There's a park in the middle of my neighborhood that I love. I call it my breathing space. The paved walkway takes you through a scenic loop that boasts a sweeping view of city buildings nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I frequently walk or jog in this park where many people come to exercise, walk their animals, or bring their kids to play. One day I was out on a walk when I took particular notice of a young girl slowly approaching. She was tall, slender, and with a backpback slung over her shoulder I assumed she was on her way home from school.
It wasn't so much the girl who got my attention, but my interpretation of the girl. When I looked at her I didn't see any visible, obvious flaws, but her body language seemed to be screaming defeat. Hands in her pockets, head down, shoulders sagging, I believed I was approaching a young woman who faced some sort of difficulty in her day, or perhaps her life; I wasn't sure. I had no way of knowing the source of her sobriety, but I sensed it. Did she do poorly on a test at school? Have an argument with someone she loved? Does she hate going home because it's not a happy place? Was she shunned by her peers? Or was I just experimenting with my imagination? Regardless, I had this intense desire to walk up to her, straighten her shoulders, and look her in the eye and say, "Hey, you're beautiful, talented, and one of a kind. Whatever is bringing you down, don't let it. You are outstanding!" I quieted the voices in my head by imagining Neighborhood Watch posters with my picture on it, and I let her pass without comment.
Not long ago I sat across the table from a teenage girl whom I had invited out for lunch. She wears her defeat and insecurity differently than the girl I met in the park. She displays it with an unwritten invitation for all boys to treat her like crap, because any attention is better than none. She is tall and slender and beautiful but can't see anything other than the girls who are prettier than she is. She has been dealt more than her fair share of life's challenges, and after realizing that she can't cut those challenges out (literally) has decided to try partying them out instead.
I wanted to scream in her face, "You're beautiful, talented, and one of a kind! Don't screw up your life! You are outstanding!" But it was our first real meeting, and I wanted her to come back. I worry sometimes that I let down that girl in the park, even if she doesn't know it. Stranger or not, maybe those words would have done her some good and I was just a big chicken. But since I can't change that, I'd like to offer this to all of you who might be struggling and reading this today:
You are beautiful, talented, and one of a kind. You are OUTSTANDING!
Don't let anyone else (including YOU) tell you otherwise.