There is a picture of the four of us on the floor of the playroom in the first house – all shaggy carpet and crayola-colored walls – and it has since faded from the sun directly shining on its framed spot on my desk.
Curiosity is pulling me towards the camera lens, but my mother maintains a hand on my ankle to keep me steady, keep me grounded, keep me connected to the rest. My brother – with his utmost boisterous imagination – has my father captured in an undivided gaze.
My aunt likes to tell us this is the greatest glimpse of perfect love within a perfect family.
That has, of course, led to endless nights wondering how my passion for language and the way in which humans communicate with each other under stress could possibly compare to my brother’s expansive knowledge of subatomic particles and the way in which molecules interact under microscopes. Or, better yet, how does my privilege of financial stability, and parental support, and seized opportunity compare to the hardships of my father’s quest to fund his own higher education as the first and only child in his family to continue to college? Or, even simpler, how does my black-and-white, good-or-bad, all-or-nothing attitude compare at all to my mother’s bright light, untouchable optimism?
Here’s a hint: it doesn’t. I don’t compare to any of that.
But that doesn’t mean I’m lesser.
Without me in the picture, depth is missing. My mother has no child to hold. Her attention is not focused on the wandering toddler escaping her grasp for this mysterious object of creation. Her arms, her world, the contents of the photograph… it’s all empty.
But I’m not only there to fill space.
When I graduated high school, Casey told me – and the rest of my family, quite loudly and quite proudly – that it is my curiosity he believes in the most.
This curiosity is what stretches me outside of the carefully cushioned box I grew up in. I was given a safety nest, a place to return to, padded with loving hugs, warm meals, snuggled blankets and new toys and unconditional acceptance.
But as I grew, the tether holding me in this fanciful castle was loosened; I was able to venture farther until I discovered the mysteries I couldn’t possibly imagine in my own mind.
I turned strangers to friends so frequently it gained attention. I, the tiny one, had a large presence – one of noise and gestures and laughter – that became a prominent feature in my personality.
Here I am – surrounded by a self-made business man, a sweet-hearted philanthropist, a tireless physicist – in my own little place in this wildly booming world, the place that is most comfortable and most natural for me to stand in, the place I love, the place I will grow from, my beautiful place within my beautiful family.