this comment is rated J for Jokes. But in all seriousness, at that moment, I began recalling all the hurtful things he'd said prior. Like how no dude would ever stick around because I was too opinionated. Or no relationship I'd have would be successful because I don't listen. Though my favourite has to be the backhanded compliment that I was a decent person, but...and he'd proceed to list a litany of things he felt wrong with me. I wasn't sure what to make of this brother's 'ode to Raquel since we had just lived through what can only be described as a category 5 hurricane.

Several schools of thought ran through my mind. Chief among them was how people tend to treat you like a junkyard. You know they often want to swing by and use you for the parts. They disregard the qualities they feel are difficult but want to keep the bits that are easier to digest—mainly the pieces that suit their purpose. To him, I was perfect, as long as I was giving mental stimulation and motivation. Still, when that conversation shifted to me keeping him accountable or expressing a dislike, it was a problem. And I eventually went from "my girl better than yours" to a BBW (a bitter black woman). I soon realized if you let folks, they'll turn you into some build-a-bear workshop where they take a little of you, a little of someone else and form their ideal. For this reason, I don't believe in friends with benefits, and we definitely can't be friends after a break-up.

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, I knew there is something to be said about me as a person. I'm confident of this one thing, and that's I'm not for everyone. Everyone won't find me palatable, and I'm not everyone's cup of tea. Hence, I'm resolved to not having people out here treating me like the end of the bread or the yellow starburst or some typical fast food joint. No suga, I'm Chick-fil-A; I don't even need to open on Sundays! Okay, in all fun and jokes aside, there is more to you than a fingerprint that distinguishes you from everyone else.

Everything about you works in tandem with the differences in another person to form a cohesive partnership. If that is not happening, you are in the wrong room. Whether that be romantic or business-related. While I am me and you are you, our differences are the things that should cause us to function in harmony. Plug and socket, needle and thread, salt and pepper, left and right, bat and ball, Kermit and Miss Piggy, well—you get the picture.

Paul never disappoints when it comes to pontificating on matters of relevance. He aptly explains why everyone needs to function in their own abilities yet how everything is jointly fit. He writes: I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different but similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, "I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body," would that make it so? If Ear said, "I'm not beautiful like Eye, transparent and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head," would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where He wanted it. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn't be a body but a monster.

What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, "Get lost; I don't need you"? Or, Head telling Foot, "You're fired; your job has been phased out"? As a matter of fact, in practice, it works the other way—the "lower" the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it's a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honour just as it is, without comparisons. (1 Corinthians 12:14-24 MSG)

Any time you're in a relationship that your variation doesn't improve it but causes friction or shatters it, you haven't found your tribe. Or, as Christina Yang would say to Merideth Grey, you've not found your person. At the end of the day, being who you are should not make you feel undervalued and less than. It should not leave you feeling out of sorts and uncomfortable. You should not have to fall back to let someone feel great constantly. If what you know to be 'you' is continuously being quashed, you may be in the right church, but love, it's the wrong pew.

To answer the question, "Who am I?" (which can be considered life's most defining quest) speaks more to your character as opposed to what you do. While I can't tell you who you are, I can most certainly tell you what you are not. You are not what you wear or what you do. You are not just someone's spouse or some kid's parent—you are not someone's opinion or preconceived notion. You are not an object to be used at will and discarded when deemed broken.

Nonetheless, if we strip you of all your roles, titles and achievements, what is left? What is the thing that distinguishes you from me? What is it about you that can be considered the sauce? What element would make a person choose you over another, even when you are both visually refined? What is it that you will be remembered for? What is it about you that makes you unforgettable? What is that particular thing that folks can't put their finger on but makes them say, "There's just something about you?"

There is nothing wrong with having commonplace in the world, and if all you aspire to be is 'normal,' that's entirely up to you. Individuality, though, requires embracing the things that set you apart and maximizing them without apology. I suppose it can all be summed up in one of my very favourite quotes: If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair with them, that's like expecting a lion not to eat you because you don't eat lion! (John Spence) Listen here pumpkin, just be you, 'cause everyone else is taken! (Oscar Wilde)

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