Every year for my birthday I prayed that I would get a horse. Instead, I got my cousin’s old sweaters and a lecture from my mother on being grateful for the things I already had.
A hand-me-down, by definition, is something that has been passed on from another person. Most likely, you’ll refer to that old coat with holes in it that never kept you warm in the winter, or the pair of socks that went through three siblings before they made their way to your feet.
They are the sweaters your brother always wore that made him look so cool, or the high heels in your mother’s closet that your six-year-old feet prayed every night they would one day fit inside.
They are the items that the previous owner took care of enough to live a second or third life. Like the house that’s been in your family for generations, or that weird glass duck your mom keeps on the mantle, and no one really knows where it came from. But it has value. So it’s passed down, kept, and maintained.
In an effort to avoid being completely literal, I want to talk about the hand-me-downs in our lives that are way less tangible, yet far more meaningful.
These are the attributes that have shaped you into the person you are today. It’s the ideals, beliefs, and quirks we learned from people in our lives that had an impact far greater than a birthday gift. A hand-me-down isn’t just an object, it is something that makes you who you are.
It is your mannerisms; the ways you move, gestures you make.
It’s why you always twirl your hair because your older sister did it when she was talking to boys. It’s the nervous ticks you inherited from your mother because she hates public speaking. The way you always talk with your hands because your family always had to show rather than tell you what they were talking about.
It is your perception of color, and the way it can positively or negatively affect your life.
It’s the inheritance of racism, sexism, and the idea of inequality from previous generations. Views that your parents, grandparents, and relatives had that were unfortunately passed down to you. Or you might carry the legacy of acceptance, open mindness, and visions of equality. Your mind is a sponge, and you know that skin color is no grounds for inferiority, and people are people, all of whom we can learn from.
It is your voice, and the way it carries you through life.
You’ll never be able to count how many times you’ve been asked why you don’t say your R’s, or how you got your lisp. You’ll never be able to explain why you learned to say “draw” instead of “droor,” or “theeter” rather than “thee-a-ter.” It’s because you were taught to hold your tongue and wait for others to speak, or why it’s your innate desire to blurt out your thoughts without thinking of the repercussions.
It is the lesson you learn from the past.
Whether it be a day, a week, a month, or years, there are people in our lives that have an impact. It’s because of that time you fell in love too quickly, and from then on, refused to show all your cards from the start. It’s the friends who made you laugh, realizing you need those more than ones who will bring you down. It’s that man on the street who greets you every day, letting you know that the littlest bit goes the longest way.
It is your genetic make up.
Or the reason why you dealt with curly hair through puberty when all the pretty girls had straight. It’s why your thighs are thicker and your waist is smaller. It’s why your face is longer and your nose is pointy, and the reason you can’t digest dairy or are prone to alcoholism. It’s all the things that make up who you are, and remind you where you came from.
That weird glass duck will always be sitting on your mantle, and no one really knows where it came from. But as human beings, we are all walking examples of what has been handed down to us. We represent an amalgam of experiences, cultures, perceptions, and memories, all of which affect how we act on a day to day basis, for both the good and the bad.
And we will all eventually pass those things down. Just remember that the next time you don’t say hi to that stranger on the street, or talk down to someone without thinking of the effect it will have, or go for the guy you think you can change when you’ve never been able to change one of them.