What Does It Mean to Be Seen?

A photograph of flowers including white lilies

When I was a little girl, I learned that if I wanted to be loved, I should be small.

I should try to quiet my naturally loud voice, particularly my loud laugh.

I should work harder than everyone else because only through determination would I be able to prove myself, and even then, I might still not be seen.

I learned that I was not worthy for who I was but for what I did, how close to perfect I could be.

I learned I shouldn’t cry, that showing emotions, humanity, and vulnerability, particularly in relation to who I was and what I was struggling with made me weak and would leave me alone.

Instead, I should temper the strong feelings that rose up within me and I should swallow my tears, living in fear that someday “they” might find the real me and see that I didn’t deserve any of the respect afforded me.

I have spent the last several years trying to unlearn all of these things.

To reclaim my voice.

To stand proudly and know my heart.

To not perform for love or be afraid to lose love, but to trust in the strength of community, even when I make mistakes, unintentionally hurt someone I love or fail at something I so deeply want (because I still do, so often).

I have spent the last several years trying to honor the little girl who lost her way because she wanted more than anything to be loved, because she thought she had to earn love, and to earn love, she had to be what everyone else wanted her to be.

I have been trying to find that little girl and all the younger versions of me that had dreams, and the present version of me that has begun to dare to dream again, and I have been trying to listen to them, listen to us, listen to myself, to my quiet voice and my loud voice, to my sorrowful cries and my belly laughs.

I have begun to tell all the parts of me that there is a place for them.

I am trying to be honest.

I am working to reclaim my humanity.

The last 5 days, I’ve been at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, a space that, for many years, made me feel invisible, so much less than so many others, a space that was not mine because I was not enough.

But it was not that space this year.

Instead, it was a space of authenticity and of humanity. It was a space where I brought my loud voice. Where I heard the cadence and rhythms of my true heart speak boldly and with confidence.

It was a space of community and communities. Of people I have loved for so long, and people I had never met in person who I love just the same, and people I don’t even know, but who know me.

It was a space where I didn’t know everything, I wasn’t the fanciest, biggest fish, but I was enough just as I was, in my ripple of the pond.

It was a space where people saw me. Where people have seen my words. Where they told me my name is being spoken in places that I may not ever be.

It was a space filled with love and possibility. Of grace and generosity. Of working and walking towards justice, even when I stumbled. It was a space where I knew I could stumble because I would be picked up if I fell.

I cannot fully express what it means to be seen after feeling invisible for so long.

I cannot fully express what it means to be acknowledged for the work of my heart.

I cannot fully express what it means to help create community, to share community, to support community.

But it is community which is embracing that little girl who felt so small, so unseen, so unworthy for so long. It is community that is healing her through their love. It is community calling her home.

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