Once again I have made a statement in defense of what I believe to be right and once again, I regret it. It isn't a big deal, just a comment on another blog. I wish I hadn't done it. This Friend is weighty and admirable. I know he can make short work of me if he acknowledges me at all. He is older than I am, more experienced and more intelligent. But there was an unkindness in his words that felt like a punch in the gut. There was an injustice in his message that I could not leave alone. Perhaps he did not mean it to be so but for all his intelligence and weightiness, he wrote as one who is too removed from the experiences of want, of need, and poverty to understand how deeply they cut. Though I admire him greatly, his plate is full and his words dismissed the shame and rage felt by people who fight all their lives for a few crumbs. And I could not let that stand. So I commented. I sure do wish I hadn't. Who cares what I think? How annoying everyone will think me. How out of control.
When I was a little girl, my family was strolling through a mall. It was a rural mall that appealed to rural people and someone had set up a display of taxidermy. Among the stuffed animals was a wolf. Earlier that year, I had read an article in the Weekly Reader about the attempt to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone against the opposition of ranchers who shot and poisoned the wolves out of fear that they would hunt their livestock. For whatever reason, it struck me as grossly wrong that any creature should be threatened with extinction after a process of systematic vilification and misunderstanding. I read all the books in the elementary school library I could find on wolves then I moved on to the high school and public libraries. I even began a group of other little girls who got together to do research on wildlife and to write essays on our findings. We called ourselves the Society for the Restoration of Canis Lupus. My father's best friend owned hybrid wolves and I arranged to have him bring them to my elementary school to introduce the younger kids to the creatures. I knew that the Big Bad Wolf wouldn't stand a chance as soon as they got to touch and play with the real thing. I remember feeling so proud when I began to see happy pictures of wolves on display outside the primary school classrooms.
So there I was in the mall looking at this stuffed shell of a creature I had come to respect as kin and for whom I had taught myself to fight. The disgust I felt that someone had shot, disemboweled and displayed it as a prize threatened to overwhelm me. I don't know how long I stood there but I suddenly became aware of my father gently saying my name. "Come on, now," he coaxed as he led me away. I was small for my age and not in the least bit physical or athletic but I realized that my hands were in fists and that I had been moving toward the taxidermist. I'm not sure what I planned to do once I got there but I knew it was going to be ugly. My father knew, though I did not, that my body had a mind to go hit that man, to tear into him, to lay him low for his crime. I let Dad draw me away. He laughed at me a little bit as he always does when I start to lose my cool. "You have an acute sense of injustice," he teases.
It would not be the first or last time I would lose my cool in that way. Once, while sitting on my father's lap listening to my liberal father and my conservative uncle discuss politics, my uncle decided it would be fun to bait me by making disparaging comments about homeless people. I began to argue with him and he argued back as if I were a grown-up. It was a game to him but deadly serious to me and as he mocked poverty, I grew more and more upset until my father, stepped in. My father's voice held a warning in it when he told my uncle to stop. This was no longer a game. Sitting on my father's lap, I realized that he was physically restraining me from flying across the table and attacking my uncle.
I was the girl who took her eighth grade science teacher to task for his homophobia in front of the other students. I was the girl who got kicked out of homeroom for refusing to pledge allegiance to a flag. I was the woman who walked up to her department chair in a crowded hallway and told him that I was disappointed with his sexism and expected that he would correct the behavior (I also expected he would fire me on the spot). I was the woman who sent an email to the entire campus including the college president expressing my alarm at a racially insensitive fund raising drive then crawled into bed and cried all day as I waited for the angry responses. I hated all of these experiences.
Over and over and over again I do this thing and every time I've felt sick to my stomach and guilty and tearful for it. Even as I write or speak these things there is a part of me screaming, "Shut up, for God's sake!" But I never seem to be able to do so. This is not a gift. Others with finer tuned morality and greater understanding than I can ever boast will do much better things for the world. I will likely never hold a decent job or exercise any real power because I am never able to choose discretion when I taste injustice... and I taste injustice every day. I do not believe that my truth is universal but I do not seem to be able to withhold my truth when I think justice or compassion is insulted. If a thing is wrong, I say so...and often alienate everyone around me.
Does this make me heroic? Maybe sometimes. Maybe. But mostly I think it makes me an ass. There are too many times when I make a grand speech and then realize that I jumped the gun, misunderstood, or used lousy judgment. I'm too hard on people, humorless, and impatient. I am, and this is no surprise to anyone who knows me, a judgmental person. I am embarrassed by this. But what else can I do when I know that someone weaker is being shamed or bullied? I know what it feels like to be in that position and then later to hear from a witness to the event, "I was going to say something but..."
I have wondered if I was made to be this way. It seems an awfully mean trick to play on a little girl. Aren't we supposed to be sugar and spice and everything nice? I just ended up bookish, moralistic, and socially conscious, a combination that earned me the distinct privilege of having other kids roll their eyes at me whenever I spoke and throw stuff at my head when I walked down the hall. Though the other children did not care for me, I cried and raged whenever I saw another kid treated badly by a teacher or the principal. Even the early stories from preschool seem to suggest an inability to accept hierarchy or injustice and as I age, though they promised me I would mellow, I find that I get myself into more and more outrageous situations. My father pulls me back whenever he can. He acknowledges the injustice that is tormenting me, but he gently reminds me to use my head and think before I act. I am now in the habit of seeking his counsel before communicating with wealthy and powerful folks since I am most likely to lose my temper with those who have nice manners, pretty cars, and lousy ethics.
On the days when I believe in God, I have asked why I continue to humiliate myself by telling off people who are so powerful that they need only dismiss me with a chuckle. Is all of this some part of the plan? And what kind of crap plan is that? Why do I believe that I am some kind of modern day David with slingshot in hand? Probably there is no plan am I'm just maladjusted. I'm no David. I'm much more like one of those little aggravating yappy dogs, nipping and growling as if to make up for its ridiculous small size. I suppose being told off by me is akin to dealing with an especially persistent fly. After each encounter, I am ashamed of the scene I made and quietly thankful that I was not crushed. I know one day I will not be so lucky.