Lessons from a lobster

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Off the coast of Maine, a fishing crew raised their nets and saw something weird – a bright orange lobster with only one claw. Because it was such an unusual catch, they turned it over to the Arthur P. Girard Marine Science Center at the University of New England. 


The scientists at the marine center were thrilled to adopt the newcomer, and he joined two other curious-looking crustaceans at the center – a yellow lobster named Banana and a calico-colored one called Sprinkles. Scientists haven’t yet named the orange, one-armed lobster, but I’m rooting for the name “Cheeto,” which seems like a perfect fit. 


What fascinates me most about this weird little story is the fishermen’s reaction to the oddball who showed up in their net. They weren’t suspicious or repulsed. They didn’t fling it off the boat to get rid of it. Instead of seeing a freak, they saw the find. (In fact, mathematicians at the University of New England said the chances of catching an orange lobster are about one in 30 million.) Cheeto’s rescuers saw the beauty in the bizarre. 


It got me thinking about how differently we, as humans, react to variation depending on the scenario. For example, we’re big fans of variety when it comes to animals or plant life or ice cream flavors. (No one wants a purely vanilla world, right?) Scientific events like the Northern Lights involve a strange green glow creeping up into the night sky, yet visitors flock to see it every year and photograph how wonderfully weird it is. 


But show us a weird human – one who looks odd, has vastly different beliefs, or lives so much differently than we do – and suddenly we’re weirded out. Often, human reactions range from slightly suspicious to pure outrage. Why does diversity in a fish tank delight us, while a weird-looking person on the street triggers irritation, judgment or hostility? 


I’m not saying I’m immune from a negative reaction because I’m not. I sometimes feel wary when faced with something or someone weird. But as long as “weird” isn’t hurting other people, why do we care so much? Why can’t we just let weird be weird? 


According to the National Science Foundation’s website, there are more than 430,000 different kinds of plants on Earth, and about 40 percent of those plants are considered “very rare” – aka weird. So why would we expect any less variation in people?


The truth is that most of us feel like a one-armed orange lobster in one way or another. I always felt weird as a shy kid, and often I still do. Show me a person who doesn’t have at least one weird family member, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t met the whole family yet. We are all variations on a theme – some more varied than others. And we drift along through life, hoping to be discovered by someone who will find us remarkable. We can be weird and worthy all at the same time. 


And if my working theory is correct and we’re all at least a little weird, then being weird is one of the most normal things a person can be. 


Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon. 

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