For much of my life I've heard about the roles a middle child plays in the family and in life. But only lately have I come to realize how ingrained those roles exist within me.
In The Secret Power of Middle Children, Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann note the obvious: the middle kid is the one who tries to keep it copacetic. As Salmon told NPR in 2011:
"If you grow up in a family and the firstborn tends to have a certain amount of authority that's given to them by the parents, and they're physically larger, they tend to get what they want or get their way through physical force or the authority parents have given them. While for the last-born, as anyone who's had to deal with a lot of last-borns often knows, they tend to whine to the parents or get very upset if they don't get their way. And so that's their particular strategy for working out what needs to be worked out.
"For the middle child, neither of those strategies are available. So they often get very good at negotiating, figuring out what the other person wants and needs."Or, in the words of Rodney King, "Can we all get along?"
Despite my occasional lapses into confrontation and preening arrogance, I really am a gentle person. I want the humans around me to be happy. I want everyone I know to feel loved and wanted and, you know, alright with life.
There have been times when I've wronged people I love, and my instinct is to want to make sure they're OK. Not only do I not want them to be angry with me, I want to do as much as I can to make them happy and whole. I want them to be able to wipe the ugliness of me from their shoes.
There have been times when I've been wronged by people I love, and instead of turning against them and growing hate in my heart, deep down I only want one thing: for them to know that I understand why they chose to do what they did. That it's not a big deal if they laugh and belittle me behind my back. That their actions are probably based on something I did wrong.
So when faced with the people who've dissed and dismissed me, I try to make amends, even though it sometimes means a knife deep in my gut. I try to be the guy who says sure, sure, don't worry about it, it's all good, everything's cool. I become the beautiful loser, and when I blurt out something about the pain it causes, I instantly regret it — because being blunt and honest about being hurt always seems to backfire. The other person feels terrible. That's not what I want.
I've never really understood when people who once loved each other stiffen their backs and groom their hate. Absent some compelling reason to the contrary, shouldn't former lovers subscribe to the words of poet / philosopher Todd Rundgren and ask themselves, can we still be friends?
I realize, however, that sometimes the answer is: I don't know.
Because every now and then I awake from a beautiful dream and wonder why things are not always what they seem. I don't want to admit I made a mistake because it didn't feel like a mistake in the first place.
I want everyone to get along and be alright — but I want to be OK in my heart, too. I don't want to hate, I don't want to be indifferent — but I don't want to be pitied or pitiful, either.
Or maybe I'm looking at it all wrong. Maybe Jimmy Eat World was right about The Middle: It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
I hope so. Truth: Being light makes my heart light. I believe good and sincere hearts are at play here. Friendly frolic has never been so much fun. Even with the occasional twinge of longing, like a sweet, sad, old song.