Swiss Cheese Woman

Swiss cheeseBefore I can fully embrace the world’s diversity, I need to embrace myself in all of my diversity. Accepting who I am has been quite a journey. I stumble again and again. Below is an excerpt from Big Topics at Midnight where this question came into knife-sharp focus.

“I flew into Atlanta for the next session of my eighteen-month Be Present training on the issues of Race, Gender, Power & Class. Each time I arrived in Atlanta, Kate Lillis picked me up. On the drive across town, we’d catch up on our families and lives, continue to build our relatively new friendship and get to know each other. Just as we pulled up into her driveway, Kate turned and asked me, ‘Where did you grow up?’ ‘Texas,’ I snorted with disgust. The harsh tone of my voice surprised me, but I was too excited to be in Atlanta with Kate to give it any more thought. Until later.

Alone, snuggled under the covers in Kate and Lillie’s guest room, my body was tired, but my mind was wide-awake. I’d loved growing up in Texas, but my world expanded after I moved away at twenty-three. Year by year, I’d broadened my understanding of life. Simultaneously, I grew more self-conscious about my narrow childhood perspective, packaged in Texas-sized confidence.

Almost thirty years after I’d moved away from the land of my birth, under the covers in Kate’s home, I was horrified to realize I’d spent many of those years trying to cut out the Texan parts of me. Around midnight, I also recognized a larger pattern: I’d long been trying to extricate other parts of myself as well.

When I finally noticed that we had more money than many, I was embarrassed by my family’s upper-middle class and, later, upper class status. For a time, I wanted to give my family money away, not wanting to be wealthy in a world where so many had so little. Simultaneously, I wanted to keep all of the options that money gave me.

Likewise, I had recently realized how white my world had always been. As I heard story after story of experiences and perspectives of people with darker shades of skin, I wanted to rip off my white skin and the white-colored glasses that had kept me unaware of signs of racism during childhood and into my adult years.

The glow from the streetlight gave the room an eerie light as I considered other parts of myself that had faced the knife. It wasn’t easy for me to admit being a Christian, either. Jesus didn’t embarrass me, but far too many Christians did. Too often the radical heart of the faith was usurped by traditional US cultural values.

As a strong girl turned woman, I thought I’d avoided sexism. In the dark of night I realized that I’d been largely unaware of the ways I’d absorbed patriarchal beliefs throughout my life. I’d grown to respect my use of reason and logic—the skills honored in my family—and ignored my subtler intuition, gut and heart. I’d slipped unaware into the patriarchal way of valuing only one part of me. In addition, I was disgusted that it took over thirty years for me to discover how slowly liberation had come to my home state—married Texan women didn’t even have full legal rights until the late 1960s.

I felt full of holes, like a hunk of Swiss cheese. So much of who I was brought me shame. Projecting that onto Texas and onto the United States of America at the height of her world power, I tried to increase the distance between myself and the culturally affirmed values I no longer accepted.

Were these holes I’d cut out of myself destined to remain empty forever?”

No, I didn’t remain full of holes.  Waking up not only extended the edges of my neighborhood, but it also helped me find my way back home to myself.

In January, I will return to a Be Present National Training Institute on Race, Gender, Power & Class, this time in California as one of the leadership team. This training has been key for me to find my way back home to myself and at home in the diverse world around me. I hope you’ll consider joining me.

*Big Topics at Midnight: A Texas Girl Wakes Up to Race, Class, Gender and Herself (Portland: Rosegate Press, 2012) page 238, 239.

2 thoughts on “Swiss Cheese Woman

  1. Very powerful Nancy. Wow. I found some parts completely familiar and the words felt like thick, southern molasses. They stuck…

  2. What a wonderful image. Brought back memories of taking a jar of molasses out of Grandma’s pantry and pouring it over biscuits. Maybe reworking with my memories of molasses and biscuits, grandparents and their wisdom I want to keep and burdens I want to jettison, will support the work of filling in the holes…

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