I Have The Answer To, “What Makes You Special?” And You’ll Never Guess What I’m Going To Say

image - Unsplash / Jonas Nilsson Lee
image – Unsplash / Jonas Nilsson Lee

The other day in salsa class, a question was posed by the instructor that has been roaming around in my mind for a while now. Who knew that salsa could make my head spin in more ways than one?

“What makes you special?”

We were supposed to write down our answers on a small piece of paper to make pins out of them and put them all on a board. When I was given the piece of paper, I took a pen and applied pressure only to realize that I didn’t know what to write. I thought about it for a little bit, but I felt it was a question with such magnitude that I couldn’t conceive a quick and meaningful answer. Class ended and I left the piece of paper blank, but I brought the question with me.

It has taken me some time, but I think I now have an answer to write on that piece of paper.

Q: What makes me special?

A: I’m quite the inconvenience.

I’m aware that the word “inconvenience” typically takes shape with a negative connotation, but allow me to explain why that makes me special. I do my best to live my life under a very strict, fundamental law. This law transcends the passage of time and the evolution of societies as it embodies the most powerful expression of human consciousness. To an extent, living by this law is hitting the override button on the most rudimentary aspects of nature.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Put others before you.

If you read this law out loud, it sounds biblical because it is. It sounds philosophical because it is. It sounds deep because it is. It sounds religious because it is. It sounds true because it is. It sounds like a hippie tripping on acid because it is. It sounds simple because it is. It sounds old because it is. It sounds fresh because it is. It sounds rigid because it is. It sounds compassionate because it is. It sounds forgiving because it is. It sounds scary because it is. It sounds timeless, meaningful, and impacting because it is. It sounds hard because it is.

I live to love the best I can and in all honesty, I probably fail more than I succeed. The most unmistakably obvious trait of love is that it’s difficult. It lives in the realm of truth. It involves sacrifice. It’s selfless. It’s confrontational. It’s sometimes uncomfortable. It’s risky. It’s vulnerable. It harnesses the power to amplify the greatest joy known to man to a seemingly ethereal state, and to exacerbate the greatest misery known to man to the level of a broken heart. Love is inconvenient.

There are two marriages that have profoundly influenced me in regards to this idea. I grew up with these marriages and hold them as examples of the nature of true love.

My parents met in Puerto Rico in their early twenties. My dad was studying engineering at a university two hours away from where my mom lived when they started dating. My mom was also in school studying special education. Through the two hour distance, work and school schedules, social engagements and family responsibilities, my parents managed to forge a deep connection with a solid, very distinct special friendship at its center. When they tell the story, they describe it as a wonderful time of discovery and passion. Upon graduating college, my dad moved to Los Angeles, California to start his career. My mom still had roughly two years left of school. The relationship became extremely long distance in an age with no cell phones, computers, or internet. Their means of communication were expensive long distance phone calls and writing each other letters. When they tell the story, they say that the key to conquering the aforementioned challenges was complete honesty. They trusted each other and expected nothing but the truth. According to them, that facilitated falling madly in love enough to make the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together. After being long distance for a couple of years, my parents got married one week after my mom graduated college. My dad was 24 years old, my mom was 22. They didn’t know much about life yet, but they knew that they loved each other. My mom moved to California to be with my dad as he had already started his career. Now comes the juicy part. My mom was raised via humble means in a manner such that self sufficiency was not really the highest priority. This has to do with the era along with culture. She lived at home until she got married. She then exhibited incredible strength worthy of the utmost admiration. The vast state of California and overwhelming culture shock of Los Angeles was my mom’s first time living away from her parents and the tiny island of Puerto Rico. She didn’t know any English, had a degree, and started her journey by learning how to cook from my dad. Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly the happiest time for them. There were some pretty significant struggles and fears they had to conquer. They’re complete opposites in many ways and had to willfully learn how to confront and embrace those differences to make each other better. They were quite the inconvenience to each other.

Growing up, I witnessed a lot of their process. There were passionate agreements and even more passionate disagreements. Some might call them fights, others might call them brutal blood curdling shrieks of fury. There were comfortable relaxed times, and uncomfortable difficult times. They got help when they needed it, and they always, to this day, cherish honesty above all else. Most of my friends who meet my parents today tend to really connect with them. They have the kind of wisdom that comes from the blood, sweat, and tears of creating a home, not just a house. They’ve been married now for 26 years, and they continue to passionately and lovingly be an inconvenience to each other. Now that I’m older and completely independent I get to hear about it from the both of them and it’s funny to see how they conquer everything that comes their way by making sure it ends in laughter. When it comes to living, my dad always says “Figure it out” and my mom always says “No busques las cinco patas al gato” which is a saying in Spanish that translates to “Don’t look for five legs on the cat.” It’s interesting how those two sayings work together to describe what to do and how to do it.

The second marriage that has inspired me is like family. They might as well be my parents, second edition. They’ve effectively been an integral part of raising me. I’m using marriage to illustrate this idea because it’s the most radical demonstration of the capabilities of love.

He was 25 and she was 19 when they got married. He had a dream of starting his own company and being able to support his family with that company. Twenty three years later, that dream is accomplished and now they’re crafting new ones. They have two beautiful daughters and have a gracious home, a home I’m blessed to be a part of. Building a company from the ground up is a lot of work. Sleepless nights, insane pressure, and an insurmountable to-do list are daily bread. They do it together while being pretty fantastic parents. One can only imagine the inconveniences they have had to face. I think the best representation of what they have is tucked away in a particular ritual they practice. Every year, for their anniversary, they separate a week in the summer to go to the Virgin Islands. It matters absolutely nothing what is going on with the company or life struggles, that week is set in stone. The world could be on the brink of a cataclysmic nuclear winter and they would be found on St. Martin sipping piña coladas. What I take away from this marriage is that sometimes even what we hold most sacred is inconvenient, and perhaps that inconvenience is what houses the value of those hollowed waters and consecrated sands.

The funny thing about life is that the most tumultuous events seem to always happen at the most inopportune times. Your car always breaks down when finances are tight. You always need to travel for work when your personal life dictates you need to be home. Your significant other always brings up rather immediate issues during finals week. Timing can’t be controlled, and seems to have all of this arbitrary power. But what if the stressful effects of timing and circumstances are inconsequential compared to the value of inconvenience. What if the power of love and choice lie in the inconvenience, while the beauty lies in the aftermath?

Something I’ve observed from my beloved generation of twenty-somethings (myself included) is that we tend to seek distraction over uncomfortable confrontation. The stresses of life become justifications for carelessness or avoidance. Relationships are less about self-awareness and growth and more about just not being alone. Make-up sex takes the place of actually rectifying the fight you just had. Initiative is replaced by waking up at noon to play video games while mom and dad pay the bills. Why deal with inconvenience if distractions are so much easier? Sometimes distractions are necessary for healing and coping, but not in lieu of the truth brought by conflict resolution and self examination. Unhealthy distraction places us in this existential no man’s land where hedonism comes to feed on innocent victims. I’d much rather be an inconvenience than a distraction.

I want to be special because I’m quite the inconvenience. I want to operate on the vulnerable body of truth, honesty, and loquacity. I want to give my all to live my life erring on the side of love, even when it’s difficult and even illogical. I fail all the time and want to do my best to use those failures as a staircase to success. I want to balance fear such that it helps prevent me from falling off a cliff but never prevents me from flying. Love conquers fear and cushions the falls. I vow to always do everything in my power to never let inconvenience pull me away from those I love, cherish, and care for.

The lesson here is simple. If being able to love and be loved is a goal in your life, if you’re searching for faithfulness with a side effect of happiness, if you want to lift up the people around you instead of tearing them down, if you want to seize opportunities and not regret inaction later, then don’t prioritize convenience. Don’t value it. Don’t seek it. Don’t run away thinking that difficulty will just disappear. Life gets hard. Love gets hard. Embrace the struggle because otherwise, you’re not doing yourself any favors. TC mark

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