The Trust We Owe Ourselves

For far too long we have been seduced into walking a path that did not lead us to ourselves. For far too long we have said yes when we wanted to say no. And for far too long we have said no when we desperately wanted to say yes. . . .

When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us.”
― Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Last Sunday Casey Affleck won a coveted prize of Hollywood – the Best Actor Oscar. It was another sharp reminder that men’s lives don’t end when they violate women’s bodies. They get rewarded –President to Academy Awards and everything in between. Society has given men, especially white men, great trust. Men have futures, while women have pasts that need to be upended and examined for any signs of evidence we can use against her.

The erasure of our belief in ourselves starts young. When we tell our parents or teachers or friends that something happened, and the questions pour in: Well maybe he did not mean that. Maybe you misheard him. Maybe you did something. Our lives are lived in the vast, harsh circle of “maybe you.” And we begin to think, “Maybe you didn’t. Maybe he didn’t.” And worst of all, the maybe you did, that leads you to think that somehow, you are at the center of any and every problem.

We begin to suggest, never tell. We suggest in our papers a lens through which to read the author’s intent, while our male classmate makes a bold claim and unwaveringly sticks to it. Even in the face of being wrong, the world has taught them that they are right. Thinking back on the Oscars one more, I am reminded of the one La La Land producer who gave an acceptance speech despite having the knowledge that they had lost. He acted as though it was his right to still take up space despite it not being his time, while the La La Land director and producers were forced to breeze through their moment, the words they longed to say still stuck on their lips.

It becomes hard to unlearn the sound of your own silence. To learn to step outside the path laid out for us into unknown territories where we can boldly declare the lives we long to live. Because it always feels like a betrayal to others to live that life. Yet, as one of my favorite authors stated, we have but one life to live, some must be lived for ourselves. The most important relationship to fix then becomes the breakup experienced long before in a life of what we want and what we do because we’re scared of the silent parts of ourselves. Who is the woman of ‘yeses’? Who is she? I can say with confidence that she has learned that our experiences are all we have, even when people try to tell us otherwise. Those who love us will not abandon us because we trust that what we feel forms the basis of what we know. This is why I trust women when they speak the secrets that have burdened their hearts. Because so often women feel as though no one is listening and hearing the sound of our own voice, clear with the conviction of self-knowledge, is the only way we are ever free.

 

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For 23: A Look Back and a Look Forward

Twenty-two was certainly a year of change. It was the age at which most of my friends and myself were birthed into the “real-world” from the safe and secure wombs of our mother colleges. Feeling naked and more than a little wide-eyed, I have been testing my walking legs ever since.

A week before my senior thesis was due, I met with my advisor, who I had not spoken to in awhile about it. The meeting was a disaster, and she told me that my second chapter was basically a mess and she wished the third one did not exist, as the second was nowhere near ready to be handed in and the third gave me extra editing work. I felt overwhelmed and frustrated. I had worked hard during the fall and especially over the January term, just to be told I did not have enough time to fix all the problems. I went back to my house and I cried my eyes out, not knowing where to begin. Then I received an email from my advisor checking to see if I was doing okay. She told me that I should not despair and that I had a wonderful voice in the paper, but that sometimes it got lost. I just needed to let my reader clearly know what was happening. She said I had my argument, I just needed to believe in it and carry it all the way through. Then, I dried my tears and did not stop working until I turned it in a week later, proud of the result.

So the greatest lesson I learned at 22 was that I have to be confident in who I am and what I want out of this life. Because my advisor was right, and what she told me was true about life too. There are always going to be people and things that try and make my life feel like it is a mess. Factors that try to mire me in the past, saying it is too problematic to move forward to the next chapter. But the reality is that I cannot lose track of my beliefs. I cannot let my voice get lost, and I have to trust in myself—all the way through. If I don’t place my feet on firm ground, something will come along and sweep them out from under me, and not in the romantic sense of the phrase. And there is always time to fix my problems, as long as I am dedicated to addressing them. There is no path I can take that I could walk too far down to turn back. As I enter the 23rd year of my life, my greatest wish is that I continue to remember that the greatest discoveries along my journeys will be about myself. I am looking forward to seeing what this new year that God has blessed me with will bring.

Here is my look back and a look forward in 23 ways:

5 Things I Accomplished During the Last Year

  1. Graduated from Harvard
  2. Completed my undergraduate thesis: “Because Hers Was the Hand that Rocked the Cradle, She Would Mold the Nation”: Black Women and the Domestic Campaign, 1877-1919
  3. Received a post-graduate public service fellowship
  4. Accepted to Teach for America to teach Secondary English in Miami, Florida
  5. Completed a manual for my empowerment program for children on peace education and children’s rights

5 Things I Did or Places I Went During the Last Year

  1. Deferred Teach for America to move to Accra, Ghana for 8 months
  2. Held a python around my neck at a temple in Ouidah, Benin
  3. Burnt my leg on a motorcycle exhaust pipe in Lome, Togo
  4. Had an epic senior Spring Break in San Juan, Puerto Rico with my wonderful blockmates and linkmates
  5. Made many new and close friends I wish I had known or spent more time with earlier

5 Things I Want to Accomplish Before 24

  1. Implement my program here in Ghana
  2. Significantly help my brother with his new venture
  3. Commit to a path for next year
  4. Figure out the balance between time in the States and time abroad
  5. Have something published or performed that I have written

5 Things I Want to Do or Places I Want to Go Before 24

  1. Spend time at home in Indiana
  2. Spend a wonderful Christmas with Caitlin and a wonderful New Year’s with my parents and my brother Scott in December/January
  3. Travel to East Africa
  4. Review Spanish more so it won’t slowly go away
  5. Learn more Twi

3 Things I Learned During the Last Year

  1. It might not happen in a day or even a month, but things have a way of working themselves out for the best, especially when I least expect them to
  2. It’s okay to be a little open and a little vulnerable at the right time and with the right people
  3. There is no need to constantly plan out every step of the future. The present is plenty enough to enjoy.

Vegas for Friendships

I’m not really the gambling type of girl, although all summer I have wanted to visit the amazing Scott Elfenbein in Las Vegas due to the crazy stories he shares about his job there. However, my recent trip out east to NYC and Cambridge to help move one of my best friends, Matt, into his apartment made me think a lot about my friendships at this time in my life, and how they are a little like gambling. Mainly I was thinking about this because of who I got to see while I was there, as well as who I did not see. And I think it boils down to what I am going to refer to as the “Rachel Schend Effect.”

Rachel is my oldest, continuous friend—we’ve been in one another’s lives since the young age of 7. At the risk of sounding too sentimental, Rachel isn’t just one of closest friends, but someone who I consider to be a second sister to me. When we went off to college, Rachel and I only saw one another on those few holidays that we were both home, and during summer days before jobs and internships took over. And through those lovely occasions we developed a very strange but meaningful tradition that every time we reunited we would meet up at her house and drink cheap wine and eat relatively stale donuts, with our only deviations being one time that we had super dry champagne that was only salvaged by heaps of sugar. But even though those days have become fewer and farther between as we get older, I know that every time I spend time with Rachel it will be fantastic, that we will fall right back into effortless friendship, and all because we remain present in one another’s lives through emails, phone calls, Facebook—whatever means available. We show up for each other, even when we can’t physically show up.

I read in a blog recently that the right people will be your memory bank and will bring out the best in you. But finding the right people means making bets. Bets sometimes pay off big, and sometimes they don’t, and either leave you just how you started or negatively impacted. This past year, I learned a lot about my friendships, such as a girl could keep the same roommates for four years through college and love them even more at the end than at the beginning. I learned that sometimes you meet someone and instantly put them in that enclosed circle of trust. Though I also learned that sometimes you can’t help your friends because they have to help themselves, or that some connections to people have to broken because you may hurt yourself in holding on to someone intent on hurting themselves. In every relationship the willingness to take a chance is a key factor in the story’s plot.

The worst part is having expectations that can’t or won’t be met. I have often asked myself if I ask too much of my friendships, but then again, they are my friends because we should expect that our true, close friends would be the ones we could put in our corner of life’s boxing ring. These are the people I would bet on to take care of me during the fights, and be there with more water,  and clean up the wounds or say a kind word. They are the people I would hope that if I put all the chips in, the risk would pay off in huge life winnings.

One of the most amazing things about my last time in Ghana, is that I still get phone calls from the people in my neighborhood. They remember my birthday, ask me about school, and reminisce about all the good times we had. And they tell me how they are looking forward to having me back with them. Those phone calls cost a lot for people who work very hard to keep their heads above the water, but they make them. It’s time to match that all in bet.

 

 

 

 

AND ‘T’ STANDS FOR TRUST

On Thursday, as part of my summer paralegal job, I got to attend depositions for a case with my boss (who remarkably doubles as my brother). Some of what was questioned of these men was the case law that hearsay is not sufficient by itself and must be corroborated by independent investigation or steps to prove the reliability of whomever the hearsay originated from. It is a protective law for citizens so that we are not harassed by mere happenstance, and that reason and cause are present in legal activity. That’s why there is so much emphasis on corroborating what is said.

At the center of the curriculum I wrote, last time I was in Ghana, was the acronym A.C.T. ‘A.C.T.’ was chosen because it spelled ‘act,’ which is a word that requires deliberate motions and movement. The acronym was supposed to teach the children about what they could do if something bad, particularly sexual abuse, was happening to them. The first letter ‘A’ stood for alert, signifying that the children should tell someone about the situation. ‘C’ stood for care, meaning that the students should take care and be cautious of their surroundings, avoiding those bad places and people that was possible to avoid within their power. And ‘T’ stood for trust, which meant that the children should trust that if they alert the proper person(s) and were as careful as they could be, that they should trust that someone would care and something would be done.

I always thought that ‘T’ was the most important letter of A.C.T. I thought that if the students did not believe that ‘T’ would happen—that something would be done to help them—then I had lost the odds of ‘A’ and ‘C.’ It was my romantic thoughts of good triumphing over evil that put so much emphasis on ‘T’ and needing those children to believe that people would care if something bad happened to them. I certainly cared—but then again, I was leaving. And that fact sometimes made me feel like I put so much emphasis on ‘T,’ but in reality, trust was much more complicated than my acronym. It readily defied the confines of my chalkboard lessons. For example, whenever I asked the students to name a few people that they could trust, the top three answers—parents, teachers, and police officers—were the top three groups of people perpetrating the crime.

I guess this rings true for many situations, but it still seems a cruel twist of life that the very people who we give our trust to, are sometimes the very people so quick to betray it. And when it’s the people who are supposed to be taking care of these children, it creates a web of fear in the community of voices revealing unspeakable crimes against a child, and a stigma for those who dare to unveil it. So these children are asked to give proof that what they say about someone who is seemingly trustworthy is true. Corroboration for their story is demanded, while their words become less sure of what they once knew to be their life’s horrible truth. And the ‘T’ I teach becomes nothing more than the letter after ‘s’ and an empty declaration that someone would care and something would get done. I saw the aftermath often. At one school, a girl asked me questions after the first lesson that were too specific to be hypothetical. She ended her line of questions by asking what happens if you tell someone that you were being hurt, they don’t do anything, and someone kept hurting you. I told her that we have to believe that our situation can change and that she should try and tell someone else. But then she replied that others had been told, and nothing had happened. I wish I had a response for her then, but at that moment, I could not think of anything to say to her. I tried to take her aside, but it probably is not so surprising that I could not find her after I was done teaching in other classrooms at school. I tried to follow up at the school, but nothing came of that. If I see that girl again, I can only pray that her voice reached the right ears, such as AMPCAN and other NGOs in Ghana that are trying to put an end to child abuse and neglect. If I see her again, I would tell her that sometimes to change our lives takes a complicated mixture of patience and perseverance, although those are often coupled with lessons no child her age should learn and situations they should never go through. But most importantly, I would tell her that when I say that ‘T’ stands for trust, I also mean that she should trust that if something bad is happening to her that she has it inside of her to hold on until the tide change, and in certain situations, aid herself as well. This is one of the main reasons why I developed my curriculum. These children will become their very own trusted line of defense when empowered with the right knowledge. And myself, along with all the other people working in this field, will stand right there on the front line beside them. Because ‘T’ isn’t just a letter—it stands for trust.