Twenty-five years ago this month I became a mother for the first time. It was such a brief moment that most people missed it, but I was forever changed.
That cold January morning, just a few weeks after a positive pregnancy test made us laugh with surprise, I woke up in a pool of blood and knew it was over. The trip to the emergency room only confirmed my worst fears. Our baby was gone before we got a chance to know him.
Another miscarriage eleven months later sent me running for a support group, where I learned words for the snarl of emotions I had tried to tamp down deep inside me for a year. I named my babies, partly to avoid calling them "the first one" and "this last one," but also because they weren't interchangeable. They mattered, they changed me, and they changed my whole world.
The group saved me just by letting me tell my story and say what happened to me. I had to say it out loud enough times to accept that it was real and that I wasn't crazy and that it was okay to be sad and to grieve. I listened to so many other women's stories, always a little stunned at how many different ways there were for the world to come crashing down. I started writing poetry and, somewhere along the way, I grew attached to the imagery of our babies as snowflakes. They are tiny, unique, precious...and too soon gone. I even made a snowflake quilt to represent all six of my children.
That's why it bothers me so much that the word "snowflake" has been adopted and used in such a denigrating way. Somehow, this natural wonder has become an insult to hurl at others when we don't agree with their position or don't understand their feelings. Every time I see it (because you almost never hear it said aloud to a person's face - we are so much braver hiding behind our keyboards) I cringe, especially when it's said by someone I know and like and used to admire.
When did it become a bad thing to recognize people as unique individuals? When did it become selfish not to agree with everything the group believes?
This insult is so often used to describe people about the age of my children. It's become about participation trophies and not being tough enough. Do the people who use this tired refrain ever think about the fact that the kids didn't ask for the trophies? They didn't buy or hand out the trophies. It's my generation who grew fearful as parents and tried to protect our children from every danger. While we may not have gone about it in the healthiest way, you can't question the instinct or the blinding love that motivated this cultural shift.
Are the kids not tough because technology and science have found ways to prevent needless illnesses and deaths? Are they wimps because they rode in booster seats until they were well into elementary school, or did we simply learn how to better protect children in car accidents? Are they less durable than those of us who survived before bike helmets and baby monitors and break-away cords on window shades? Maybe we should ask some of the bereaved parents who fought for increased regulation in hopes that their children didn't die in vain. Maybe we should talk to the inventors and scientists who worked long hours trying to find a way to stop senseless injuries and deaths.
I think the biggest problem in our country today is not that people think they are one of a kind; in fact they are. The biggest problem is we've forgotten that everyone else is, too. Why do we recognize our own distinct traits but try to group everyone else by race or gender or religion or which football team they cheer for?
I hope the next time someone uses my favorite image to hurt someone else I will be brave enough to ask why treating each person as a unique individual is so threatening. I hope we can have a civil conversation and try to find out more about each other's point of view. I pray that, little by little, we can draw closer to one another by hearing each other's stories and recognizing that no two are exactly alike.