I suppose that I am somewhat of an enigma to most people. I tend to be quiet and unassuming, the kind of person who prefers to blend in with the crowd rather than steal the limelight. I am mostly easy going and easy to please. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. I generally follow rules without complaint. My favorite way of behaving is like a fly on the wall. I want to observe the world and the people in it without too much notice so that I might mull over what I have seen and heard. Nonetheless, there are moments when events or situations fire up my rebellious streak. In those times I become fearless, able to take on a raging bear with a fierceness that seems to come from nowhere. I say and do whatever I think needs to happen without caring what people may think of my sudden shift in demeanor. Most of the time this sort of thing occurs when I believe that someone is in need of help or justice. I can’t seem to stop myself from becoming involved.
I suppose that I first realized this aspect of my personality when I was twenty years old and my mother became seriously ill with depression, mania and psychosis. At first I felt totally helpless and attempted to garner the assistance of one of my aunts or uncles. Sadly they were as confused about what to do as I was. They backed away from actively becoming participants in a process of getting her the medical care that she so obviously needed and instead seemed to just hope that her condition would pass and all would be well. I realized that if my mother was going to get better I would have to be the one to step up and be assertive. Somehow I found the courage that I needed and the voice that had been meek and silent until that moment roared to life.
That was a turning point for me. I learned how to speak for my mom and that led me to devote most of the rest of my life to being an advocate for the many children and teens that I taught. Eventually my fervor evolved into representing the teachers on my campus. Time and again I have stood against opposition in efforts to make things right for individuals and groups who needed someone to help them overcome challenges and inequities. I became the bold version of myself because I truly believe that the one and only bit of advice that we need in this world is to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. To do that we must be willing to sacrifice and be unafraid.
I’ve crossed swords with ignorance, neglect, illogical thinking, bigotry, suffering, abuse and other negative traits of humanity many many times. I sometimes feel like Batman changing into a suit that is so unlike the person that I generally am. I somehow find superpowers within me to fight for causes that sometimes make me an outcast, but that I feel are too important to ignore. I’ve lost friends or had to leave jobs after taking a stance for the benefit of what I believed to be right and just.
Most of the time I don’t worry much about things like the cost of gasoline or supply chain issues that make it difficult to find cream cheese. I concentrate on the health and well-being of people, injustices that crop up more often than they should. That’s when I can’t seem to control my instinct to speak out loudly, to do something to help. I suppose that behavior that began with my mother only became stronger when I worked with vulnerable children and saw the many horrific things that they had to endure.
There really is such a thing as privilege and I know I have much of it for no reason other than being born under just the right circumstances. First was my birth in a free democratic republic, then came my white skin that shielded me from most instances of bigotry. While my childhood was tinged with trauma from my father’s death I was fortunate to have a very wise and loving mother who devoted herself to me and my brothers. Eventually I would translate her lessons into caring for her when she became ill. I had opportunities for enriching my life with education. I met and married a very good man who was an equal partner and supporter in everything I attempted to do. My seemingly ideal life was fairly close to being as perfect as such a thing might be, and while I did work hard to get where I am I understand that I began my adult journey with advantages that so many others do not have. I learned this all too well from the thousands of students that I encountered over a span of forty plus years.
I suppose that I first learned from my mother and from my father before he died. Eventually my teachers would have a profound impact on who I am as a person. I have had magnificent friends who furthered my education. Finally, my students may have taught me more than I ever taught them. They widened my horizons and made me aware of the struggles that so many silently bear. I did not need a history course to realize that we have a long way to go before everyone is treated with the same level of respect that came to me without much effort. I saw suffering of a kind that is too terrible too describe. It still pains my heart.
So it is true that I sometimes get animated and preachy when it comes to certain causes. I can’t seem to help myself. I cannot look the other way or just hope for the best when I see someone hurting and without anyone to help. I have to step up and attempt to make things happen. It’s the person I have become for better or worse. I’d like to believe that somehow my small kindnesses have made a difference for the people I have encountered. I know that they have humbled me and helped me to see the world with more clarity and hopefulness. I hope that knowing that someone cared enough to fight for them helped them to a better place. I just wanted them to know that someone really loved them.