Escaping our Cages

I recently read Glennon Doyle’s most recent (and in my opinion, her best) book, Untamed. In the very first essay, Glennon recounts a visit to the zoo she took with her wife and daughters.

We are introduced to Tabitha, a cheetah who was born into captivity and lives at the zoo with her keepers and her best friend, a loyal and obedient lab. Tabitha has grown up with the lab for so long that she behaves like the lab, and demonstrates her lab-like life by chasing a dirty pink stuffed bunny tied to the back of a car for the spectators…just like her lab-friend does. She performs. She is rewarded for her performance. And in her cage she is safe, she is fed, she is not alone. In her cage, though, she can see beyond the bars into the wild where her heart knows she belongs. She knows who she is, her true nature. She is a cheetah.

I have been living in cages for as long as I can remember. My cages have been expectations put on me by a world that tells me how to behave, how to live, who to love, how to set aside my wild heart to conform to what society tells me is acceptable. We all have been placed in cages. Our wildness is tamed every time a parent tells her daughter to tone it down or reminds his son that boys are supposed to be tough. The truth of our soul is dimmed a little when we tell children their dreams are silly or that they should be more realistic.

I have two children, a son and a daughter until they tell me otherwise. I know that I have caged them and I want to release their wild hearts. I want them to take their dreams and make wings out of them. I want my daughter to assert herself and to use her strength and her fierceness to create the world she envisions. I want my son to never lose his sensitivity, to care deeply about injustice, to want to change systems so others are treated fairly. I never want them to believe that to be a woman or a man means they must lose a part of their humanity to fit into a box called gender. I never want them to believe that to love whomever they love is somehow less-than real and powerful and life-affirming because some people don’t approve or don’t believe it to be “normal”. I want them to know that there is a wild world out there, just waiting for them to explore it.

But I am human. And I parent the way I was parented, in the society I grew up in, and from my own wounds. And my parents parented the way they were parented, in the society they grew up in, and from their own wounds. We all are doing the best we can, but knowing better means we must strive to do better. I know I have minimized the dreams of my children. I know I have invalidated the tears of my son because they made me uncomfortable and told my daughter to stop being so bossy, when really she was just asserting herself.

I want to stop performing. I never want my children to perform. I want to know that I am loved and cared for and seen even when I am not performing to the expectations of others. I want my children to know they never have to live up to my expectations for who I think they should be, but to just be who they were born to be.

But cages also keep us feeling safe. We don’t have to fear what’s out in the wild when we are safely locked inside. We don’t have to wonder what will happen to us if we escape our confines and live wild, untamed lives. Sometimes, what we know feels better than what we don’t know. Familiarity is comfortable. Freedom is one of those things that both scares and excites me. What would my life look like if I shuffled off the expectations placed on me since the day I was born and just lived as my wild heart desires?

When I was nine, my teacher asked us to write a story about our vision of the future. I wrote from my heart, pouring my soul out on the page as I wrote about a child, me, seeing another child alone and hungry on the streets. As a kid, the thought of children living in poverty or being alone broke my heart. I hated seeing people excluded or ridiculed. In my story, I sat down and talked with this child, sharing my lunch and making a friend. This was my nine-year-old vision of the future. A future where kids wouldn’t be alone and hungry and where people would share what they had and learn to understand each other. My classmates took the writing assignment in a very different direction, writing about alien invasions and nuclear war (this was the 80’s) and a world of dominating others and killing our earth. They were stories of fear and power instead of hope. When it came time to read our stories, mine was near the end. I listened as my classmates cheered and clapped for each other. And I knew that I was so different from everyone else. There was no way I was sharing my story. No way I was going to let everyone know I had a completely different idea. So I ran.

I ran out into the hallway and I sat down and cried. I cried because I felt alone. I felt naive. I cried because I was ashamed for not getting the point of the assignment – because clearly everyone else understood it differently. I was so embarrassed.

Then my teacher, Mr. Kressler, came out. He asked me why I had run. I told him I did the story all wrong and I didn’t want to read it because I knew everyone would laugh. He asked to read it himself. So I let him. When he was finished, Mr. Kressler knelt down and looked me right in my eyes and said, “this is the most beautiful vision of the future I can imagine.”

We all need more Mr. Kresslers in our lives. We need people to tell us that the wild and untamed visions of our hearts are good and worth following. I held that vision in my heart and in a way I followed it, becoming a Teacher, believing that education can pull people out of poverty, supporting kids and now, as a Principal, hopefully, supporting teachers to spark dreams and hope and vision in young people. But it is safe. I know that the spark I had at nine years old is dimmer now. I found a safe way to follow my vision. But what could have been if I had embraced it and been bold in declaring and fighting and standing up more when it really mattered? What if my passion for justice and equity were louder and bolder and more direct?

I may never know. I am a captive-born cheetah. I will never live in the wild, running free. I will never sleep under the ink-black sky or feel the thrill of the hunt. I pace in my cage, seeing a glimpse of what I know to be the real me, but like that nine-year-old girl, I’m afraid to show her, afraid to stop chasing pink bunnies because I don’t want to be alone, or because I don’t know what a version of me outside of a cage would look like. But maybe it isn’t too late to break out? Maybe is isn’t too late to declare that I no longer wish to be imprisoned by the expectations placed on me by society and those who came before me, who tell me how I should behave, or perform, or appear to be in order to be accepted and loved. Maybe the only one I need to answer to is me. Maybe it’s time.

Show Up and Be Seen

As I continue to reflect on the great words of wisdom I have received over the past few months, this piece of advice keeps coming up.

Brene Brown writes about vulnerability as having the courage to show up and be seen. This got me thinking about how I show up in the world, and how I allow myself, or do not allow myself, to be seen. Do I show up as my authentic self, or do I wear a mask? Am I hiding the essence of who I am behind anger or fear? Is there a disconnect between who I know myself to be and how I present myself in the world?

I don’t know the answers to these questions right now. I am trying to figure that out. While I like to think I am authentically showing up, maybe there is a place for me to examine myself further.

What I do know is this. How someone else sees me is not their problem. What I mean by that is that if I am bothered or upset that someone else can’t see me, the real me, the me I want the world to know, the problem lies with how I am showing up, not with them. We can only see what others present.

Truthfully, I am sometimes scared of showing up and being seen. Sometimes I wonder if people would still love me, or want to know me if they really knew me. There is nothing inauthentic about how I present myself to the world, but we all have a shadow self, those parts of ourselves that we keep hidden and don’t particularly want to know better. Perhaps we have a hurt inner child that comes out and has a temper tantrum when they are scared or when someone says “that thing” to them that sets them off. Perhaps we keep certain truths about who we are to ourselves because we are convinced that no one could handle it.

I am not suggesting that to show up fully and authentically means we have to put on display for everyone else those parts of ourselves that we keep hidden. I am suggesting, however, that we need to be aware of them, to acknowledge to ourselves that we have those parts, and to be selective about who earns the right to know those parts of our lives.

So today, how will you choose to show up and be seen? Maybe it will be in how you interact with strangers in a grocery store? Perhaps you need to have a difficult conversation with someone? Maybe it will be in how your words and actions align? Whatever situation you find yourself in today, as I will, let’s show up with authenticity and allow ourselves to be seen.

For me, I am going to struggle with this today, but I have an appointment with my psychiatrist who wants to see me because I stopped taking the medication she prescribed me. To be fair, I told her I was going to stop taking it because the side effects were more than I could handle, and she was going to call me to talk about other options. She never called. So now she wants to see me in her clinic. My struggle is how to show up. Do I show up and let her see that I am doing just fine without them. Or do I show up and let her see I am having a very human reaction to the many stressors I have experienced lately? I don’t want to, figuratively, wear a mask, but I am afraid of what she will say or do if I let her see that I don’t have it all together right now. I don’t necessarily want to go back on medication. I don’t like what it does to my body. Maybe I need to just follow Brene Brown’s suggestion and have the courage to show up and be seen without knowing the outcome.

Speaking of masks, one way to show up as a person who cares about the well being of others is to wear a mask in public places. Please remember that masks keep others safe. So does physical distancing, keeping your social bubble small, washing your hands and staying connected, especially with those who may be isolated or feeling lonely. We all have a responsibility to show up for one another and to keep each other safe.

Stay safe and healthy. Reach out. Stay connected. We are getting through this and our world is changing in ways that feel both uncomfortable and right. Let’s keep looking out for one another.

Nothing is Permanent

Over the past few months, in the midst of huge life changes, people have shown me tremendous support. One advantage to being alone during a pandemic, without the distraction of the world out there, is that I have had lots of time to think and reflect. There’s been a lot to reflect on. Through conversations with friends, the often hard work of therapy and a lot of reading, I have acquired some wonderful wisdom. I could probably spend a year unpacking all of the wisdom shared with me.

One of the words of wisdom shared with me is that nothing is permanent. That is both good news and bad news. Whatever we are going through, it will change.

This is so important for all of us to remember. We are in the midst of a global crisis and it feels like our world will never feel normal again. But it will. Not the way it did before, but in a way that is different. This is good news. We can be assured that this feeling of isolation won’t last forever.

When we are experiencing a wonderful time in our lives, filled with joy and wonder, we can get so caught up in wondering what is next that we forget this moment will not last forever. So take the time to fully appreciate those joyful moments. You will need them when times change and your life becomes more challenging. Let’s be present in those moments that strengthen us and our relationships.

And on those days when the world seems far too heavy, when it is barely possible to get out of bed, know that this is not permanent either. There is hope on the other side of the darkness. Hold on.

The truth is, I have not always followed this advice. I thought my marriage would last forever. It didn’t. When I first moved out, I was in a lot of pain. I thought the pain would never go away. It did. Not paying attention to where I am in the moment and recognizing it will change has led to unnecessary suffering and missed memories.

And now? Now I just want to appreciate the time I have with my kids, and the time I have alone. I tend to get super focused on where I am right now, and convince myself it will never change. And when things are going well, I like that feeling. But because I believe it will always feel that way, I fail to acknowledge it will change one day. And when things are not going so well, I am convinced it will never change, and life will always feel hard and unfair. But I know that is not true.

Thirteen years ago, I travelled to Taiwan with a group of people from Ontario to teach at an English Language camp at a school called Putai Elementary and Junior High School. The school was next door to and run by a Buddhist Monastery. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life and I learned way more than I taught anyone. One of the lessons I will never forget came from a kind monk who reminded us that the world changes every moment. Nothing is ever permanent. The world is different with every breath.

So this morning while my children sleep, I will remember that I won’t always have them in the next room. I will appreciate every second I get to spend with them. This may not be the Canada Day we hoped for but even that isn’t permanent. Next Canada Day will be different. We will find our fun without large gatherings or fireworks.

I will remember that yesterday I barely got out of bed, frozen with fear about the future. But today is a new day and here I am, up, drinking coffee and writing.

I wish each of you a wonderful Canada Day. Enjoy time together. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Reach out if you need help or if you are stuck. Stay connected. This has been a tough time. But we will get through it. And nothing is permanent.

Looking Forward with Anticipation

Like many of you, I have been looking forward to the gradual reopening of Ontario this summer. We have seen some businesses able to reopen; we can get haircuts again (if we can get an appointment); we can have a drink or dinner on a patio. Some have embraced this reopening and others are cautious and not ready to venture out yet. And that is okay.

As we move into a gradual reopening, let’s remember that we are not all going to have the same level of comfort. I have taken my kids to play mini-golf, but I haven’t gone to a patio. I went to the bookstore to pick up part of my son’s birthday present but I still feel uncomfortable in the grocery store.

No matter where we are, and no matter our level of anticipation, our province will eventually open. Whether you are looking forward with great anticipation, or great trepidation, please be kind to others.

Many of the people I know, myself included, are wearing masks when they go to public places where physical distancing is difficult. And there are many people who are not wearing masks. Before jumping to judgement, know that there are lots of reasons people may not be wearing masks. Be kind. Some people with respiratory difficulties may find a mask hard to wear and still be able to breathe freely. Some people have panic attacks when wearing a mask and are worried about having an attack in public. Be kind, not judgmental. You do what you believe is right for you. I will do what I believe is right for me. We can both keep ourselves and others safe.

Some people are eagerly awaiting the reopening of schools in September. Others are very nervous about it and don’t believe we can keep people safe if we allow all of our children to return to school. Some, like me, are conflicted. And that is okay. Be kind.

One thing I know for certain is that we will move toward having more opportunities to be out, to interact with people, to live our lives out of isolation. As we do, lets make sure we are continuing to be kind to others, to assume good intentions and to be slow to judge. Otherwise, we undo all the good we have done.

Keep doing all you can to keep yourself safe. Keep doing all you can to keep others around you safe. Wash your hands. Physically distance. Stay home if you are sick. Wear a mask if you can. But in addition to our physical safety, we have a responsibility to protect one another’s mental and emotional safety. Please don’t shame others for not doing what you would do, especially if you don’t know their situation.

Sticking to My Lane

I’ve been struggling with whether or not to publish this post but I think it is important for you to know where I stand.

A few days ago I wrote a post that hit some people in such a way that they felt the need to strike back. I had some supportive comments and I also lost some readers that day, and that is okay. What was not okay was the private messages some sent me – “Stick to your lane. Talk about kindness and compassion. You have alienated your white readers”, “I read your blog because you are usually so positive…not any more”, “You are the problem. You and your liberal thinking are ruining our country.” There were a few others but I won’t mention them because they are just too upsetting. Some warned me to “watch my back”. Of course all of these were sent anonymously. And I do not fear for my safety. But I so think these comments call for a response.

So, to clear up any confusion, here is “my lane.”

I write about kindness and compassion. I write about making ourselves better humans. I write about courage and wonder and opening our hearts to grow and become more vulnerable. And I write about injustice and action. I will not be a bystander. I write these things because I myself am transforming and growing and trying to live as a better human to other humans.

I am growing as a parent and an educator to help raise a generation that will radically transform our world, solve problems we don’t even know we have and will eventually raise a generation that will surpass anything we could imagine. I write because I want to be better.

I do not write to judge others. I do not write to tell people how to live. I write to share how I am growing and to challenge those who are also taking steps to transform. I write because I have big, sometimes overwhelming emotions and I need to process them. I write to let you know you are not alone. Because I have felt alone.

And so, I will continue to write about my journey. Part of my journey has included taking a hard look at how I was raised in the society and time I grew up in, the deep seeded beliefs I have held that are harmful. Part of my journey is acknowledging that I don’t know what I don’t know and committing to listening, apologizing and doing better. Part of my journey is building bridges where I may have been part of growing a divide.

And yes, part of my journey will still be baking bread and having paint nights, trying things I have never done before and finding courage in my life. Part of my journey will be acknowledging that I struggle with my mental health and showing myself compassion in those times. I will continue to challenge you to care for yourself, to be kind and to bring that kindness with you wherever you go.

If these things are offensive to you, perhaps it is time to take a look at your core values. And if they don’t align with mine, that is okay. You are still welcome to read my rambling thoughts. Or you are welcome to skip them. I am not offended by that. But I will not “stay in my lane” when there is injustice in the world. I will not “stay positive” when people are dying in the street under the knee of corruption and inhumanity. I will not stay quiet in the face of oppression because I have experienced oppression and while I will never understand the lived experience of another’s oppression, I can and will use whatever platform I have to speak out against it, in all forms.

And so, in a world that often feels confusing and chaotic, please know that I will bring both my imperfect voice that is working through that chaos and confusion, as well as some lighter moments to bring a little constancy and joy. That’s “my lane.”

I hope that today you are able to find time to enjoy the sunshine, to see the beauty that can still be found in our world. I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. I hope you find peace today.

As always, stay well, friends. Reach out and stay connected. We need each other more than ever.

%d bloggers like this: