“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—”
― Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
I’m bad at publishing blog posts in a timely manner, so I started writing this at the beginning of November:
Last weekend, I participated as a staff facilitator in the university’s social justice retreat. It was a beautiful experience. I had the opportunity to work with college students (grads and undergrads) who were passionate and invested in making the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone; regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, national origin, language, socioeconomic status, or belief system. I got to hear their life stories and share some of mine. It was intense and mentally exhausting, but also so meaningful.
During that weekend, I re-learned the power of stories and of seeing, really seeing people for the individuals they are. I was humbled by the openness with which these young people came. And they challenged me to try to do better, again. To be recommitted to living out my beliefs. And to strive to stand boldly for what I believe in: human dignity and the right to be seen.
One of the students in my small-group made a comment on Saturday about the reality that America could elect a leader with fascist views. Up to that point, we’d been laughing and being fairly lighthearted in our chatter. When she said that, we all sobered up and the reflections in our minds would be read in our eyes: What would this mean to America? What would this mean for me?
To get to the retreat, we drove through ardent Trump supporter territory. There were signs every other foot. Some big, some small, some hidden by overgrown fields ill-suited to staying in their places. I even saw Trump/Pence signs on the lawn of a church. The irony is that their mission statement (because I looked in up) included a focus on ministry to at-risk populations. I wondered to myself how they defined “at-risk.”
And then there was the huge Trump sign in a field, with the “T” missing and a notice that it had been vandalized by the intolerant. What defines tolerance and intolerance?
It’s now post-election and Trump has been named president-elect. There have been many newspaper articles, blogs posts, social media rants, and frantic tweets about the ramifications about the election. I’m not going to add to that right now.
What I do want to say is that while attending the social justice retreat I was challenged in ways that I did not expect to be challenged.From that experience, these are the things I learned:
- “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
- Never assume that you know someone’s life story, the things they wrestle over, or their perspective, just because of how they look or what you perceive to be true from prior experience.
- “We’re all stories in the end.” – Steven Moffat
- As the retreat coordinator said, it’s not facts that change lives, it’s stories. The more we take time to engage with others on a genuine level, the better off we all are. It doesn’t mean we’ll all agree on everything (spoiler: we won’t). But it is hard to ignore someone’s humanity while listening. Build relationships and take time to be present. It’s about dialogue, not debate. Debate has it’s time and place.
- “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push just the same.” ― Jay Asher
- During the retreat, we had little paper bags in which we could leave (positive) comments for other people to recognize the brave, supportive, or noteworthy things they’d done during the weekend. At the end of the retreat, everyone had a chance to retrieve their bags and see what notes others had left for them. Sometimes I forget that other people besides me can see me living.
- “A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives.” ― Jackie Robinson
- Also, on the last day, we did this activity. Maybe it sounds cheesy; maybe it was. But it was also humbling and warm-fuzzy feeling to realize that the things I did, just going throughout my day, meant something to someone else. And vice versa.
I have a quote wall in my apartment with sticky notes of phrases and ideas I want to remember (also perhaps cheesy). Each of these quotes went on my wall and hopefully it will serve as a constant reminder to me to, in the words of Luuvie Ajayi, “Do better!”