Saturday, April 21, 2007
I drove to a college in Central Maine today, after being asked to speak to a group of students about the state of the social and political existence of LGBTQ people in Maine. I had absolutely no idea what I would say, and on the long drive up, I wasn't feeling especially inspired or even capable of appearing like I knew what the hell i was talking about. This felt like a HUGE topic and lately I had been made aware that I had a whole lot to learn about the many sub-cultures of the community I am serving. I had known about this workshop for weeks, but like I so often do, I let go of the planning and decided to fly by the seat of my pants. Usually it works. But as I drove onto the campus, my mind was a blank slate, and I worried that I'd never find a way to fill up two hours worth of time.
The students took care of that for me.
There were eleven of them. I started by asking them to talk about their own existence as LGBTQ people. And it was as though no one had ever asked them that before, because the words, the expressions, the emotions came pouring out of them. Some of them were full of angst as they talked about the places that scared them, of their worries, of their complicated, unsteady lives. They were awkward in their own skin, struggling to find ways to express their gender, their sexuality...their uniqueness...afraid even to show it. It was disarming at first, because I didn't expect it. I am constantly surrounded by people of all ages who are completely at ease with their lives, accepting and proud and loud and OUT there. It had been a long time since I had seen this kind of honest and profound anguish.
They talked and talked and talked, and I listened. It became a sort of make-shift support group, one I wasn't feeling qualified to facilitate. They looked at me for answers, for commentary, for comfort. And while I seemed to make THEM feel better, each minute that ticked away left ME feeling worse. They needed an anchor, some hope of a future that gave them equal footing and respect, a place where they were no longer the marginalized but the celebrated. Their eyes were saying "Please do this for us." It was completely overwhelming, because I was filled with doubt. Doubt that I was in any position, at ALL, to help them when there were so many times in the past six months that I could barely even help myself.
This voice in my head kept saying "you'll let them down. You'll let them down because you are just exactly like them. They look at you and think you are older and wiser and capable, but you aren't." And at that moment, I convinced myself that it was true. I WAS just like them, searching, struggling in my own life, waivering constantly between steady and unsure. How could I look back at those eyes and not give myself completely away?
I couldn't leave fast enough. I got into the car and felt like I couldn't breathe. I was inadequate. Ill-prepared. An imposter posing as an activist. It was mind-numbing. I went over my own life, thinking about how I am packing it away in boxes, again, starting over, again, rebuilding, again, learning to walk, again, beginning a strange and different life, again. Desperate to rest, finally, in a space that is just for me, exhausted from constant daily maneuverings that happen when you aren't there yet. And I felt exposed. Naked. Vulnerable for the first time in months. The hills and fields of Waldo County were rolling by me, and the sun was beating through the open windows for the first time in weeks, and I should have felt completely alive. But I was absolutely putting myself into an emotional paralysis.
About 10 miles out of Waterville, I put a Paula Cole CD in and it started blasting through the speakers. And I was mentally tearing myself to shreds. The confidence I had felt over the past 3 months was at risk of being obliterated in a single road trip. I needed to be rescued from my own hand. And as silly as this will seem, I was...by a damn Paula Cole song. Go figure. I recognized it the moment it came on. I'd heard it a million times. But for whatever reason, in that car, feeling so badly, beating myself up for not being 100% together 100% of the time, the first line of the song hit me like a ton of bricks. It was, strangely enough, like my own heart singing out to me.
I pulled the car over, and I listened to the song again. And then I started to cry, that sort of cry that comes from some other place, that sort of cry that grabs hold of you and wraps its arms around you and allows you to...just let go. Let go of the places that scare you. Let go of the uncertainties of life. I played that song until I could get through it without crying...at least 6 or 7 times. And when the ocean in my head was finally empty, when I felt like I could finally move again, I turned the music off and just sat there. Quietly.
Take a breath. Admit that you don't have every answer. Accept that you don't need to. Digging hurts sometimes, but it's the only way to find those parts of you that disappeared. And you are so much stronger than you even know. You've proven that. Now be fearless. This moment is all you have.
So I put the car in drive. Moved forward. One inch, one foot, one mile at a time, each measured distance breathing life back into me until I indeed felt alive again, and, in so many ways, much much more aware.
And even as the physical distance between me and those students got bigger and bigger, I knew they weren't going away any time soon.
As I sit here typing away, I know I will carry them with me, inside, closely, to remind me that we never stop being scared about something, never stop being vulnerable, because we open ourselves up so wide to the possibilities of life. Love comes in, and so does loneliness. Happiness comes in, and so does sadness. Light comes in, and so does darkness. We wouldn't recognize the other without its opposite in view. I should have told them that.
I am not the person who is singing.
I am the silent one inside.
I am not the one who laughs at people's jokes.
I just pacify their egos.
I am not my house,
They are only stops along my way.
I am like the winter,
I'm a dark cold female,
With a golden ring of wisdom in my cave.
And it is me who is my enemy.
Me who beats me up.
Me who makes the monsters.
Me who strips my confidence.
I am carrying my voice.
I am carrying my heart.
I am carrying my rhythm.
I am carrying my prayers.
But you can't kill my spirit,
It's soaring and it's strong.
Like a mountain, I'll go on and on.
But when my wings are folded,
The brightly colored moth
Blends into the dirt into the ground.
And it's me who's too weak,
And it's me who's too shy.
To ask for the things i love.
And I love.
(I am walking on the bridge...
I am over the water...
And I'm scared as hell...
But I know there's something better.)
I know it.