Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why My Driver's License Photo is Beautiful

Forty-two years. Two countries.  Driver's licenses stamped by six different states.  A blur of twenty or so different basements, rooms-for-rent, apartments, town homes, dorm rooms, faculty housing, two-stories, and split-levels. 

Someday when my seven-year old is asked - Where are you from?  No, really, where are you from?  Where is home? - I never want him to have to pause and silently, but frantically search his mind for the "right" answer. 

And so, without any level of self-awareness, I made life choices designed around a K-12 education for my son that takes place under one roof.  I created raised bed gardens in my back yard because they never fail to promise seasonal returns.  I drilled permanent hooks into my living room drywall for the Christmas decorations I plan on hanging every year in that same exact spot in this house I plan to grow old in.  And I genuinely felt peace in my soul every time I renewed my driver's license and was able to list the same address, in the same town, in the same state. 

It would take running for (and losing) a local elected office for me to become painfully aware that throughout my entire existence, with every effort I made to convince myself that I was finally planted somewhere, perhaps I never really belonged anywhere.  This year I ran for one of eight city council positions in the town I've called home for nearly half of my life - a place in which I am deeply invested that I love dearly, the only place I've ever called home.  Out of 20 candidates, I was one of five women and the only person of color.  During public forums and meet-and-greets I was routinely called out to prove my loyalty and track record of commitment to my town, while my white, male counterparts merely got away with:  I was born and raised in this town.  My dad was the town "fill in the blank with any local elected office".  I'm a third generation Madison Countian. 

When I canvassed door-to-door, one person shook her head sadly after I responded to her question, "But where were you born, dear?" and proceeded to follow with, "But how will you ever understand us and what we need?"  I plowed through the campaign experiencing many other similar "polite" interactions with people who immediately categorized me as an outsider within the first 30 seconds of our meeting, but it wasn't until after I lost the election, that what the universe has been trying to tell me all along, finally hit me.  I do not belong in this town.  And probably even more painful, I've never really belonged anywhere.

And so I allowed myself to sink and wallow in self-despair for two full days.  This really wasn't about me losing the election - really, it wasn't.  I assure you that my ego has handled rejections far worse.  It was about the fact that the majority of people in my own "hometown" spoke loud and clear -  That being born into a place had more value than consciously choosing to make a place your home.  That values like acceptance and inclusivity for all people, were trumped by individual interpretations and judgment of Christian moral ideology. That despite my best efforts, all the raised beds and permanent hooks in the world could never make my interfaith, bi-cultural, multi-race family with close gay friends, grow roots in this town.  I was devastated.  And so I wearily looked the other way when my husband began to research schools that weren't all under one a nearby town.  A town where no one stopped to question why our close friends, both male, were lovingly raising a beautiful little girl together.  A town where my mom doesn't have to drive 40 miles for Thai spring roll wrappers.

And in those hazy days that immediately followed, I found myself at an event in my town, at my college alma mater featuring authors Barbara Kingsolver and Silas House.  And just as the universe had clearly told me that I didn't belong to a place, she spoke to me again, and this time through the voice of a renowned, beloved author.  A college student posed this question to Ms. Kingsolver during a Q & A session:  Can one foster roots without staying in one place?  And the universe (aka Barbara Kingsolver) said this:  You find your roots when you find that which has always followed you.  That thing, that person, that feeling, that tells you you're home.  With all the different places Barbara had lived, the very first thing she always did when she arrived in a new place, was seek out the public library.  Books, stories, history, voices of people - that was her home.  Those were her roots, and it didn't matter where she lived, nobody could ever take those things away from her.


Maybe it didn't matter as much for me to belong to a place.  Maybe what mattered more is that I discover and embrace what belongs to me - what I carry with me no matter where I go, that no third-generation local will ever have the power to take away.    I can't really put exactly what that is into words at this juncture in my life, and that feels OK.  For now, I am content being mindful that my soul is lightest when I'm not the only one in the room but also, when the chairs around my Thanksgiving table are filled with close friends who experience life differently than me.  That's my home.  Those are my roots.  And that is why it doesn't matter what state will be taking my next driver's license picture.  I will always smile with content, for that smile is but an outward reflection of the sense of belonging I will always carry within.

1 comment:

  1. Mae, as I said on the FB page, you really, really DO belong in this town. It might surprise you to know that as a "transplant" myself - with an accent that is very different , despite the fact that I might "look" like folks here-- I have often been asked where I come from (as in : "you're not from here, are you?" -- no kidding). I'm only saying this b/c it's not an uncommon experience and one, I urge you, to not take too personally. You are a unique, insightful, interesting, articulate, thoughtful and compassionate (should I go on?) person. We must not give up on the best that Berea CAN be.... and keep working on it. I hope you will be part of that. Blessings! Happy Thanksgiving! Peggy