I am teaching naked, white skin, breasts and curves visible. Vulnerable. I imagine. Available only with questions. Openness. Seeking relationships. Not actually naked, but definitely without armor. Comfortable enough to recognize that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never known.
I am walking through Olympic National Park seeking silence. Seeking relationship with people who want something else from that experience. Noticing that no matter my enthusiasm or cajoling will I be able to change or influence my mother, my sister. They will do what they want. I will do what I want. That’s how it works.
Students will do what they want. That’s how it works.
For this course, Diversity Seminar, we begin by examining power. “Power is the ability to have an effect.” I love having an effect. I love power, as per this definition. For the past 8 months I was part of a system in which I could not have an effect. It eroded pieces of me. Pieces more fragile than I realized. I am approaching this moment of (professional) loss, this moment in which I could not change the outcome, with vulnerability. I notice I feel a great sense of relief. I am released from the effort of having an effect. It is glorious and disorienting. It is groundless. I am naked. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never known.
Last night I was at a rehearsal in which I was asked to evaluate whether or not I felt like I had power as a young person. I didn’t know the answer. I think, no. I think I was part of a family system in which I struggled to have an effect.
I think much of who I am today has been shaped by my desire to have an effect.
1) My mom and I are hiking through the woods and are crossing a river. On the mountainside above us, with a great crack, the riverbank overflows and the smoke and flames from the perpetual fires in the West are suddenly close. I grab my mom’s hand, interlacing her fingers with mine, and I run into the smoke. We leave others behind us who are paralyzed with fear. We run on pure faith, smoke clouding our ability to navigate. Scrambling up rocks overlooking a floodplain, I pull my mom up to higher ground with me. We watch the flood at our heels crash into the flats and fill the valley, temporarily safe. Exhausted. Smoke and flames still threatening. My mom suggests we call for help. I suggest we wait. Everything is under control. The situation is hardly an emergency. I’ve got this.
2) The time is contemporary but the town is rustic. Two women are condemned to die by public execution, by hanging. The community I am in recognizes the injustice. We cannot stop the hanging, but we band together to try to make the execution as compassionate and un-lonely as possible. I go to one of the women, as the noose is slipped around her neck. I put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her. I say, “We will do our best to take care of you.” She comforts me, “I just have to let go and then I’ll be okay.”
Even in my dreams, I try to have an effect.
Even in my dreams, I am trying to save others.
Even in my dreams, I am learning to let go.
(first published 8.25.18)