“I’ll take a quiet life… and no alarms and no surprises”
It’s an easy life to believe in when I am sipping coffee watching the snow swirl. I could be someone, anywhere, living a life under any context. But that is not always the case.
I worked with a group of students last night who are riding a high horse of enlightenment. After spending a semester volunteering, adventuring, traveling, working and living together, they feel…empowered. They feel…as they put it: “aware, compassionate, empathetic, able to make change.”
They want me to reinforce how they feel, reassure them it will be okay, echo their sentiments, provide them with more opportunities to return to that high: I am a good person.
Instead I asked them, “why were you not this way before your experience?”
They looked at me a little aghast, turning my question round in their head, thinking–probably–what a stupid question. Their answer was of course, “we had to live it to learn it.”
And I called bullshit again. What about people who don’t have the privilege to live it? What about people who can’t tour out of their life and into another, stand on the periphery of someone else’s hardship all the while knowing their own safety net is waiting to embrace them again? What about the people who do live, whose real lives are, hard and oppressed and unfair? What do they have to learn. How do they learn.
The students had no answer for me. They got swept up into the drain of their thoughts. Wondering, wondering. I could feel the discomfort in the room. After they had spent half an hour telling me how great it was to embrace cognitive dissonance. How much they felt they are now more comfortable with the uncomfortable. I felt them in that room, their brains sweating and churning and they struggled, as they knit their eyebrows and their lips together and tried to reason with themselves. But I did a hard thing. I did a good, hard thing, and now aren’t I better for it, and now don’t I get to reap the rewards of that a bit and feel different and feel special and important and separate.
This is why I work in higher ed. This is why I think college is important. I want to push my students. I want them to feel uncomfortable when I’m in the room because I might give them pause, or ask them questions they don’t understand, or sit quietly when they expect me to nod and smile. I might not have a response when they feel it is their due. Words.
I left with my chest tight and a familiar feeling of frustration in between my teeth. This feeling follows me around. It is probably the constant of my life. My desire to fight. The surge that sinks and rises which I fall asleep with, eat breakfast with, talk to as I sit at the bar with a friend, as I text my sisters, as I sit alone and think…what is it. That constant nagging. There is a question I am posing to myself which I can’t quite hear. Can’t quite make out the tails of the words. Wha–
There is a feeling here. Something in the world I am supposed to feel out. A desire to continuously pose a challenge to others. To be a thorn in the side. To poke and prod and keep slightly on edge. Don’t trust me. Don’t feel safe around me. Don’t forget me. Don’t let your guard down. Like a virus I slink in. Will I be eradicated or will I mutate?
“No alarms and no surprises.” There are no absolutes.
Elena Ferrante: “That even if we’re constantly tempted to lower our guard — out of love, or weariness, or sympathy or kindness — we women shouldn’t do it. We can lose from one moment to the next everything that we have achieved.”