Conform This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   CONFORM, the sign said.

CONFORM TO THE NORM.

Now I looked at thissign and I thought, "Why should I conform?" Yet it was the popular fad,these signs, all bedecked with identical words in identical colors, plastered toeverything and everyone I saw. In fact, this sign I was staring at was on theback of a cashier at the local supermarket. If I'd cared to, I could have turnedaround and found one on the businessman waiting with his grocery cart, or thefather with his baby. The baby was probably the only one in the store, besidesme, not wearing that offensive sign.

It was no surprise, though. Almosteveryone owned one and wore it like a badge. People at school, teachers, coaches,the sign didn't discriminate. CONFORM TO THE NORM. It was obnoxious, but it wascorrect. Every sign I saw was a testimony to that. The world around me hadconformed, and no one could see that but me.

I was often tempted to go upto someone and rip the sign off, just to see what they would do. In fact, Iusually stood there and looked them in the eye before saying in an offhand voice,"Did you know you're all a bunch of CONFORMERS? I can see the label, even ifyou can't. All from different sources, but manufactured to be just like everyoneelse. You don't complain, you don't question, you just accept everyone else'sstandards as THE NORM. But I'm dangerous to you and that's why you don't like me,because I WON'T CONFORM."

Their answers are all the same. CONFORMERShave no choice; their response is like a code in a rule book. It's like talkingto automatons. They act defensive, scrunch up their foreheads and swear at you.Sometimes you want to laugh, sometimes you want to cry, because the sign stillsticks. It sticks and sticks and sticks and you could scream your head offforever but they won't even bother to look in a mirror to see the sign. And ifyou force them to face the mirror, they push you away and run, or stand thereperplexed and dejected, nor daring to find out what's beneath the damnedsign.

I think the most rewarding sight in life is performing the removalof a sign. It doesn't happen often in one's life, never if you are one who wearsa sign that reads CONFORM TO THE NORM. Even without a sign, it is difficult,because only a certain few are unique and especially chosen to be Guardians ofthe Sign. But if you are graced enough, the removal of the sign is the mostincredible gift to witness in the world.

It starts with a word, and then adeep look into a mirror. You stand and watch the person as they see themselvesand all their negative qualities, then hear the things they are praised for byother sign carriers. You catch the glimmer in their eyes as they realize thatwhat they see is an exact copy of everyone else they ever knew, and cry as theyshed tears of hopelessness because they are trapped in CONFORMITY. And you pray,and reach out and take hold of their sign. If they are willing, you peel away anedge and show them the beauty that CONFORMITY hides. Some ask you to glue it backon and never take it off. Some let it blow in the wind as they are torn apart.And others, those precious few, are what makes the life of a Guardian worthliving. As you hold the sign in your hand, that person smiles and takes hold ofthe other edge. Loosening it a bit at a time, you pull it free and let itdisappear into the radiant, fiery light of a new being. It is not your power thathas set them free, but the power of HOPE, that presence that rules usall.

I turned in my reverie and saw a sign that read, "CONFORM TO THENORM." Touching my hand to my back, I felt the place where my sign had oncebeen, and felt the burning scars of memory, then the soothing caress of HOPE. Istood, contemplating the sign with the eyes of a Guardian, and I asked myself,"CONFORM TO THE NORM?"

Never again.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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