Once or twice a year, I write our Sunday newsletter in my own voice. There isn’t any real significance to the timing — it just seems to happen. But it also happens to be the end of the year, a time when many of us turn inward and take stock, so I’m hoping my own philosophical ramblings may seem slightly less out of place.
I’ve written before about the Irish-American side of my family; here in Bangkok, where I'm spending the holidays with my mother's family, I’ve been thinking about the other side, which is Thai. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the fact that, as much as I love this vibrant Asian city and the warm, kind, distinguished family that lives in it, I used to struggle a bit with the fact that I felt somewhat out of place during my visits here. At the same time, though, I used to struggle a bit with the fact that I felt somewhat out of place where I grew up in New Hampshire, too, in a community that was open-minded but not at all diverse. I always felt a little bit different, perpetually inhabiting a state that I thought of as “otherness.”
It’s an interesting experience, otherness. When you’re a child, it’s not a particularly comfortable feeling. But over time, I grew to love it, because this sense of otherness can be an extraordinary source of power. Not fitting neatly into a box leaves you free to define yourself on your own terms, focusing less on what you are and more on who you could be. It also leads you to meet others with a sense of curiosity and wonder, rather than judgment, about those areas where you are different. It inspires you, too, to uncover and celebrate the myriad ways in which you are the same.
I am thankful for that power. Thankful to my parents for finding each other, and particularly thankful to my courageous mom for leaving a life of comfort in balmy Bangkok to settle in one of the most inhospitably cold places in the contiguous United States.
This gratitude may be one of the reasons why we tend to do things a little differently at Ayla. Several of our brands are ones you won’t find elsewhere; we’ve plucked them off the shelves from other places and brought them back to our own so that we can all wonder about the rich stories behind them, about their otherness. And it’s also one of the reasons why we are so deeply curious about each one of you as individuals instead of always rushing to put you in neat little boxes (“In your 40s? Try this!”). We could not be more delighted with our community of bright, beautiful, intensely interesting beings, and we see the opportunity to help you on your own specific journeys as a genuine honor.
I think many of us feel a sense of otherness more often than we would like. It doesn’t have to be related to race or culture; it could be related to a lot of things, from questions about gender to a difficult move to a decision to be a stay-at-home mother to a realization that your future may look different from that of your peers. But whatever the reason for it, it takes awhile to get to the point where otherness feels enjoyable, or even comfortable.
So as this year draws to a close, and you may find yourself with a few extra moments to sit with your own thoughts, this is my suggestion — if you, too, feel a sense of otherness in any measure and for any reason. Imagine that you can hold that otherness in your palm, just gazing at it with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Recognize the facets that it has brought to your unique human experience. And then hold it close, whispering a thank you. It is one of the many things that make you beautiful in a truly fascinating way. It can be complicated and messy and uncomfortable, yes; but it can also be a source of wisdom, a source of light, a source of love. That, to me, is brighter beauty. And to fully appreciate it in others, you need to appreciate it in yourself.
With all my best wishes for a bright and beautiful New Year —
With my brother, parents, and Thai grandfather — presumably (based on my lack of tan and my outfit) having just gotten off the plane from France.