As a 35-year-old, I am old enough now that 1) my knees creak when I walk up stairs, and 2) I can really start to look back and reflect on my life so far. I’m a serious reflector. I over-analyze and I think a lot (too much) about who I am and if I am where I should be.
My life has definitely not been perfect, but it has been pretty freaking great. To clarify, here’s what I classify as pretty freaking great:
My kindergarten teacher was the best ever. We got to play in the sand and water table whenever I wanted, and I had my first kiss that year. I even got married, I’m pretty sure. I fell and broke my wrist trying to be a ballerina and missed my first music program, but we made it to school in time to play in the sand box (I guess I must have really loved the sand, you guys).
Throughout elementary school, I had a best friend who went to a different school, so we were able to be BFF without people fighting over us at school. This friendship lasted through middle school until she humiliated me by putting my underwear in the freezer at a sleepover with her “school friends” and I got pissed and stopped going to her house. I loved having her has a BFF, and even though it ended, I’m so glad I had her and she taught me about a lot of things.
I had THE BEST friends in high school. There were 6 of us, and we did things like play mini-golf, watch movies, cook dinner together, and try to pretend like we were adults. The worst thing we ever did was buy cherry flavored Swisher Sweets and smoke them behind the tennis courts. And by smoke them, I mean, I put it in my mouth, declared that I looked awesome, took one puff, coughed for 5 minutes and then we were done. I’m beyond thankful that I could come into my own without my friends pressuring me to drink or do drugs or do all the other things I never wanted to do.
Also in high school, I got to travel the world, experience books and theater and music, realize that I had NO idea what I wanted to do with my life, or where I wanted to go to college.
My first love treated me with respect. He taught me what romance is, and what it feels like to be put first, before anyone else. Truthfully, I was totally in love with one of my friends (who was not in love with me) when I met him and shouldn’t have started dating him, but I totally fell head over heels. We danced in the kitchen, walked along the railroad tracks in the summer, went to cheesy country music concerts, and cuddled in his parent’s basement. I lost my virginity in a loving, calm, respectful way and was never forced or pressured in any way. Sure, he cheated on me and lied to me a bunch when I went away to college, but no one’s perfect, right?
College started off rough (see above) but I had gotten into several schools and ended up transferring. I was in marching band and met a ton of people and got to continue all the things I loved. I found AMAZING friends. We drank, but (usually) not too much. The only trouble with law I had was a disorderly conduct ticket for dancing in a fountain. We mostly went to Perkins late at night to write papers and dance and laugh and annoy everyone in the restaurant. We duct-taped strings of lights to the top of the car and danced at stoplights to make people laugh. We went on a crazy road trip and watched Friends every Thursday night and ate too much ice cream. My parents were getting divorced, but it was what they needed to do and even though my dad and I were fighting and stressed, I made it through. I worked a lot, but had the money I needed.
I got offered the first 3 jobs I applied for. I met my husband when I was 20, and I am telling you there is NO better husband on this planet. We lost my father-in-law to cancer shortly into our marriage, and battled infertility. But we did it together, and grew stronger. My first two babies, twins, were born at 24 weeks and they died. That pain is like nothing I ever imagined feeling. But again, we grew closer together. We are best friends, and the worst thing he’s ever said to me is that the carrots I made were disgusting. For real.
I have a fulfilling job, if we save up we can take a vacation, and we can take our 2 kids to the movies every once in a while. My 6 and 4 year old are beautiful, wild, strong-willed, and loving and they make me so proud I can’t handle it.
Ok, so, if you’re still here, you’re probably wondering, um, are you done bragging yet? What the heck? Get to the point, yo!
So, here it is. Lately, I’m lost. I’m full of despair. Is it all because I’m white? Born into a working-class family? Born in the mid-west to parents who weren’t college educated, but knew the value of college and never questioned when or if I would go and helped me get the loans to do it?
Is any of it because I’ve made great choices? Because I worked really hard?
But…even though I worked really hard, would it have even been possible without the white, class part?
Should I feel guilty? Guilty is not the right word. I don’t feel guilty. But, I feel sad. I worry that I don’t deserve it. I worry that my luck causes other people suffering.
My whole life, all I’ve ever wanted was to love people. I DO love people. But, if I’m completely honest, my life has not been very diverse. I don’t have much experience with people from different cultures (with the exception of the culture of poverty), and I don’t think I tried hard enough to get it. I wish I had.
Things are getting rough out there. Social media makes me squirm. I feel so helpless, so unable to do anything that might make a difference. I want to stand and scream, “Will everyone that’s hateful just pick a state and you can all go live there?”
I want to really, truly understand what systemic racism is capable of in our country and get to the core of why it’s not going away.
I recently read a book called The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. The story is from the perspective of a young black girl who is in the girl with her friend who is murdered by the police. The girl must stand up for what she believes in, but she has all sorts of obstacles in her way. Drugs, gangs, family structure, going to a private school and being treated different by both parts of her life. Obstacles that I never had to face, simply because of the luck of the draw.
It’s a book written for young adults, but it gives this glimpse into a life that is so foreign to me. This is what literature does. It helps those that are seeking to understand. It is why I teach. It is why I write, and read every book I can get my hands on.
But, I read this book and I couldn’t imagine. It’s tiresome to feel so helpless, but it pales in comparison to actually living it. I feel like we’re in this never-ending cycle of knowing the problem, even knowing the root cause, but having no idea what to actually do to fix any of it.
The only thing that makes me feel like I’m doing anything at all is that I work so hard on building a community in my classroom. I work on making each kid know that they are loved no matter what and no matter when or who. But it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you doing out there to battle for social justice? Not just about race, but about any -ism that’s out there?