First Time You Felt Brave*

 

I am fifteen. I do my best to avoid being noticed. I don’t dress provocatively or wear makeup other than mascara, barely even see other faces because I don’t wear my glasses. I do my schoolwork, work an afterschool job, date a boy who makes me feel safe. But inside I have large, loud opinions about social conditions, politics, religion. I don’t know anyone who talks about such things. My boyfriend wisely listens and agrees with the fervent opinions I share only with him.

I don’t know how to get along with my boyfriend’s family so I smile and stay quiet. I’m pretty sure something about me disgusts his older brother because he won’t even look at me. If I call and he answers, he drops the phone on the counter to yell for his brother. He’s never once said my name. My boyfriend’s father is 6 foot 5 inches, towering 14 inches over me. I’m not familiar with adult sarcasm so I wilt around him. I don’t like that my wilting makes me seem like my boyfriend’s mother, who expresses no opinions, not even on her face, making herself small and subservient.

One afternoon my boyfriend and I are out together. We stop at his house for a brief interlude with his proudly Irish great uncle who is visiting from out of state for the first time in decades. He is thin and whiskery as a stalk of wheat. I smile at him whenever he looks my way. He brings up a work-related incident that still angers him, quickly devolving into racist comments  He is the first person I’ve ever heard deride Black people. In the next sentence he uses the n-word. I bristle. My boyfriend looks at me with an expression I interpret as let it go. The great uncle continues, his mouth in a strange smirk. I have been taught to be polite. I’ve kept quiet to my detriment many times and will do so many more times. But this time I speak up.

My boyfriend’s family looks shocked as the quiet little blonde girl, the one who obsessively reads history, spews out all the Irish slurs she can think of. I say Mick and Paddy and drunken Irish, asking if he wants his people spoken about that way.  I ask if he knows what prejudice his ancestors endured when signs were posted outside buildings reading No Irish need apply or No Irish, no dogs, or, more commonly, No Irish, no dogs, no Blacks just a few generations ago.

There’s an awful pause.

I want to run out of the room but, unexpectedly, he agrees such terms are unfair. Then starts to justify his biases. I say it’s the exact same thing. He says no it’s not, I say yes it is. Prejudice is prejudice.

A longer pause.

Neither one of us knows how to extricate ourselves from the situation. Right about then, my boyfriend invents a reason we have to leave. We hustle out of the house. Once we get in the car, I laugh although I’m shaking. I say I have no delusion I’ve made any difference. I have no idea how to make a difference. The real me wants very much to know what can.

~

Now I live in a world where young people, everywhere, advocate loudly and persistently for a sustainable, equitable, compassionate future. They’re not standing up to one racist man, they are standing up to an entrenched history of brutality and greed. They are reshaping the future. I can feel it happening. I hope you can too.

*I’ve worked on an exhaustively hyperlinked post about ways to reimagine education during the pandemic but just can’t seem to muster up what it takes to finish it. So I’m posting this response to the writing prompt “the first time you felt brave.” I think our world needs a great deal more bravery (and love) than it ever has in my lifetime. Please respond with a story of when YOU felt brave. 

 

19 thoughts on “First Time You Felt Brave*

  1. Your bravery is more impressive than mine because it came so early. I waited until I was 40 before I really stepped out of the tracks I’d made for myself. I was timid, risk averse, unassertive. I was outgoing, so people didn’t realise quite how afraid I was of, well, everything that involved taking chances. The year I turned 40, I broke up with my partner of 5 years, and I took myself off on a trip to Australia with a girlfriend, hoping that the shock of the new would drive some of the misery away. Well. I fell in love again, hard, and with a country, not a person this time. I relaxed, and dived deep into a feeling of being home at last. I got Australians. They got me. I was finally a peg in my right shaped hole. I came home and immediately, the next day, starting the process of applying for a permanent resident’s visa. It took 2 years and lots of work and money, but I got it. And then I stood teetering on the brink. Family and friends asked if I was really sure I wanted to leave ‘everything’ behind. Um, yes, I’m afraid I do! I leapt off that treadmill, I flew towards my new life. I have never regretted it for a moment. I miss my family back in Europe, who at first often asked when I was coming ‘home’. Home is here. It was only later that I realised what a risk it had been, and how alone I was at first. Sometimes bravery feels like the only thing to do, and stops being brave. Instead, it’s just doing what your heart tells you you must.

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  2. Hi Laura, I’m a long time reader (but never a commenter…) of your blog. It’s the only blog I follow and read immediately after it’s posted! Thank you for your thoughtful entries and for nudging me to be more relationship focused in my life. I live in Cincinnati Ohio and will be visiting friends (in their 80s and 90s) in Wooster Ohio. I believe you live near there? I told my husband that I’d love to spend a couple of hours with you next to we go up to Wooster, and then the pandemic hit! So, now I’m not sure if you’d be willing and available to perhaps have an afternoon tea with me and my newborn (2.5 months old; she’s breastfed on demand, so I can’t be away from her for too long)? We could have it outside. I could bring some Indian chai, if you’d like. I’d especially love to pick your brain and just chat about homeschooling, since we’re planning on homeschooling our children. My son is only 2, so we’re a long ways away from formal education and will most likely unschool, so things won’t be too formal ever anyway. But I’d like to start building a framework in my mind of how to approach homeschooling. I’d also just love to hear you talk about anything else on your mind as well. I have a copy of Free Range Learning that I unfortunately still haven’t been able to read given my time being taken up by my newborn and toddler 🙂 Please let me know if meeting a random stranger would be of interest to you. I’ll be in Wooster all next week. I’ve stayed pretty homebound and don’t have any covid symptoms, in case that’s a concern

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Selin, Great to connect with you. I would love to have you here for a visit, but have to ask that we postpone till the rona has been subdued. I am one of those people with diagnoses that put me at extra risk, so I’m pretty much castaway on my own quiet island till then. Message me next time you’ll be in the area?

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  3. At almost 70 I am a work in progress. I started to find my voice this past decade after being very shy and not being able to speak around more than one or two people. I am feeling that I am good enough and smart enough to have an opinion. I am grateful to find I do have a place in this world. I belong.

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  4. My Birkman personality tests said I was unusual in that I seek the acceptance of both individuals and groups. This would place me squarely in the position of the meek; but then, for reasons unknown, life continually thrusted me into leading roles, such as senior class president in a US school, me being Latin. Later on, I became Director General of Aviation in my country (akin to FAA). Then president of the most prestigious association of business executives in the country; and, throughout it all I had to squish the meek part, until something happened and the assertive overcame the meek. Now, even though the meek is still smoldering below the ashes, I revel on saying what is politically incorrect; something like a sweet and sour sauce. In any case, what I’m getting at is that Laura’s First Time you Felt Brave tale rang a bell. Most people around me caution me to shush; but where is the fun on that. This morning my brother asked me a question he posited to a renown local economist in the midst of a conference: “What are the causes of poverty?” The economist danced around the answer. Then my brother, amongst others, and economist, said: “Poverty does not have reasons; it is the natural state of man’s nakedness at birth. What we should be discussing is how to overcome our natural state of poverty and become rich.” And by “rich” I do not mean money rich but rich, rich. Rich of life, happiness, love, and such. So, let’s strive to be politely brave and speak out against all the madness that is trying to break through and destroy the greatness our forefathers bequeathed us. Ho yea, although I am from Panama, my grandfather was from New York and my father from Worcester Mass; you know, mesclun. When young, in school I was the “gringo”. Then, I went to school in Great Barrington Mass, and morphed into the “spick”. It did give me an interesting perspective on things.

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    • Thank you for this, John. It’s interesting to identify as meek, yet rise to positions of influence. I suspect it has to do with listening. There are certainly times to speak up, often requiring bravery, but what I’m learning is it takes far greater courage to listen, find common ground, reach out in mutuality, care beyond all boundaries of “us vs them.” This is often a skill the meek have long practiced, perhaps a more difficult skill for the bold.

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  5. Laura, of course I clicked on the link in this newest blog post to read about not wearing your glasses.  And my heart sank and my stomach clenched when I read that you were assaulted by your friend’s father when you were 13.  I don’t know if you talk about this, but whether you do or don’t, please know I am horrified (not helpful), and deeply sorry this happened to you.

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  6. Ok Laura, I have one from college. I was in a bar in Wisconsin with a few girlfriends (in our early 2os.). A drunk girl took the hat off an old man who was sitting at the bar, looking sad and despondent. She was whopping like it was a victory! He made no move to get his hat back. I grabbed his hat from the drunk girl and she came at me. I told her to leave him alone. I stood my ground and almost got hit in the face but my friend Robin jumped in front of me. Was I brave? Kinda.

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  7. Awesome! It’s taken almost 45 years for my voice to start leaving my body. It’s been brewing for so long but somehow my internal system told me I couldn’t speak my truth and still be a kind person so I have spent most of my life making sure others don’t feel uncomfortable and silencing myself. Done! This story is so inspirational and brave!

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    • I love the way you put this, “for my voice to start leaving my body.” That’s how it feels isn’t it, as if our voices are stuck. And boy does the body ever tell us! I too have kept so many truths inside, not wanting to hurt/upset/anger people. I’m still working on freeing myself to be both kind and authentic. Glad to hear you are becoming freer too!

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      • Thank you, we are certainly works in progress! I always enjoy reading what you have to write, started following you about 11 years ago. Free Range Learning was the first book about homeschooling I read before my first son was born! Take good care!

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