“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou
I read that quote and a thousand words and faces flooded my mind - or perhaps more appropriately a thousand feelings with faces and my subtitles. Who made me feel? Who made me feel worthwhile? Who made me feel useful and motivated to do more? Who gave me hope? Who lifted me to a greater understanding of the world around me?
A teacher shaped who I am more than she could ever know. I've no idea where she is or if she is even still a teacher. And I believe that, at the time she most influenced me, she was in a great state of change in her own life. She was a tough teacher and I felt, she demanded much. I had her for several English courses in high school and I believe she moved on shortly after my graduation.
In high school, I felt like an alien. Now I understand that most high school teens share that sentiment but this one teacher linked me to something that led me to a better understanding of myself. She introduced me to MS Magazine. As I recall, which might not be quite accurate, she laid a copy of the first issue on my desk back in 1973 or 4. In any case, I got my first issue of that magazine, due to her. The feeling I remember from her is that I could be more and could do more than anyone else around me was telling me. And in the classes I took from her, she was demanding more. She knew I could. That feeling of more out there and more within has remained through these many decades. I write today because she opened that door to expression in me.
While I would mark this as my driving force for social activism, my sense of community responsibility is more deeply rooted. My father is a charter member of the Sandycreek Volunteer fire department. We grew up with a fire phone in our house and were all trained on how to answer and respond to an emergency call. My sisters and I were encouraged and supported in fundraising efforts for the Cancer Society, Heart Association and church sponsored efforts to help those in need. It was a great part of our family culture. I am thankful for that and know that it continues to "make me feel" that community is very important. I don't remember what all we said or what all we did but I remember the feeling and carry that today. From those days, I carry a great sense of commitment to community service.
But then - there was a long lull in my community service and activism. I volunteered through my Air Force days where, against advice, I volunteered for everything and loved it. It lasted through my college graduation. It lasted through my first post military job where I become a contracted volunteer advocate. Why did I suddenly then become uninvolved?
Fear. Fear. I became afraid.
I got a job teaching. And the people I was closest to then told me that if I was known for who I really was, I could loose my job. And six years or so later, I went to work for a corporation and many of same people told me that I could not be known for who I was or I would loose my job.
I've tried to explain this fear to friends and it is hard. But I will try to take you to that moment when I decided fear would not drive me.
That shall be part II of this post - How did they make you feel?