Thank you to
- Andrew for making me think
- Gina for believing in the best of me
- Ralph for being a source of constant inspiration
- Mom for telling me to find a career I loved
- Dad for reminding me that the hard work will pay off
- My family for making me feel special and deserving
- My teachers for modeling the educator I aspire to be
- My students for providing the evidence to justify my optimism
Today was a celebration of each of you for helping me create the life I want through the work I love. I am privileged to have these choices and so grateful to have been led to make the right ones.
Thank you, everyone.
I was running along the Berkeley-Emeryville marina and spotted these two. She was hopping around him, cheering him on - just trying to get a workout into her day. Instead of the gym, she opted for a jog outside with her son.
It felt like I was watching a memory get made, and so I turned around and snapped a picture with my phone. These are the moments in life that we cherish but never capture. Instead, our albums are filled with pictures of people smiling at cameras.
I decided to stop her and, despite the creepiness of my act, told her what I had done and why and showed her the picture. I wanted her to have it. We exchanged emails and they jogged away.
For the rest of my run, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had done. Where had the idea come from? Why even think to tell them? It didn’t take long to connect the dots.
It was my mom - she was the one that did this to me. She was the one that instilled in me a sense of joy and sentiment. She was the one that talked to strangers at the store and joked with tourists in the city. She showed me how to think with feelings and connect with people.
I hope that mom prints my picture and keeps it on her fridge. Or at her office. Or in her son’s room. Maybe she’ll tuck it away in a book and come upon it a few years from now, when her son is older and drives. When she can’t run because she’s older, too.
And maybe the memory will come flooding back and she’ll find him and take him by the hand and go on a walk to the park.
She’ll want to have thanked me for taking that picture, but I’m not the one that thought to do it.
It’s been a long time coming.
I feel like Obama must have felt when his health care plan finally became law. Decades in the making, where other’s had failed, I was here when it happened.
And if nothing else comes of this year, at least I’ve accomplished this.
This isn’t the way I usually operate, but it feels too big to ignore. I had to just pause and write this in case the magnitude of the moment faded before I could enjoy it.
|Friend:||My computer password is Jeff4America|
|Friend:||It reminds me of the teacher I want to be|
|Me:||That's ridiculous, but the nicest thing I've heard all day|
I was in a fabric store the other week buying some lime-green checkered cotton jersey for my mom and I stumbled upon a dilemma.
The woman helping me at the counter was sweet. Probably 70, she should be retired but she’s the kind of lady that will keep at it ‘til the end. I could tell she loves what she does. When the last customer is gone, and the store is closed, she probably wraps herself in linen and dances in the aisles, caressing the silk with her old hands and rubbing her face against corduroy. But in this moment, she was just standing at the register. With her zipper down.
I wanted to tell her. I really did. Throughout the transaction, in the back of my head, I tried convincing myself to do it. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. It felt like the type of news that would ruin her. The interaction was too perfect, too sweet, too short for me to just tell her that I could see through her pants. It seemed like a terrifying thing to say out loud. So I smiled and left the store, totally aware of my failure.
You see, I want to live in a world where people tell each other things like this. I want to walk down the street and hear people compliment strangers, warn them if a restaurant is bad before walking in, or wave down a car when their headlights go out. How can I want this world and not contribute to its making? I was presented with a moment to seize and I froze. I froze because I couldn’t bring myself to potentially embarrass her, even if it was quite obviously the right thing to do.
I’ve thought about this for some time now, and needed to write it down. I know it’s benign and the sort of thing not worth much thought. But I guess I’m worried that when presented with another moment like this, and perhaps a more serious one, I might similarly freeze. I might miss an opportunity to be honest, to help a hapless stranger. I suppose what motivates me more than anything is the idea of the tables being turned. That if I were standing there with my zipper down, someone would tell me.
And instead of being embarrassed, I’d be glad. Glad to know they want the same world as me.
Wise Man | Frank Ocean
I dare you to listen just once.
I think I’m special. I always have. If I had it my way, everyone would have felt that growing up. My mom convinced me I was unique and incredible. Whether any of that was ever true didn’t really matter. I believed it and it manifested in my personality, my drive and my work. I took risks because I was confident in my abilities and assured that if I faced failure, I would be captured in a net of love and support. I have been privileged in this way.
I imagined a future of success, even though I hadn’t thought through the details. What I would study and pursue. How I would make money or where I would live. None of that felt necessary to plan for. To be honest, my future felt inevitable - almost out of my control. But in the best way possible. In the kind of way that meant everything would be okay, or even better than okay. People would joke that they’d vote for me for President one day. I laughed along, but at some level actually believed that might happen. I was that special.
But this is somewhat normal. At least for Americans. In a recent study, researchers found that American teenagers, across all levels of income, race, and gender, tend to think of themselves as special in some respect. I did a double-take the first time I saw the data. It cemented the doubts I had always had about my special nature. If everyone thinks they are special, no one really is. How can we all be so important? And what if I’m not?
I’ll be 30 in three years. and I’m probably not going to be the President. And that is totally okay. But what will I be? How will I impact this world? The ease at which I could answer or ignore these questions as a kid is gone. I really have to sit down and think about it now.
I was talking with a thoughtful friend recently - the guy I referenced in my first post on this blog (the one who doesn’t want to cuddle) - and he reminded me of a quote I had used as a teenager to nurse my self-doubts.
“…Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968
I clung to the idea that, despite my flaws and gaps and insecurities, I could still go on to do great things. So that every time I discovered a weakness, I could rest assured that as long as I was good, and true and genuine, that I could be great. I still like that idea, but it’s not everything. It certainly can’t get me through adulthood.
If I could talk to my former self - the kid that accepted his privilege without question and rode the wave of self-pride - I would tell him that he was special. But that every kid is special. I would tell him that as an adult, he’d have to work for it. To never just go through the motions of life and accept a path. To keep taking risks and walking through open doors and staying true. To make himself special.
Last night, I went to visit a student at her place of worship. She is a Jehova’s Witness. I don’t remember how we got to talking about religion, but we did one day. We were on the quad during lunch, where I stand and watch the kids. Every once in a while, a student will approach me to talk. Tell me a story. Ask me a question. Maybe they think I’m lonely out there. Nyliah was my student last year. Very bright, really eager to please. She’s beautiful and funny. When she found out I was gay, she asked me what kind of dress I’d wear at the wedding. Would it be white? Do you like lace? Will it be long or short? I think she was serious. I never really answered, just smiled and giggled - her questions were just so innocent and sweet. I let it go.
So one day Nyliah came and asked me to come see her speak. She was giving a talk about prayer, and wanted me to be there. She wanted me to give her feedback. It was an irresistible offer from a really good kid. So I said yes. Part of me felt like she was trying to convert me, but that didn’t matter so much. It was for her, and I’d do a lot for her. I would’t convert, but I’d show up.
I’ve got a lot to say about my visit. Everything I saw was what I expected, but also eerily surprising. I don’t consider myself a religious person, in a traditional sense. I don’t even think of myself as spiritual, really. But being at her Hall reminded me that religion is a big part of our world, and this religion, in particular, had eluded me. Getting a peek inside her world was kind of exciting. It was like a foreign country, or a retirement home. I had always known Jehova’s Witnesses existed, but never really thought about them in a real sense. They were just in the background of life. They were caricatures.
From walking through the door to sitting in the pew I was asked if I wanted a Bible and some pamphlets from five different people. I said “No, thank you” every time because I didn’t really want one, and I didn’t want it to seem like I was there to learn about their religion. I wasn’t. But, by the sixth time, I caved in. I said, “Sure, thanks.” Maybe I felt like it would be respectful or something. Maybe I wanted to make them feel good. I don’t know.
And something totally ironic happened. They went to get a Bible and came back empty handed. The man shrugged. They were out of Bibles. I was shocked. This is a people who explicitly want to bring people into their religion, a people who actually go door-to-door to spread their message. And they had someone in their midst, a non-believer was actually physically present in their Kingdom Hall, and they had nothing to give me.
And their service went on. And Nyliah spoke. And she was magnificent. I left after her speech. It was already 8 o’clock and I was tired. No one stopped me to get my email or my address or my name. I was left alone. I came and went. For some reason, that was surprising to me. I expected something more like the caricature that I’ve come to believe.
Instead, I got Nyliah’s sweet voice.