A Space for My Voice

Photo by Zoran Zonde Stojanovski on Unsplash

In my last post, I talked about my struggle with silence and my commitment to find spaces where I can fully express who I am, even if I am not heard or understood fully.

I’ve realized that this blog is, in many ways, that space.

In trying to explain myself to others, I can get emotional.  There is a frustration in not being seen and heard.  There is a frustration when others are offended that you think they do not hear you when, in fact, you know they do not hear you, but they insist they’ve heard every word you’ve said.  I get flustered.  And then my words become unproductive. I know I’m not alone in this.

But often there is still frustration that remains, even when I am fully aware that the most productive course of action isn’t to express this frustration to the person I’m frustrated with.  I know that, in some situations, I really DO need to know my place.  There is a place, and, for now, I have to choose that place over my self-expression.  Sometimes.  I also know that when another person is convinced that you are wrong and doesn’t consider their own part or responsibility in an exchange, that you have zero control over their behavior.  You have to choose who you are being in the situation.  I get it.

Here’s the thing though.  I am still human and sometimes, I deeply hurt.  When people who know about the loss of my mother ask me, “Would you treat your own mother this way?” it is pretty much the most hurtful thing someone can say to me.  Not only do I feel disrespected because I am an adult who has lived my entire adult life without my mother, but I am also overwhelmed with the grief of not knowing how I would treat my mother exactly.

When I lost my mother at 16, our relationship was frozen in a dyad of late adolescent identity development and assertion.  I lost my mother in a car accident, suddenly.  Our last interaction was me, upset with her over something really stupid, that had to do with going to the movies the next day.  I slammed the car door as she dropped me off at my friend’s house.  That was it.  That’s how I left my mom.  That was the last memory I have of her. I live with that every day of my life.  Would I treat her that way now?  Probably not.  But, would I have had moments of imperfection where I got frustrated because I wanted better for her or because she didn’t understand me or because she and I didn’t agree on what was best?  Yes, I probably would have. I loved my mother and sometimes she frustrated me because her values being a first generation immigrant to this country, and my values as an Asian-American, were different.  I didn’t always understand her.  I disagreed with her.  I got frustrated with her. I regretted my frustration with her because I knew she was trying her best.  But, I didn’t fully understand her humanity because I was still an adolescent when she died.

I understand humanity better now, as a mother myself.  I know that if the last interaction my children and I had was something similar to my last interaction with my mother, I would want them to know that we are all human.  We get frustrated with each other.  We hurt each other.  But, if we love one another and are willing to look at ourselves, these moments of tension can make us stronger.

I have to believe that my mother knew that I loved her deeply.  I have to believe that my last interaction with her was not the defining interaction in our relationship, but this is hard sometimes.  It is hard because I am so often confronted by my worst, most human moments.  It is hard because deep down, I have not forgiven myself.  It is hard because as many successes as I will have, as many deep relationships that I will build, as many lives that I will touch, I will never be able to change that last interaction with her.

I write for clarity, and I write to clarity, and I realize now that what has happened in the last few days between my friend and I is not really about my friend at all.  It is about my own willingness to accept and forgive myself.  I am not perfect.  I can choose who I will be in my relationships, and who I am not willing to be. Those who choose to be in my life will likely confront me on my imperfections from time to time. I need to be willing to hear this, and take responsibility for my words and actions, without having them define me, because considering and accepting these imperfections is the only way to peace.

I will likely need to cry and grieve through this some more. This will probably come up again. And that is okay because, I am working to find my voice, and speak with care, in authentic and productive ways. I have tried so desperately to find compassion for my imperfection from others, but I realize that this is not the key to my peace.  Instead, I must begin the harder work of finding compassion for myself.

Struggling In/With Silence

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

For most of my adult life, I have felt alone among a sea of people, and I have been afraid to speak my truth.

It is still something I struggle with on a daily basis, because:  I don’t feel that I have the right to take up space; I feel that by raising my voice in certain ways, I will be labeled as disrespectful; I feel like I should know my place; I feel like I have nothing valuable to contribute; I feel like I am an imposter; I feel like I am wrong; I feel like when I speak, no one will understand or hear me.

Today, a close friend and colleague confronted me on two recent incidents in which I asserted myself strongly.  My colleague expressed bewilderment, asked me if I would treat others in the same way, asked if there was something wrong in my life that was coming out in our relationship.  And while I meant no disrespect in my assertions, I meant to assert myself in what I thought was a safe space.

Now, I am not certain.

I explained my choices, apologized from my tone.  We are likely to move forward, and I am less likely to challenge my colleague.  It is much easier to be silent than to be unheard or misinterpreted.  I know my friend cares deeply for me and that the questions posed were out of genuine concern, but I also know myself and that I will not be free to speak my truth in the same way.

I mourn this loss of a safe space to assert my voice because they are rare, although I am starting to build more community.  I suppose that asserting my voice is about taking the risks that who I am will be less accepted than who people imagine me to be when I am silent.  I suppose that I will disappoint some people and hurt others, like I did with my friend.  I suppose that I will have to negotiate how to tone police myself, even if it means not being heard, because these are not the spaces where I can truly be heard.

That makes me sad.

I am committed to learning to assert my voice in powerful ways, but I am also tired of having so few places in which I feel safe.  I know that asserting one’s voice comes with consequences, and that those consequences that I experience are rarely (if ever) as dire as those that others face. I know this, but it does not make these situations easier for me. I know this is the work, this is part of my struggle.  Particularly as a public academic and as an educator committed to the work of justice, that is the work and that is my struggle.

But today, I am tired, and just wish that I would be accorded the same benefit of the doubt that I give others.  Today, I wish that those I care so deeply for might see me as my best self rather than assuming my worst, that they might understand the work I am doing and how hard I am working, and that they might let me be my imperfect self without judgment.

I must get back to that work now, but not without saying something.  It is hard to speak uncomfortable truths, but even harder to be silent.

The struggle is real. It is ongoing.  It is ever-present.