A Letter of Compassion – Dear younger self

July 9, 2022
Category: Regenerative Stories

This post is 2 years in the making, actually more like 25 years, if I’m honest. Tonight I was trying to sleep and I just kept “writing” things in my mind so I finally got up to finish writing it. Here are some of my meandering thoughts…

The last couple of years have been so hard, in so many ways, for so many people. Uncertainty about business, family, health, politics, and racial conflicts have been crippling at times. Trying to make the best decisions we can but knowing that we’re really all “guessing” based on the limited facts before us.

COVID has been very difficult for me, especially relating to the uncertainty in regards to business and how it has changed so many things in our day-to-day lives. I am also realizing that the racial tension in our nation has really had a profound impact on me.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I was born in Kenya and lived there until I was 4. People always ask me if I remember anything about it. I remember so much. You can read more of my memories here.

At different times, over the last 4o years, I have realized how much growing up in Kenya during my formative years, impacted my life. There were a few times when I realized the impact “all of a sudden”. I remember feeling, even at a young age, that I just didn’t really fit in anywhere, in my deepest being. I know I’m not alone in this feeling and that many people feel this way.

I remember one experience on not fitting in when I was a substitute lifeguard at a pool in Laurel, MD. It was a predominantly black neighborhood, which was pretty usual for me.  Most of the neighborhoods that I worked as a lifeguard were predominantly black. This experience was a little different for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t have chance to build report with anyone…I just showed up one day in the middle of the season. Second, I was maybe the only white person there, let alone a young white girl, who’s job it was to enforce the rules, which never works well with people you don’t know. Needless to say, no matter what I did to try to build relationships, joke around, etc. I remember thinking that it would take me a LONG time to “fit in”because they didn’t really see me, they just saw what I looked like. I was put into a box by the people there, a box that didn’t fit who I really was. I was only there for a day so I never got a chance to get to know anyone or let anyone get to know me. I walked away from that experience with some tough thoughts and feelings. I think the biggest eye-opener for me was that I could finally understand (in an extremely small way) what my friends of color have to go through daily, not just a few pivotal times in life. I got the smallest glimpse into the window of my friends lives and how disheartening and overwhelming that must be to not be seen for who you are but only for what you look like.

This and some other experiences stuck with me and would pop up in a continual mental loop.

This loop would continue in my mind for the next 25 years. All of a sudden, when we experienced the racial tension of 2020, the pieces started coming together. I remember writing a facebook post or comment about how racism is still alive and that all of us should be introspective about the times when we have judged or stereotyped another person. It was such a raw comment that I was afraid of being misunderstood and I deleted my comment after about stressing about it for an hour. I didn’t want my black friends to think I was racist because I was admitting to stereotyping other people because I have always considered myself more “woke” than the average white girl.

I had a crisis of identity that took me a long time to figure out. Something in my soul was deeply connected to the black community. It may sound naive because growing up in Kenya isn’t the same as growing up in a black community in the U.S. but from my formative years, I was surrounded by people that didn’t look like me. Often, I felt more at home with my black friends. I was surrounded by so much diversity, growing up in a suburb of L.A. and Washington D.C. I had friends of every race, religion and income level. I truly treasured it! I loved that I was able to understand my friend’s cultures, inasmuch as anyone from a different culture can.

I remember having a conversation with one of my dear friends growing up. We were talking about how one of the other girls in the youth group said something to her like “you people are so funny” – obviously meaning “you black people”. I was aghast that ignorance like that still existed! I remember the exact location of that conversation. And over the years, we talked more and more about what white people would say to my dear friends of color, putting them a box and not truly understanding them, like my own experience in Laurel. “You’re nice for a black girl.” “Wow, you seem really smart for a black girl.”You’re a really beautiful “black girl”. And the favorite, “You speak like a white person.”  I had always been an advocate for racial equality but I came to realize that I naively thought that it was a problem only in “backward” places. NOT in my own backyard in our melting pot of races and religions. So that was definitely an eye-opener for me.

Then I went to college in a small, rural town in Indiana. There are black people living in the state, but only a few attended my college and there weren’t many or any black people living in the local town. For the first time in my life, I was suddenly surrounded by a lot of white people, mostly rich white people to be precise. I REALLY struggled my first year. I remember going to orientation and feeling sick to my stomach…what am I doing here and how am I ever going to find friends? I remember that feeling of panic and nausea. Do I even want to be friends with any of these people? I not only felt like an outsider but I was also judging those at my school because they were so different than me.  I looked like them but I was so different. Thankfully I found some really great friends that I came to love. I learned a lot during college, including that I was putting the people at my school in a box too and I was being a hypocrite.

I ended up struggling with my identity during college a lot. I look back with some embarrassment as I was trying to figure out who I was – who am I when I’m not longer surrounded by the people and cultures that I loved? Below are a few memories of my journey of self-discovery in college, especially relating to racism. My hope is that sharing these, I can heal and release the shame that I’ve felt for so long.

There were a few black people on campus that I just gravitated to but then I realized that I gravitated to them because they were black and they felt like “home”. I felt like a fraud because I singled them out because of their skin color.

I remember taking a sociology class where we spent a lot of time talking about racism, inequality and the like. It was my favorite class in all my four years of college (I was an art major). It opened my eyes even more to the racism that is still prevalent. I was learning about it in real ways by being in a rural, confederate flag flying, racist area. I started to realize my naivete in thinking that everyone got along and we as a nation had evolved to love diversity, like I did. That was an eye-opening experience that wreaked havoc with my understanding of the world. But it was a transforming experience, one that I look back on with appreciation.

I remember coming home for a break and just LOVING being home and being surrounded with diversity. I remember thinking how friendly everyone was and just how much I loved Maryland. We were at church, a church that had 42 different countries represented in a congregation of around 200 people. It was beautiful. We had a nice time sharing testimonies and prayer requests but then there was an older gentlemen, a deacon in the church, and he got up and started talking about how his son lost his job to people less qualified because of racial equality laws. He was trying to make it a request for prayer that his son would find a job but he put in so many racial barbs that I was extremely offended and really surprised. So I got up and spoke about how it was so wonderful to be back in a place of such diversity. I appreciated all of the culture and races represented at church and I was so happy to belong to a church family that was so diverse. I was heartbroken again about what I had heard from a leader of the church – taking off my rose colored glasses. I ended up talking to that man about what I felt and he felt aghast that his words would be taken that way. I hope it was enlightening for him as well.

I had two experiences that I STILL think about and get sick to my stomach about. We had 2 Asian girls on my dorm floor. I had talked through a lot of my ideas on racial issues with my friend Megan, one of the Asian girls. I guess I was so excited about speaking with someone else on campus about the racial issues that I thought about so much, I apparently wanted to prove that I was “woke”. But what did I end up doing? Flippantly, I pointed to picture as if it was Megan. You guessed it. Nope, it wasn’t. AND, you can guess who it was, my other Asian friend. She called me out. I was totally mortified and horrified that I had lumped them together in my mind, after all of my “enlightened” talk about racism. Want to know the worst part? I made up some stupid, lame excuse instead of just apologizing and admitting that I was an idiot. Literally, that has haunted me for 20 years. It was at that time that I started to unravel the thought that I wasn’t who I thought I was, I really didn’t belong, and I too lump people together and put them in invisible boxes. (Think back to the comment on facebook that I deleted because it was too raw for me.)

During some summer, one of my good friend’s little brother (who was also like a brother to me) need a ride home from youth group. I loved him and was so happy to get to hang out. But what did I do? I talked different, I blasted “bootylicious” by Beyonce on the radio while he was in the car. I think I was trying to prove that I still had “soul” to myself but I fear that all I was doing was being inauthentic and offensive. I believe it was on that same day, I was with the youth group. They asked me if I knew who Nelly was…I said yeah, I think I’ve heard her songs. I was thinking of Nelly Fertado and didn’t know about the rapper Nelly…not a her! I was so embarrassed. I am just now getting to a place in my life where I can look back with love and compassion for the lost girl I was, trying to find my place.

Those stories and many others made me feel struggle to figure out who I was. Again, I don’t think this is unique to me. I guess all of life is a journey to figure out who we are and where we fit in.

Through all of this, I did have a saving grace. My Steve – my belonging and safe haven. I had finally found someone who knew the real me and liked me. I know a lot of my struggle was based on my perfectionism. The reason those situations above drove me crazy for 20 years is because my whole young life was obsessed with perfectionism. I have to be a good girl but not a goody-goody, I have to always be kind but stand up for myself, I have to balance being fun and composed, I have to be funny and deep. I have to make everyone happy. My friends, my parents, my grandparents, my friend’s parents, my teachers, my coaches, my sister. All of this contributed to not knowing who I was or where I belonged. I look back with some regret on my perfectionism because and it made me miss out on so many things. When my friends and I were talking about struggles in life and I was not able to admit that I had any struggles. I look back on those conversations and realized how much I missed out on. But then again, I look back on that sensitive girl who was trying to hold it together.

I am an Enneagram 9 so I will probably continue to struggle with knowing who I truly am and where I fit in this crazy world. I’m taking the steps now to forgive myself and accept that even though I wasn’t perfect, I did the best that I could at that time and that I can look back on my younger self with compassion. I have always been able to do that with others, but now I’m turning the tables to myself. My hope is that I have learned from all my mistakes and missteps and I hope they have shaped who I am today, for the better.

It reminds me of the quote from Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can, until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

So, my dear friends, I pray that this “letter” of my meandering thoughts, will be an invitation for us to have conversations about tough things – racism, boxes we put ourselves and others in, insecurities, shame, regrets and also the hope for the future. I hope that we will all look at those around us as humans and see the beauty and diversity that God created and He said “It is good”.

I hope that you, just like me, can look back on the things in your past that were not favorable and see how they have made you the person you are. And also be able to look back on yourself with compassion, a compassion that guides you with love to be a better human being now than you were. Here is a quote to end this inadequate but very heartfelt letter to all of my friends.

“This garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive—a living fractal.”
― William Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

I have a lot to learn and so many ways to grow. I hope we can grow together and encourage each other in both our failings and our successes. I pray that our shame stops having such a grip on us and that together we can live the true, regenerative lives that God has for us.

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