I equate my first time really feeling empowered with the first powerful epiphany I had. When I was a junior in high school, I had a fabulous AP English teacher, Mrs. Garrity. She was one of those teachers that you always remember, who really sticks with you. In our classes, we used to read literature and then she would hold Socratic seminars. We would all arrange our desks in a circle, and she would prompt us with questions about what we were reading and try to provoke a discussion about it. The questions were always challenging, and we really had to think about how to respond.
But there was one day – I don’t even remember what we were reading at the time…maybe it was Ellison’s Invisible Man or Dorris’ A Yellow Raft in Blue Water…could have been something else entirely – but somehow out of the discussion came an epiphany. It didn’t even happen during the discussion. Something was said in the discussion that stayed with me, and I chewed over it as I walked to my next class. And there in the middle of the crowded hallway, with teens throwing things at each other and friends calling out to each other, I had an epiphany and it was like a flash of heaven and light in my head.
It occurred to me that I didn’t have to do anything at all. There is nothing in life I have to do; everything in life is a choice I make.
We always tell ourselves we have to get good grades, have to get a good job, have to be able to buy or do certain things, have to cross off all the items on our to-do list. And it can be all at once satisfying and exhausting to always be chasing the “have-tos”. But in truth, there is no such thing as “have-to”. Of course, if you want a good job, then you should do well in school. If you want people in your life, you should treat them kindly and with respect. There are boundaries and trade-offs, calculations and proven paths. But everything we do is because there is something we want from having done it, and what we want is worth whatever it is we try to do, or at least, is better than the alternative.
I have to get up in the morning to get to work, because the rewards of being on time are better than the consequences of being late. But I can be late. There’s nothing stopping me but my own will and desire. Sometimes people do things to us we don’t like, or they hurt us in ways that are demeaning and unfair. We can’t help how we feel when they do so, but we can choose how to respond. We can respond with blame and anger in return, or we can choose to respond with honesty, decency and respect. But therein lies the crux of the biscuit: I make a choice.
Realizing that was an incredibly empowering moment for me. I’d been chasing “have-tos” and to suddenly realize that nobody was forcing me, that I alone had the power to determine my actions, and that everything I do comes down to a choice I make…that made me feel powerful.
Nothing in my behavior might really have changed with this realization, but it is “the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high”, which makes for all the difference in the world (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, 512).
Understanding this also meant taking responsibility for myself, but I would rather accept those consequences, come what may, than choose to allow myself to feel dragged into anything. I choose to be powerful. I choose to be me.
Has there ever been a time you felt powerful? Like you ruled the world for a day, or even just a moment? Tell us about the time when you felt invincible, or at least empowered.
I think there is real power in the human voice, as flawed as it may be. And when the voices speak together, when you have a multitude of voices speaking, patterns begin to emerge and there you can begin to understand truth. So in the spirit of the personal narrative, I am hosting a weekly challenge every Tuesday morning, where I will post a topic (ranging from the banal to the intimate) and ask readers to respond. I would love to see everyone’s answers and how similar and different they all are.
You can respond in any way you choose. You can give a fictional response or a true one. You can use words, sentences, and/or photographs. If you have a blog, you can link it with Mr. Linky below. Please be sure to include “Tell It To Me Tuesdays” in the title, and link back to this post. Feel free to use the “Tell It To Me Tuesday” button available to the right. If you don’t have a blog, but want to join in, you can just leave a comment. Please follow the rules. I don’t want to have to delete links. I like links! Don’t make me delete them.