by: Marcia Prichason
“To thine own self be true” -William. Shakespeare
During the course of my teaching career, I have saved a great deal of paraphernalia: notes from students, newspaper clippings, yearbooks, e-mails from parents, performance evaluations. But, a recent note from a former student is something I will treasure for a long time.
This student was in my Freshman Honors English class four years ago. He came to this country as an eight year old, and he has always been teased for his accent and harassed about his religion. His father is currently unemployed, and his mother is a stay-at-home mom. Recently, this young man suffered a serious brain injury. Since his father is not working, they are slowly paying off the enormous hospital bill. Yet, with all these challenges, he perseveres. He maintains excellent grades, pursues extra-curricular activities, and has friends. High School is a pretty good experience for him. He sees it as a doorway to his future.
He wrote to tell me that he has been accepted into the Honors program of a university and that he will be working toward his goal to become an FBI agent. I’m so very proud of him. Sure, I tried to assist him whenever I could during his high school years: editing papers, writing letters of recommendation, lending an ear to his trials and triumphs. But, I never expected him to say: “You really helped to play a major role in shaping my character. You showed me that no matter who you are or whatever obstacles you may face you can always get through it if you believe (in yourself) and work hard at it.”
I am humbled by what he wrote. It confirms what I’ve always felt to be true; in teaching as in life, everything you say and do makes an impression, makes a difference.
But, I’m not the one who really shaped this young man’s character. He did that himself. What I believe I did, however, was set an example of being true to myself.
I have always felt that how I behave is really the true measure of my character. I don’t always live up to my own high expectations, but I recall an incident where I did. Some time ago an Assistant Principal yelled at me in front of my students. They were incensed at this perceived injustice. I herded them quickly into the classroom. Then, I explained that how I responded to his irrational tirade was more important to me than what he did or said. I tried to demonstrate through my behavior that maintaining my dignity and composure, no matter how I felt about the situation, was the best way to deal with a tyrant.
And, I think those lessons are just as valuable today. The LGBTQ community faces challenges that are as or more difficult than any my former student or I endured. They require the courage to overcome adversity and the self-respect to know that exchanging fire with fire only leads to an inferno.
However, being courageous and dignified does not mean that you sit idly by and allow yourself to be diminished. Because you accept that some people will spew hatefulness and evil is not the same as allowing them to define who you are. There are plenty of big lies about who an LGBTQ individual is, but if you believe and internalize these lies, they will wear you down and make it almost impossible for you to love yourself or anyone else.
Once you figure out that you’re really okay being who you are, you can allow yourself to overcome adversity, to grow, to accept life’s challenges, and yes, to even stand there and listen to someone’s rant about who they think you are; you can do this because you know with absolute certainty that you are your own person, worthy of love and respect.
Recently, I watched a man, with coffee cup in one hand, quietly and unobtrusively, help a woman get her child-laden stroller over a difficult curb. This incident encourages me. It reminds me that for all the meanness there seems to be in our society, there are little acts of kindness that overshadow the ugliness. Here was someone, so self assured, so confident in himself, that helping another was as easy as breathing. It takes a lot of self-love, not self absorption and not self-aggrandizing, to reach out to strangers and make their lives a little easier.
I don’t know if the man was gay, straight, in debt up to his ears, rich, or poor. I only know that this simple act of kindness was, quite simply, an act of love. It was another lesson…Even when you are bombarded by bigotry and hatred, it is paramount to love yourself. Remember, YOUR ACTIONS are what really matter…and that being kind is the ultimate gift of self love.
…And I’m just a mom who loves her son…
This was originally posted on The Qu, you can view it here.