Finding My Place
I love the sign going around lately of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia that reads A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RESISTANCE. I like Star Wars, I do, but I also couldn’t really tell you in detail what their resistance was for. Some sort of government overthrow, I don’t know. (To those of my friends reading this in incredulity, you know who you are; accept my apology!) The movies just connect me to my dad, and I remember thinking Yoda was so inspiring and the story was so cool when I was a kid, and they’re fun to watch.
I do like that sign a lot, though. I like it because Princess Leia is a badass, and she’s funny, and I believed in her love story, and her depiction as a strong independent woman in a franchise dominated by male leads is really, really striking to me now.
Do I have the right to hold close that Carrie Fisher sign if I don’t know much about Star Wars? If I don’t fully understand or can’t really relate to the origin of the resistance of which she speaks? “You’re not really a Star Wars fan,” I can hear voices now. I guess they’re right. I don’t know the whole story. I should learn it, read up on it, get my facts straight before I start running my mouth about it.
But I can still get behind the sentiment, because I know enough about Star Wars to know that the resistance might have fallen apart without Leia in the middle of it.
An election happened recently.
As a writer, I have been struggling. I understand the immense privilege I have been afforded in this life of mine—of employment, happiness, a loving family, a stable home. I’m 23 years old and from some standpoints, I know blessed little of suffering. But I have not been able to shake that something about this American election has marked a fundamental transition. The world around me feels different, a little less familiar. I feel so frantic to be informed every day, and to have an opinion, to agree or disagree; yet I’m often too anxious or paralyzed to bear turning on the news. It’s been difficult for me to articulate why, exactly, this election feels like the bullies—the ones I was always comforted about, told not to worry about, told I would be more than and rise above of—won.
But my life is pretty good. What right do I have to speak of the suffering so many marginalized folks fear is ahead, or has already arrived? What right do I have to try and wrap my head around the suffering that so many people have already faced, in lives much longer—or much shorter—than mine?
The experiences of our armed servicemen in foreign countries are trying beyond my imagining; so are the plights of refugees fleeing those countries. A white male in poverty-stricken America spoke to me about the aftereffects of NAFTA with absolute helplessness in his eyes; a friend in urban Boston shook with sobs as she told me how helpless she felt as a rape survivor. The Boston Marathon of 2013 brought destruction into my world with a bang; my grandmother’s death brought despair into my heart much more quietly.
I am a woman. I have been slammed by girl hate. I have had to explain away why I did or didn’t do x-y-z with boys. I have had to comfort friends that have been sexually assaulted. I have cried with through-and-through-gorgeous women who don’t feel thin enough or pretty enough or strong enough, and I have felt those things myself. I have listened on national television to a very powerful man talk about walls and anger and what apparently happens in locker rooms.
I don’t say any of this as if to prove that I too have suffered so look, I get it! These are words and words are not the same as actions. I mention these moments because they terrify me, and they terrify me because if the lightning strike of suffering avoids hitting me squarely, then something in me is compelled to find the tree that was hit and pick up its splintered branches. I am compelled to bear witness. To serve and stand with, not help and back away. And I don’t know how to do that, or if I’m ever doing it right. I could make a thousand excuses. I could donate to a thousand organizations. I could write all the articles I want. None of it has shut up the voice in my head telling me, You could still love better.
Suffering doesn’t discriminate. The results of an election do not change this. What I don’t get—what has made the past few months so mind-bending for me—is why we, as human beings, who know we must suffer, are having so much trouble looking each other in the eyes and say, “I know. You’re not being too sensitive, you’re not overreacting, and you’re not alone. It is valid to hurt. If I cannot heal you, I will at least hear you. And I will try to understand.”
Do I have the right to feel pain about this election if I don’t know much about politics? If I don’t fully relate to the values that brought a particular result to the fore? If I can’t exactly identify with the origin of any resistance? “You’re not a person of color/LGBTQ/an immigrant/desperately impoverished/this-that-the-other,” I can hear voices now. I guess they’re right. I don’t know the whole story. I should learn it, read up on it, get my facts straight before I start running my mouth about it.
But if there is a sentiment I can get behind, it is living out questions. I have a lot of questions that I don’t even know how to speak to yet. And now is not the time to ask them. Now is the time just to live, to be, in all my post-college, post-election confusion.
Now is my time to listen to news podcasts and subscribe to journalism and download apps about politics, and choose to spend train rides educating myself instead of scrolling Instagram. Now is my time to get over stumbling blocks of feeling “too much” or “coming on too strong,” and tell my friends, and conversation partners, and people on the margins, and the stranger—I want to love you better. Now is the time to laugh at funny internet jokes and spend time with people that love me and listen to music that I care about. Now is the time to throw myself into my job, a job that I truly believe can change the world.
Now, in a time of complete and utter transition, is my time to decide what kind of person I want to be, and find my way to her. Live my way into the answers. Maybe get lost in the forest along the way. But without ever losing sight of the trees, of the suffering around me and ahead of me, of the million tiny revolutions I undergo every day.
My revolution will be one of listening. It will be one of radical empathy. It will be one of joy. It will connect me to people, and it will be inspired, and it will be fun. And I will do my utmost not to forget that I am a strong independent woman, and the revolution of our world might well fall apart without me in the middle.