“Let’s get your ears pierced,” Laura said several months ago.
I hung a pair of Alice in Wonderland earrings back on the rack and shook my head.
I gave a sincere shrug. Thirty-one years without pierced ears, and I just didn’t know why.
“Maybe you should find out,” Laura suggested as we walked past J.C. Penney, out of the mall.
Though it’s true that I went over three decades without having my ears pierced, I’ve had holes in my ears since I was born. Turns out I’m one of the under 1% of people in the United States born with preauricular pits, tiny holes on the front of my ears where my ears meet my head. I didn’t learn how rare they are until I was a teenager, but I could have guessed: I’ve spent my life inspecting ears and have met only a handful of people with ear pits.
I’m one of the under 1% of people in the United States with pre-auricular pits,
Once in a store, a little girl noticed them. “You’ve got weird piercings.” (This was back before any part of the anatomy was up for studs and plugs and gauges.)
“They aren’t pierced. Just holes,” I informed her.
Her mouth gaped as she stepped forward for a closer look. That’s the general reaction when people find out about my ear pits (usually hidden by my hair).
When I was young, I sometimes stuck pins in the holes and pretended they were earrings, but was never allowed to pierce my ears. Then again, I never asked my parents if I could. I knew that my mom had once had her ears pierced but let the holes grow shut. So I always assumed those Old Testament verses that spoke about not making marks in your body precluded us from dangles and studs.
A few days later, with Laura’s challenge haunting me, I took out my pink notebook and made a list of reasons not to pierce my ears. Sixteen reasons later, I had it figured out.
Among my reasons were . . .
- Afraid I might get an infection.
- Don’t want to spend money on earrings.
- Afraid that I’ll be disgusted by sticking something in my earlobes.
- Embarrassed of drawing attention to my ears (which, in addition to having freaky holes, also curl up a bit at the lobe.)
- Ashamed that it took me this long to get them pierced.
- Afraid I’ll be like everyone else.
- Afraid it will create some kind of awareness that I don’t think about now, but would if I get them pierced
The answers startled me. I hadn’t known they ran that deep.
“I’ve made my list,” I told Laura. “Sixteen reasons not to get my ears pierced.”
I guess I expected her to be impressed or dissuaded. She was neither. “OK, now make a list of reasons you should get them pierced.”
Flipping over the page, I cheekily started with “Reason 1—Because Laura wants me too.” Then continued . . .
- I see cute earrings all the time.
- Earrings are cheap.
- I might like them.
- There’s no real reason not to.
Sometimes a list of pros and cons boils down to one line—the only line that means anything. It’s the do line on the die list. The man line among a column of mouse lines. The swim line in a paragraph of sinks.
There’s no real reason not to.
With that line staring back at me, my deepest fears seemed unfounded.
Afraid I’ll be like everyone else? Was that a bad thing? In a world obsessed with elusive uniqueness, we forget that it’s not our differences that unite us but our similar experiences. All my life, I was proud of my ear pits because they set me apart—but they also made me feel lonely and freakish. Sure I had holes in my ears—but I didn’t have the adventure of getting them pierced.
Afraid it will create some kind of awareness that I don’t think about now, but would if I get them pierced. Good! I need to know something that I didn’t know before, to broaden my empathy and knowledge.
Afraid that I might get an infection or be disgusted by sticking something in my ear? Well, I wouldn’t know until I tried.
The next weekend at Icing, I rattled on about how weird I felt, getting my ears pierced at 31. As she marked my earlobes, the lady smiled. “That’s OK. It’s never too late.”
It didn’t hurt nearly as much as I had dreaded when the needle pierced my flesh. But when I looked in the mirror and saw the silver studs in my ears, tears sprang to my eyes. Something old had passed; something new had come. I wasn’t the same as when I sat in that chair. We always grieve a bit when we change, always balk a little when faced with the unknown.
We always grieve a bit when we change.
That was a month ago. My ears have healed, and I can wear whatever earrings I want (which generally means raiding Laura’s jewelry box). Each morning, what has been ritual to so many women since their childhood has become a new experience for me as I slip the earrings or studs into the little holes.
Recently, when my mom noticed my pierced ears, I asked her why she let her holes grow closed years before I was born. She shrugged like mothers do, brushing off the real story you’ll never know. But she went to her room and brought out a ring I had fingered many times in my life. It held two diamonds and two opals, but I had never thought to ask its significance.
“Your dad gave me these for our wedding,” she pointed to the opals. “And his parents gave me the diamonds. When I let my ears grow closed, we wanted to keep these, so we made a ring.”
It was a story I’d never heard before, opened like a door unlocked by the key of our related experience. I was glad that I asked.
Our risks, our experiences connect to other experiences and stories and join us to our past, our future, and one another. Time and money will keep me from seeing many places in the world and bar me from experiencing things that I’d otherwise long to see and enjoy. But it’s the simple, close-to-home adventures that sometimes frighten me the most.
It helps when we make our do or die list to find that bottom line and remind ourselves—
There’s no real reason not to.
(And for those who really want to know, this is what my preauricular pits look like.)