Not long ago my husband and I were having a [discussion/argument, tomayto/tomahto]. He said to me, you may take up a small physical space [all 5’0 of me], but you take up a lot of energetic space. You’re big, bigger than you realize. When he said this, I had taken up the majority of the room with my “space.”
I realized in that moment the truth in what he was saying.
I have always been shy and reserved to the outside world, because I am, as I will often and readily admit, a bona fide introvert. I don’t have the ability to voice in person what I can easily voice in the written word because I require the extra time, the extra space that verbal conversations don’t allow for. By the time I finish processing the exact correct response I wish for, the moment is long gone. Put me on the spot and I freeze, able only to communicate some nonsensical gibberish that can label the moment nothing but awkward.
I have had a difficult time in my life reckoning these two opposing sides of myself, the bigger than big, with the socially small. My need to identify has always left me in conflict with myself.
I recall quite clearly that as a young child I was extremely self-assured. I was born with purpose, I had a strong mind and I knew it. Everyone knew it. You could feel it, practically see it. It was all the difference between how I was treated compared to my much better-behaved older sister. I was born owning the space I occupied.
But over time that feeling disappeared. As I naturally became more socially aware, grew to learn of the world’s expectations of me, grew to understand politics in its various forms, and as the introvert in me solidified into the core of my being, that large space I occupied felt, to me, to be very, very small. Tiny even. I didn’t understand or even recognize its existence. I denied it entirely.
This went on through my teens, through my twenties. On the outside the quiet one, the wallflower, the cute one, the shy one. On the inside full of spunk, angst, confusion, and fight. Conflicted. There were moments when my inner strength barreled through and in those moments I felt undeniably free, viscerally elevated. And yet I never recognized that this could be a permanent state, always reverting back to my small, introverted self.
In my thirties this inner conflict crumbled. Between the cloudy fatigue of motherhood and the onset of some health complications, I didn’t always recognize myself. I was searching. I often turned to writing as my own personal therapy, looking for clues in my own written word, processing information every time I sat at my computer.
You see I knew one thing for certain, that same thing I knew right from the time I was born. I am on this earth for a reason, just like all of us. I know I am meant to be here, I just don’t always understand the why. I could not see through the mental, emotional and energetic haze, to whatever is meant to be on the other side. Big personality me and small introvert me did not understand how to coexist, and did not understand this as their life’s mission. They only understood that something had to give.
But, somewhere inside of me, resting in the shadow of ego, I was afraid of what would happen, could happen, if it did.
Tangent story: Not too many years ago I began working for a company that really felt in line with my core values. I was excited beyond measure for this opportunity. I knew it was where I was meant to be at that time in my life, I just knew I needed to work there and I was so grateful that everything had aligned as it did. For the first time in many years, I loved going to work.
There was a very large but that grew to exist. It turned out that although the company seemed to be aligned with my values, my boss most certainly was not. He was what I could only comfortably refer to as “a bad man.”
While I don’t want to allow him too much space in my story, in the vein of everything happens for a reason, I have to acknowledge that my time working with him was a climactic chapter at the end of my thirties, and because of it I am able to close this decade with purpose if not grace.
To put it quite simply, he was that annoying type of conservative who, after the election of Trump, thought it was safe to uncloset himself as the racist, sexist, homophobic person he was. He felt he could spew his opinions freely without reprimand, and so did. He was incredibly arrogant.
Working in that environment triggered a very deep and burning anger inside me. I was compelled to speak out every time he opened his mouth. I can’t count the number of times I kicked him out of my office. I could easily tell him to his face what I thought of him, going against introvert me and taking up that extra-large space surrounding petite me. I called it like I saw it and then some.
Despite my anger I made efforts to be mature. I offered insights, requested reason, and was completely honest in my bluntness, but none of it mattered. I saw in him something that he did not see in himself: that he was weak, that he needed this carefully constructed persona in order to feel important, that his ego was so fragile that even a hint of negativity towards him would cause him to fall to pieces, and so he could only strengthen the conceits and deceits with which he surrounded himself to prevent this from happening. I was the one person that threatened this construct.
I almost felt sorry for him, really. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him because I could see the truth of what he really was, a truly lost human, and one who will likely never find his way home.
Yet still, I burned. I burned on behalf of those he spoke out against. Most especially, I burned on behalf of all women, any woman who ever had to deal with this level of [stupid]. I burned because it was the first time in my life I ever experienced sexism against the smart, strong and wholly capable person I know myself to be, and I burned because I couldn’t passively allow such sexism to still exist in the world where my smart, strong and wholly capable daughter will grow to occupy. I felt called to resist.
The aftermath of this story, after the dust settled and the deep burning had subsided to slow and steady embers, what was left behind was the strongest, most conviction-filled version of me my life had known thus far.
Tangents converge: This week in Quebec, with the passing of Bill 21 and all the legalized racism that goes with it, I found myself boiling with anger, the same kind of dark anger I felt working under [old stupid boss], and I wanted to react. But I’m almost-40 now, I’ve experienced a few things, I learned from my experiences. I’ve taken the time to listen.
In the same week Oprah came to town and spoke about being a light during times of darkness. My husband reminded me of the Obama’s expression, When they go low, we go high. And reading some words from the Dalai Lama reminded me that anger is futile, and that only clear and conscious communication in the name of love and peace can make any real difference.
So in the face of small-minded racism, and in the spirit of knowing my own strength, I’ve taken a stance of peaceful activism. I could just ignore it. I mean, we can’t change the law, now can we? But I would rather have been the kind of person that hid Jews during the Nazi regime rather than held the letter of the law. I would rather have been the kind of person working the underground railroad. Of all the instances of racism against a people throughout the past century, even just in Canada [the aboriginals, the Japanese…], I cannot just sit down and drink my coffee and live my life saying nothing, with another people being targeted in such an unconstitutional way. Anger may be futile, but I do still hold a burning drive deep in my belly that refuses to allow me to remain silent.
The suffragettes had a slogan, The young are at the gates. It was an expression representing activism and change derived from this quote from Lavinia Dock: “The old stiff minds must give way. The old selfish minds must go. Obstructive reactionaries must move on. The young are at the gates!” I refer to this slogan often, within myself, as a reminder that I too can make a difference. That I will show up to the gates, and I will do my part to have them be opened to one and all. As a woman, especially, this is important to me. With Bill 21 targeting women, especially, this is important to me.
And as a woman, especially, I can’t help but think about my strength, and the strength of all the women I know. I can’t help but think that “it is the neck that moves the head.”* I can’t help but think, “Men, They thought they ruled the world but couldn’t so much as take a step without, that very night, seeking the opinions of their partners, lovers, girlfriends, mothers.”** I can’t help but remember that in times of darkness I have already been a light for myself, and that I have a responsibility to be a light for others. I can’t help but recall, “I’ve always heard that women are more courageous and intelligent that men…”** I can’t help but look way down the line of our ancestry, before these past 2000 plus years, to societies past, and understand how women once led with grace and balance, and how it was widely recognized that the masculine, without the feminine, did not a balanced society make.
And I can’t help but know that women learn from their experiences, as I am professing to doing now. Women grow, mature, and bring that maturity to the table. Women have sense, and in this current society where sense there is none, sense is what is needed.
I guess what I am getting at, in a very long-winded sort of way, is that women have the power to set things straight in this world. We have the strength and we have the staying power to get the job done. We are fierce, brave, smart, determined, reasonable and strong. We burn, but as beacons of light that are never extinguished. Women are capable instigators of change. I am an instigator of change.
When a pendulum is too far in one direction for too long, it sometimes takes a great big push before it can find equilibrium. As a woman I feel the need to push, because it’s 2019***, because my daughter already thinks being mayor is a woman’s job [Mom, are men allowed to be mayor too?], and because she feels being a doctor is a woman’s job [Mom, are there places in the world where men can be doctors too?], I sense the pendulum moving. But it needs the young at the gates, it needs the great big push, it needs to hear the feminine in all of us give a great big roar.
Because listen, equilibrium is all we are truly seeing at the end of the day. The rest of us, outside of our current governments and small-c conservatives [and those some may refer to as “the man”], we all just want to live our lives peacefully, from the comfort of our homes, wherever we choose for those homes to be. I don’t care about Bill 21 or Bill 101 or English or French or Cantonese or white or brown or red or green or male or female or religious or not religious. I care about human. We are each of us a citizen of this earth, born unto whatever deity we choose to believe in. We are each here for a reason. But that reason, at no point, involves infringing on the peaceful rights of another. And you can take that to the gates.
*My Big Fat Greek Wedding
**Paulo Coelho, Hippie
***Throwback to Justin Trudeau’s “Because it’s 2015.”