In my English Composition book, lightning flashes lit up the distant sky, a sharp contrast to the surrounding gloom of a dreary winter night. The light drizzle held steadily, almost urging her tears on as they streamed down her cheeks. The atmosphere on the other side of her bedroom window seemed to be the perfect metaphor for her heart. She could hardly believe how different this night was from the last…
In his English Composition book, a coterie of juveniles stood curiously close to an elegant jewellery store, prattling on under the moonlight. To a hawk-eyed, habituated detective such as Mr. Duvant, only one thing could be the subject of the unkempt group’s chatter. There was not a grain of doubt in his mind about the subsequent events. He was now primed for action.
My English teacher liked both opening paragraphs, handing each of us a “70%” grade, something which she said she reserved for the best works she ever came across. And so we were dead tied again – the best English Composition writers at my high school. All the same, all the peer plaudits went to him, because he used the ‘big’ words. That was the currency among the students – the best composition was quite simply the most flamboyant use of high-power English words. He was the winner after all.
But I was not discouraged. I was determined to try to be different. I wanted to write the best English compositions without the excessive use of ‘big’ words. I wanted the depth of my imagination, the skilful manipulation of simple language, to propel me to the top. Even so, the pressure was still there. Every single day seemed to be a battlefield to really prove my worth as a supposed ‘brilliant’ student. It didn’t matter that I had come first in class nineteen times out of twenty at that point. I had to flaunt my vocabulary around in order to be taken seriously. But I just wouldn’t. I dared not. I only dared to be different.
In the grand scheme of things – whatever that may be – writing high school English compositions differently isn’t exactly the epitome of daring to be different. Nonetheless, when I trace back this attitude of mine – to always try to take the less-travelled road – I go back as far as that English class at Milton High School. The more I consider it all, the more I realize that there isn’t a single major event in my life that says “I Dare To Be Different.” Instead, it is the little decisions and choices I have made along the way that seem to echo that mantra.
Truth be told, almost every wide-eyed child is told to chase his dream, yet the wide-eyed youth is asked, “Why can’t you be like everyone else?” It is one of the most perplexing paradoxes of life – that one is encouraged to reach for sky, but only the sky that everyone else is reaching for. The result is that everyone ends up aiming for the same sky. The same old, glorious sky.
But the urge to be different is like a burning, constant ache in the heart whose only remedy is a bold voyage into the unknown. They call it ‘daring.’ It is this sensation that keeps pushing against the heavy clouds of conformity and far beyond the glorious sky. It moves in little pushes, or in giant thrusts – in the small decision to stay indoors on a weekend night, or in the giant leap from a banker’s suit into farm overalls. Or in spending the weekend night out, and in leaving farm overalls for a banker’s suit. Daring to be different in the little things, and the great ones.
Daring to be different, in a way, is an act of defiance. And every act of defiance needs sustenance, lest it retreat into oblivion as quickly as a drop of water disappears in a fire. What sustains that burning urge to be different? Is it focus in a unique life goal? Is it an unwavering self-belief? Or a habit of being different every day? And perhaps being different everyday means being different. Perhaps it doesn’t necessarily come in the form of one giant life-changing decision. Rather, it could be in the habitual little things – like using less fancier words and a more fiery imagination on, and on, and on.
What makes you different?