The beginning of bravery

Very recently I had the pleasure of meeting with a former professor whom I admire greatly as a woman, thinker, educator, and mom.

I originally met her in my second to last semester as a graduate student. I had to take a research class, which I thought would be a definite drag. It wasn’t. It was one of the most challenging and intellectually invigorating classes I’d taken in all of my academic career. It was a breath of fresh air–pardon the cliche–amidst some very heavy and droning lecture-style classes.

This professor “had me at hello.” She was at once witty, insightful, hilarious, brilliant, and best of all, radiated confidence. Though she wasn’t that much older than me, I developed the sort of idol complex children often have with super heroes. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up. She believed what she said, didn’t need to apologize for any of her opinions, and didn’t care who disagreed.

I acutely remember one doofus moment very early on in the class during which I felt like a prize idiot. After introducing ourselves to the class, we had to tell one thing of interest. I mentioned that I had a one-year-old daughter. Without a blink or hesitation, this amazing woman shared that she was going through fertility treatments and that they were making her sick to her stomach. I, thinking I was making idle chitchat, said something to the effect of, “Well, you’ll definitely feel like that during pregnancy.” She immediately responded with something along the lines of “Yeah, but at least I’ll have a baby.” Burn. What a silly, foolish thing to say to a woman who was fighting with every ounce of her being to conceive a child, and here I was reducing it to some trite idea known galaxywide.

But that was it. There seemed to be no malice in her comment, nor did she seem to harbor any resentment or ill will toward me. She just said what she was thinking, and that was that. That was, and still is, her style. In a world where people exist with so many masks and who live so much of their lives hiding behind either a keyboard or false pretenses, this way of facing the world feels almost poetic to me.

And so, when she asked to meet me to help her with an interview for her newest research, I was floored. Though we’ve maintained contact via various Facebook posts and comments, I was excited to sit down with her after so many years and really talk.

We talked mostly about education–the good and the bad…mostly the bad on my part, I admit. And in doing so, I shared so many thoughts and feelings about the state of education, what it is to be a public school teacher in a country so comfortable with vilifying us, and how worried I am that students are missing out on what could be amazing experiences because of the restrictions put on schools, teachers, and the students themselves. It felt amazing to be heard, really heard. And not just heard, but understood.

Of course I’ve spent my fair share of time commiserating…ok, bitching…with my colleagues. And of course my husband has had to wield my rants more times than he should have. But to have someone objective, with no connection or investment in my personal situation come out and agree with me, felt liberating. Perhaps I wasn’t crazy after all. Perhaps I’m not just a jaded, miserable wretch of a teacher. Maybe it’s the system, and not me, that’s flawed.

As if this wasn’t good enough for my soul, one of the last questions she posed to me was, “How are you so brave?” I was honestly taken aback by the question. Me, brave? I really hadn’t thought about it that way. I was just speaking my truth. And it was in that that she impressed upon me was what was most brave. To speak what I really, truly believe without any of the typical dancing-around-the-bush or other verbal detractors, was impressive to her. And that resonated with me.

And the more I think about it, the more I really wonder how many of us are speaking our truths? And how many of us don’t worry about the consequences? How many of us refuse to apologize if what we say isn’t what others want to hear? And why the fuck don’t more of us feel secure in doing so?!

Soon, I found, I couldn’t keep her question to me out of my mind. Yeah, I guess I was brave in being completely honest to her. But what about other times I practically have to force my mouth shut? Why was I hiding sometimes? And what good was it doing me? The more I questioned it, the more I knew I had to do something about it. I had to do something for myself for once.

And so, this is where this blog comes into play. This is now my sanctuary. A place where I can express myself, and not care about repercussions. I have always found solace in writing. It waters my soul. And so I no longer give a shit who sees this. Come, get a glimpse of my mind and heart. No one will stop me. No one will make me feel afraid or ashamed to feel how I feel and say what I say. Come what may. I’ve battled anxiety and censorship for too long. And that is over.

And it was all because of a single question.