My granddaughter had her first day of pre-school today.
I had my first day of college.
I don't know how SHE did, but I left class in tears.
Four years ago, during the last days of my Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program training, I had one of those life-altering realizations. It happened, as these things usually do, in the midst of a session that was about something else entirely. It's a "you had to be there" sort of story, so let me sum up: I realized that I had a deeply held belief that who I am, in the deepest, un-changable parts of my being, is bad. I realized that I had been trained to reject many pieces of what make me ME, and fully believed I should apologize for them, when they accidentally surfaced
I hadn't run across the concepts of internalized misogyny or self-colonization yet, but those terms might help you understand my realization. The me that is Woman, the me that is Native and Emotional and Gentle and Big and Loud and Strong and Angry and Certain and Threatening to Patriarchy...I had spent decades trying to reduce THAT Me. This realization came all in a rush, and I snuck out of the group, ran across the lawn and into the little patch of woods where I had discovered treasure in the form of a creek. I took off my shoes and there, in the middle of that creek, all by myself, I danced away those beliefs. I let them go.
Two days later, I returned home with a new determination: To figure out who ME is, and be that person with all my being.
I stopped apologizing for not wearing shoes, or sitting on the floor. I spoke when I had something to say. I didn't speak when I didn't want to, even if it made someone else uncomfortable. When I had good ideas, I shared them. When I needed help, I asked for it. When I didn't want to do something, I didn't do it. I didn't get it right every time, but I kept trying, and I got better and better and better at being Me.
In the process, I discovered that I have a lot to say; I have a lot of REALLY GOOD stuff to say. But I don't always know enough to feel confident saying it. I want to be sure I'm not missing something important before I speak. And also, the people I want to say stuff TO don't really listen to people who don't have a college education. I want to continue to learn and grow, and in order to do that, I need to go to school. I want a bigger platform to speak from, and in order to have that, I'm going to have a degree.
So, here I am today, starting college.
The first three classes went fine. College Algebra is just a thing you've gotta do, World Religions is going to be pretty easy, and Indigenous Religions makes me super excited. So, by the time I walked into Intro to Women and Gender Studies, I was feeling pretty confident. I've got this. It's gonna be good. Probably even great, if we're being honest.
The teacher's introduction was great; she seems nice and very passionate about the topic. Then we started going through the syllabus. I mean, you know, it was syllabus stuff. Don't cheat, show up for class, do your readings, and you'll do great. I'm listening to the teacher, and flipping through the syllabus to write important dates in my calendar and things keep catching my eye. "Patriarchy, the System"...Gloria Steinem "If Men Could Menstruate"..."I'm Glad I Was in the Stonewall Riot"..."Constraints and Freedom in Conservative Christian Women's Lives"...and all the sudden I can't breathe. My stomach is in knots, and I kind of want to be sick. My head starts pounding, and my whole body feels tight.
I keep writing down dates, but I'm listening to my body and asking it what's going on? I mean, good grief. It's a syllabus. I picked this class. I want this class. I want to learn, and know, and read. And I'm panicking.
I'm asking my body what's wrong, but really I know. I'm afraid I'll get in trouble. I'm afraid someone, somewhere, somehow will KNOW that I'm taking this class--this feminist class--and I'll be in trouble. It's not a rational thought. It doesn't make sense. What am I afraid of? Dad'll yell at me? God will never speak to me again? I'll disappoint my non-existent church? There's no rationality to it, though, there's just panic. Just me and this syllabus and my body wanting to get up and bolt from the room because I'm terrified.
I stay through the whole class. I fill out the questionnaire the teacher gives us, asking our comfort level talking about different subjects. Sex. Race. Gender. I give myself 10s in all of them, because I am completely comfortable talking about all those things. My body's just terrified I'll become a feminist, and then it'll all be over.
I barely make it to a quiet area away from the building before the tears come. When Cory picks up the phone I'm already sobbing. I hate being afraid. I hate the voices and alarm bells that still go off in my head, warning me that THIS THING will be the one that pushes me over the edge. THIS time I'll have gone too far and never be able to come back. Never mind that I don't want to go back. Not ever. I'm too happy with who I'm becoming to ever want to throw on the brakes on that process.
This is going to be a great process. If I didn't know that before, I'm sure of it now. Because this is my quest. Find all those little pockets of terror and limiting thoughts and unallowable growth and root them out. Every one of them. Because someday, when they're done, I'll be free.
I can't wait.
PS-This beauty appeared on my drive home. What an omen. What a journey.