Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Bring the Light to Belong

When I first saw Michelle Obama on TV, I thought she was from a privileged family because of her poise and ability to converse articulately. Her books—especially THE LIGHT WE CARRY—dispel my error. As she described feeling like she didn’t belong when she was younger—because of her height, I felt a kinship. She chose gymnastics for her destiny when she was too tall to be flexible enough to make the Olympics. With no hope of being extraordinary, she was shuffled to athletic obscurity and guessed she didn’t matter. Being female and other can often be a ticket to the sidelines. She didn’t stay there.

I wasn’t tall or athletic but I can’t imagine a woman who’s aware of her surroundings who hasn’t felt like other. A person doesn’t have to be categorized as belonging to a minority population any smaller than being female to be marginalized. During the “Me, too” movement, I met a woman who said she had never felt threatened. As I listen to people today mock rape victims, I wonder about her life. Perhaps a woman who has kept herself inside the lines of societal expectations might be spared? I doubt it. More likely, she refused to notice. Even though she attended university in a traditionally white, upper class population, Michelle Obama was able to stand on her dignity because she had friends, family, and her education to buoy her. Her parents didn’t let her shy away from challenges. She learned to lean on her community and her intelligence to sustain her good humor. In fact, she was so confident in herself she was able to stand beside her husband when he became the first Black president, working furiously to exceed expectations for a mom and first lady until she could step fully into her individuality.

My insecure parents never learned to trust their self images, so they couldn’t teach me. Even though she was privileged by being white, my mother was an only child of a father who expressed a mercurial temper. Terrified of rejection, she forced her whole self to disappear in groups—beginning with childhood groups of cousins and extending to the women in her retirement community. She accidentally taught her daughters to meet societal expectations the same way. When I walked away from my PhD dissertation, refusing to be absorbed into someone else’s aspirations, my parents were relieved. They didn’t want me to succeed enough to be hurt.

Unlike Michelle Obama, I didn’t step over the obstacles put in my life path with panache. I’m proud of what I accomplished in my shadowy existence, but I want to reach out to all the females or others who reluctantly believe they aren’t suited for their dreams. Granted, sometimes the dreams are mistaken. I’m lucky I didn’t pursue my dream of being an actor. My inability to grip my sense of self firmly through the bad times might well have torn me apart. But we can’t know which dreams don’t fit until we try them on. In my experience, school counselors are the worst predictors. Advice from anyone addicted to control should be silenced. As Michelle Obama learned, take the hurt and rage you feel when you’re told you don’t matter and elevate those raw feelings into positive action others can’t crush. Listen to those who support you. Make your work count. At any age. And consider reading THE LIGHT WE CARRY for a perspective you might appreciate.

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