June 20, 2020
Part of what I’ve learned through therapy for my anxiety disorder is having to sit with my feelings. I mean that literally. I will find a place to sit down when I catch myself feeling especially anxious in an attempt to scan my brain and pinpoint what is causing me to feel this way. Once I identify whatever it is, I then need to confront it. Head on. This confrontation is often extremely uncomfortable and forces me to acknowledge things that were typically easier to pack away somewhere. Fears, insecurities, and wrongdoings. I tend to dread this process. But it took enough panic attacks to know that avoidance only led to the likelihood of more frightening episodes within my body and mind. And with enough practice, and patience, this process became my process, allowing me to grow, become stronger, and above all, keep myself grounded.
The last few weeks have looked and felt a lot like this process. I’ve retreated, as I often do when my anxiety is high, and honestly just haven’t been able to bring myself to go about life as normal – for example, sharing our daily happenings on social media. Because nothing about what is happening (and has been happening) to Black people in our nation right now is normal or acceptable in any way shape or form. So in this retreat I’ve attempted to really sit with it all. To keep reading, listening, learning, unlearning. As a biracial female, I’ve always considered myself someone who “got it” and was already doing the work. Someone who stood proudly and firmly in her own beliefs, and stood up to words and actions founded in hate and prejudice. I mean, I’ve experienced that hate and racism first hand along with my own siblings and parents, so of course I understood. I could empathize, right?
I think in a lot of ways being both biracial and a female did, and still does, help me sympathize, but not empathize. I have been witness to the Black experience in America but of course I have never actually lived it. The discomfort and hurt I had undergone at times in my life as a result of racism, while definitely impactful, pales in comparison to that of the daily treatment of the Black community in our country. Though I left the bubble that is my predominantly White suburban town when I headed to college (to the University of Notre Dame nonetheless, not exactly top of the list when it comes to racially diverse universities), I wasn’t truly exposed to the many, many issues at hand until I moved to Philadelphia to begin my two-year stint as a young, bright-eyed educator with Teach For America.
When I look back on that time so much of it was spent being in a state of disbelief. How could things possibly be this way? How could this school system be failing these kids so badly? How was it that there was just no more funding available? The larger systemic issues beyond just the effect on the School District of Philadelphia started to become clearer day in and day out. But as much time as I spent worrying about my students’ well being and future, I also spent just as much time wallowing in my perfectly manicured townhome rental on Delancey Street, exhausted by how stressful and difficult the days were on me. That, like many, many other examples, was part of my privilege. I would have to actively “check myself” so to speak when that latter thought (that I of course would never say out loud) crossed my mind. The students and colleagues I developed relationships with were some of the most amazing people I have ever met, and my experience with them changed my views in so many ways. But I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t walk away after my two years were up with a quiet sigh of relief when I moved on to private education where things were just enormously easier. I convinced myself when I left that my two year commitment was more than a lot of other young professionals would ever do to give back. I had made a difference in some capacity, sure. But that guilt, that pit in my stomach I often felt when I would reunite with former students or walk by those schools, it never really left. I can’t change the past and my decision to not stay, but I can continue to carry that time with me as a reminder and spark for change now.
I’m not sure if it’s just getting older and growing up, or if becoming a parent has deepened this sense of urgency and duty I have been feeling as of late. Either way, I keep coming back to one thought. It is no longer enough to just say I want a better world for Charlie; I need to actively be a part of creating it. So much of this starts at home. The last few weeks have forced Mike and I to have conversations I think many couples typically avoid (especially when it starts to feel too heavy). It’s forced me to start doing more than just say “I disagree” to family members and close friends, but instead “this is not okay and here’s why.” It’s living out the phrase “actions speak louder than words” while also being more mindful about what I do choose to say and how I say it to my son. It’s remembering to practice what I preach, day in and day out.
My anxious mind has always told me to protect my child from the scary truths of this world. I’ve realized now, more than ever, that if I want him to truly have the best life possible, it means not being able to shield him (and really me) from the realities that exist. It is not only my job to introduce him, guide him, encourage him, and challenge him; it is my privilege. It is a privilege and role I do not take lightly, because it’s the most important one I will ever have.