voice

I remember waking up the day after the election tired and stunned. When I got to work I went downstairs to make copies and make some tea and did not make it back to my classroom until right before the tardy bell rang. I have a large class, full of all kinds of students from all kinds of backgrounds. I had not even thought about how they would respond to the election and that since we begin school so early that I might be the first adult they saw that day. 
Immediately an African American on the front row told me that she was disappointed in our country. I teach science, not government and thought that I needed to turn the conversation as quickly as I could safely back to the objectives on the board, but I could not ignore her hurt and the rest of the quiet in the room. I told her that  regardless of what candidate she supported that this country is run by more than one person, that very soon she would be able to vote, that she had a voice. Behind her, a student that also has different color skin than me, asked with an honesty and an ache in her voice that did something to my gut, 

“But do I have a voice???”

I did not know what to say. I wanted to have a great reassuring adult answer, but all I had was a new ache.  So I did a terrible thing and moved on to the lesson, even though there was a more important one being asked of me that day.  Throughout my morning I heard my Hispanic students joke about walls and being sent back to Mexico. They joked, but there was still some fear in their laughter.
I wanted so badly to reassure them, but I did know what I could promise or offer.  My own relatives and address were not on the line.

Months later, no matter what is on CNN or Fox News or posted on social media …. I still see my 5th period class. I try to filter it through their 62 eyes.
The jokes and questions and discomfort. The ones that I know where glad about the outcome and the others who felt uncentered, unheard or afraid.
I hear the question, “but do I have a voice?” in their voice, when I read my friends’ opposing opinions, when I read a new executive order and even when I read my Bible.
They wear boots.
They wear hijabs.
They wear hand me downs.
They wear rainbow pins.
They wear clothes I can’t afford.
Some of them still struggle with the language.
And a few of them aren’t in dress code.

Until recently I have shied away from talking about politics, publicly and even privately.
I often felt confused, bored and disconnected from it.
I never imagined that I would be watching Senate sessions on you-tube. 
That I would tell my husband who used to never vote to stop watching CNN and go do something about it. And that he would.
That I would paint posters.
That I would march.
That I would call senators and write letters.
That I would be explaining immigration polices and the electoral college to my elementary age children.
And that I am not the only one.
I have seen so many people who usually just post pictures of their cute kids or pretty food on Facebook and instagram, post articles and petitions.
That people on both the right and left would do all they can to promote public education. (keep doing it!!)
That many people disagree and that sometimes even a few do it with class and while seeking understanding.
I have learned that I think differently than some of my friends….and yet we can still be friends.
I have learned that there are all kinds of ways to have a voice. And that to really be heard that voice should be followed with action. And spoken in love.
That there are all kinds of voices.
And that everyone.
EVERYONE should have one.
This is, in fact, what democracy looks like.

So to my fifth period class,
I didn’t tell you that I snuck into my storeroom as soon as I could to wipe tears away.
I didn’t know how to answer your questions on November 9.
But I do now.
Yes, my students, my own children, my friends, immigrants and neighbors, Badlands National Park Twitter guy, people I agree with and even to the people I do not:
You have a voice. 

USE IT.



( I can not tell you how much that picture made my heart swell.)





different

Someone recently sent me a meme about tattoos. I reminded them that I have over half a dozen, although none in such obvious places as the picture. I thought about it while I washed my hair, and how once my hair was also purple, and what kind of memes could be found about that. And also, my nose was pierced. Other than the first two tattoos, none of these were things I did in my youth. All were in my thirties.


Currently my hair is a plain brown in a sensible cut. My tattoos all easily hidden with most clothing and only my ears are pierced. As this decade closes I have made efforts to dress more professionally, drink less, stay on top of the laundry although I still refuse to make my bed and talk at an appropriate volume level. Yet, I only looked back on my purple-haired days with longing rather than regret.


See, I used to do those things to be different.  


Sometimes I’d feel just a little trapped by my suburban life although perfect, felt a little too predictable. I felt like I was going to lose myself in Starbucks cups, Target bags and privilege. Other times I just wanted to feel different. I didn’t know how, so I’d at least find a way to mark it. I’d mark it on my wrist or the top of my foot with a symbol to remind me. I’d go buy a box of just a tad too red hair dye and hope that looking different would be the same as feeling it.


In either case, I was no different than before...I just had some new ink or a bad dye job.


I’m glad for every permanent mark, I have and I’ve learned that hair always grows back as you are not who you want to be. Marks, be it tattoos or scars, always tell a story. This I know. I can’t promise to never get another tattoo or always keep my hair close to my natural color, but I will tell you that I feel very differently about wanting to be different. I don’t need to feel that way anymore.


People who want so desperately to be different, never really have been.
When you actually are, all you want to feel is just like everyone else.


At least that has been the case for me.


A year and some months ago I remember feeling isolated in so many ways. I don’t know anyone in real life who has the diagnosis I have and could have really used a friend to sit down and have coffee with an ask a million questions to. I hurt physically and emotionally in ways I never had before. All I wanted was for someone to relate. I felt different and isolated in the worst way because I actually was.


My differences were actually easier than most because for the most part no could spot them on the outside. No one could judge me for them. No one could kick me out of church or deny my rights. I found groups of people like me online. It is no cup of coffee or hug, but occasionally I have a forum to ask questions to or just scroll through when I feel pain.


Growing up there is a such a tension between wanting to be different, but not so different that we weren’t like everyone else. Wanting to be you, but wanting to fit in. To still have a place. To still feel accepted and included.  Teenagers constantly walk in this tension. I guess I took a little longer to grow up than most. I don’t mind. You have to be at least 18 to get a tattoo anyways. And I probably needed to be at least 30 to be able to afford it.

Not always, but for a long time now, I have made an effort to love people who are different than me. To include them. To march for them. To learn from them. I actually prefer it and the more I listen the more I realize how un-different we are.  I’m pretty boring and can use all the perspective I can get. I still think it is a place where I fail all the time. I want so desperately to be different, but am sometimes afraid of it. Afraid of what to say. Or do. Or doing it wrong. That it will rub off on me.
Afraid that other people will judge me as different as well.


God, I hope they do.

Even if my hair is brown.