What Are You Remembering?

I was up early this morning around 4am, unable to fall back asleep with the question “What are you remembering?” racing through my mind, as this post came tumbling out. I went to visit family and spent the weekend at my Granny’s house, craving time with her and family that live in a town a short drive from Lake Huron. The main floor was quiet so early this morning, aside from the heat creaking through the vents on its way through the house. The light from the Christmas tree reflected on the floor while I sipped my coffee slowly and I felt a sense of love and appreciation wash over me.

It was something I’d seen so many times before, but having not seen family for two Christmases, there was a Granny shaped space in my heart that would only be remedied by time with her and seeing family. I’m so grateful that I had that this weekend because they help me remember what home feels like in a world that shifts and changes all the time. They reminded me of what it feels like to sit in my heart-space for a weekend and revel in the joy of being connected with others. I thought about what I had chosen to remember over the past few years, and what I forgot. Now that I’m adopting more of a bird’s eye view, I’m seeing it much clearer. It was important for me to remember how much of my memory was a choice. And that’s how the rest of this post started…

Memory is a choice we make. The difficulties we face cannot be denied, but in the end we get to choose what we focus on and hold tightly to. The specificity of memory, and precision of anger only protects us for so long before they become the knife we keep wounds open with. I could stay mad at people who were the architects of traumatic experiences for me, but who does that actually harm? Only me. And you if you do the same thing. Your life does not exist for the sole purpose of being a highlight or an underline beneath an urgent message coming through for someone else. Your life is your own and it’s much bigger than that. Eventually anger sounds like “it’s unsafe so protect yourself”, and soon thereafter protect yourself sounds like “I can’t just not be fearful or worried”. Shortly after that, fear and anxiety turn into “why me though?” which means that what was something that happened to you, is now a belief about how the world is, even if it’s not entirely true and true only from your hurts.

The hardest thing I’ve had to learn in the past few years is that sometimes people are just awful. There’s no rhyme or reason, and no amount of being mad or outraged will change them. It only puts more distance between how I want to feel, and taking ownership for what I actually have control of to change what I can to get there. But what about -isms? Well, as someone who’s non-binary trans, queer, learning disabled, has needed to work through PTSD, and who is also neurodivergent I understand feeling like the world wasn’t built for you. I do. In many ways it wasn’t built for us and maybe that’s what our real power here is…we aren’t bound by the same constructs and rules that others are. And no, that’s not saying things can’t be hard because they are sometimes. What I’m saying though, is that it can be hard but it doesn’t mean have to sacrifice ourselves on altars to the hard parts over and over.

Will that last paragraph sit well with everyone? Nope. But that’s okay.

We can make meaning from what we experience and the act of that meaning-making puts power back into your hands in the face of tragedy, and oppressive systems that are designed with your failure in mind. It’s one of the big points behind Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. You cannot choose the harm that’s happened, but you can choose whether or not it is going to reduce you to something you’re not. The choices we have may not always feel great, but I learned the hard way that I can live happy or I can die right.

Similarly, we can’t control the things going on around us, and big -isms that are visible in violence and invisible in systems the rest of the time are usually outside of our control until it shows up in our lives or around us. While we are in the liminal spaces we cannot be upset all the time. As much as we are changing the world around us, not all activism will look the same, and it is indeed healthy to focus on your own joy so that when the garbage that comes from the systems we can’t imminently control (like transphobia, ableism, and more) we are coming to those situations with full cups together, not ripping one another apart. 

There will always be someone who feels they have more authority, or credibility than you to speak up as a subject matter expert, too. There’s a word for it: gatekeeping. It can happen in community from hierarchical power structures in politics, but it can also happen when we internalize an idea about whose experiences are the most valuable. There are times where it really does matter that you have the technical knowledge (anything medical for example). Most of the time though, speakers, leaders or teachers don’t have that much more experience than you; Their experience is just different but the only difference is that they haven’t limited themselves. There’s something to be said too, for understanding balance and yielding the floor so that you’re not taking up all of it (especially important when privileges make your life easier than others in the same situation/conditions), but don’t let people who feel threatened by your light try to convince you that yielding the floor is the same as or even close to staying silent altogether.

When other people try to convince you that you should be quiet, silent, or some kind of shrinking violet that you weren’t made to be, it is entirely up to you to believe them. My voice has been discounted before such that I was sought out and told that I should be silent, and I had to fight to believe that I was valuable in the aftermath. It sparked a bit of a dark night of the soul where I wondered why and how my life had value or mattered. I hadn’t done the healing work as consciously as I needed to, so I had to look at traumas from the past right in the eye and say: “I’m choosing differently now. Thank you for the lessons you gave me and the teachers who kept bringing this up by causing heartbreak and harm. I forgive them for the role their lives pushed them to play in my hurt. It’s safe to move on from this pattern.”

It’s so easy to believe that you’re not important when others see your imperfection and focus so specifically on whatever mistakes or imperfections they see that it seems as though the only thing visible about you is all that’s wrong or imperfect. The truth is so much more nuanced though, because your life is more important than you could possibly understand.

I learned that at the end of the day, only you get to decide whether or not your voice gets counted. Will everyone listen? Nope. But you get to choose whether you show up to be counted in the first place. Waiting for someone to give you permission will be fruitless, and it will just lead you to people who love having that much power over you because they need it to fuel their supply (when people thrive as the one with the power it’s because they don’t have any internal source of joy so they manufacture it by controlling the people around them). It’ll spill over beyond the original thing you sought permission for until you end up shrinking to the point that you sink into depression or its related anxiety. But my love you deserve more than a life lived twisted into a question mark.

Eventually you stop believing that there is good around you because you’re waiting for the next reminder that you should be silent because you want to do good. Silence becomes the thing that protects you, so you do it more and more until eventually who you become is so far removed from who you were meant to be, and who you wanted to be. The stress of speaking up, showing up, and being counted becomes a source of not only anxiety, but distress because the sidelines get mixed up with your identity. You were not meant to be the paint underneath the ice that everyone skates on while coaching or playing the game. You’re meant to be in the game too. Not in the penalty box. Not as a healthy scratch. Not as suspended. In. The. Game. It’s okay to take a minute to catch your breath while you heal from horrible things happening, and from people who acted horribly but don’t count yourself out because of them.

It wasn’t a heart necessarily, and I didn’t find one jumping out during the weekend because the whole time at Granny’s was a reminder of being in my heart-space. I started reading the introduction to Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown and didn’t finish it because I got into the weekend so much (an excellent thing), so maybe its brilliance so far is a kind of heart showing up alongside, and through family.

So I ask you this evening, after a much needed weekend with family, and after one hell of a “download” this morning: what are you choosing to remember?

With love, and hearts,

-Charlie

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