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Thursday, May 7, 2009

"I Don't Understand Much of Anything"

Preface: I’m teaching a short course on writing to a group of women who live in a home in Bellevue. The women are all single moms with a child (or children) under the age of two. The house is run by a not-for-profit agency whose focus is to get them back on their feet, into housing on their own and re-entered into the working world. Last night was the second of three lessons.

Last night I taught my second lesson at the home in Bellevue. The writing exercise was predicated on Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” I based the lesson on her use of word repletion as a tool to emphasize a point and to add strength to her voice. I wanted to incorporate this concept into the lesson as a way for the women to recognize strength in their voices. To do that we did a writing exercise of what I call the “10 for 10.” This is an exercise that takes 10 “I ____” statements and the writer completes the sentence of 10 different prompting topics. For example, “I want a bowl of ice cream. I want world peace. I want a puppy. I want to travel to Greece. Etc.” Repeat 10 times. The first 5 that we did were “I want,” “I need,” “I believe,” “I understand,” and “I hope.” They could also add “do not” in there if that seemed more fitting. Once they each wrote the 10 sentence for each “I ____”, if they wanted to share they could, of which most of them did.

There is one woman there who really doesn’t like to write. She really struggles with it. She has a learning disability and I believe just hasn’t been given the right encouragement. With the previous lesson she’s found other reason to occupy her time. A baby crying, needing a glass of water, going to the bathroom, etc. At the end of the previous session she had just started on the exercise nearing the end once she saw that the other girls were working on. She at least started something. Yesterday’s lesson it was very cool because she started to participate, while holding one of the babies in her arms, almost like her security blanket. The first round she didn’t list 10, maybe four or five. The second round she wrote maybe 5. The third round I couldn’t verify but there were definitely more. At the end she was writing at least 10 if not more. With every new topic she wrote more and more. That was very powerful to witness. It was very powerful to witness progression, even if in the slightest way.

Now, these women are no ordinary women (whatever ordinary means). These women are single mother, homeless, trying to support themselves and their kid(s). These are women who deal with personal addictions, family members with addictions, learning disabilities, completing their high school diplomas, mending relationships, trying to be good mothers and good people. I usually feel instrusive on their lives knowing they have bigger issues to contend with than my little touchy-feely exercise. So when they started to make their lists and share their lists, I realize how very much alike and how very different my reality is to theirs. But, I became very aware that my wants and needs and hopes and understandings are very much grounded in the some basic ideas and yet the positions I am in and the position and the path they are on to achieve and fulfill their wants and desires are very different. Many of their wants and needs were around having a job, having a car, having place of their own, having a place to dye their hair, having healthy children, wanting to be good moms, wanting to fix things that were broken. They don’t understand math, relationships, racism, animal abuse and taxes. They believe in doing right in the world, God, love, learning from their mistakes, and tomorrow is a new day.

When I left last night I thought that my life is so different from them. I thought I was in such a place a privilege and that I have been given so much. I thought I have been so blessed to be dealt that hand I was dealt. Now, I see, I am no different. At the root of it all, I want what they want, I need what they need, I believe what they believe. Sure, we’re different, we’ve made different choices but I am certainly no better or no worse.

If there was a moment that I will never forget last night is was this. The youngest (in every sense of the word) one there, breast feeding her son, all her business hanging out, she begins her list of “I understand.” She says, “I don’t understand much of anything.” If there were ever a moment I could on to forever it was that moment, to which I thought, “I don’t understand much of anything either.” Amen, Sister. A-men.


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