What Difference Did I Make?

I’d like to offer a fair warning that if you are looking for an uplighting, look-at-the-bright-side post – you may want to skip today’s post. 

What Difference Did I Make?

Prologue

On Thursday of this past week, I underwent part 2 of 2 UV light treatments to remove pre-cancerous spots on my face due to years of sun exposure. Part 1, four weeks ago, came and went with little irritation. I was pleasantly surprised because I had a similar process (with medicinal ointment rather than UV light) about 10 years ago that led to weeks of excruciating pain from blistering and peeling skin.

For these treatments, 48 hours without sun exposure of any kind is important. So, I’ve spent the last three days huddled indoors – getting loads of client projects completed and getting caught up on all my ‘busywork’ like paying bills and trying to figure out Pinterest – not to mention the background noise of the Great British Bakeoff (thank you Netflix).

I expected Part 2 to be as painless. Instead, my face was far redder and hotter than with Part 1 – but at least it didn’t blister and peel!

When I woke on Sunday to 32 degrees and sunny – I was excited to get outdoors. I headed to the bathroom to slather on sunscreen (which I use EVERY day now) only to realize that as I rubbed the sunscreen on my face, my skin began to peel and crack, exposing big red blotches.

Not one to care too much about what others think of my appearance, I knew I still wanted to get outside but thought too much sun wouldn’t be a good thing – sunscreen or not.

Main Event

I decided to head to a movie: The Hate U Give. I treated myself to a big tub of popcorn and settled into my king-size recliner.

I did not expect to hear or see anything new. Like the main character, I grew up in a rough neighborhood and went to a private school across town. Although my children don’t live in a rough neighborhood, as people of color and children of two Catholic school teachers of very modest means, they attended majority white, wealthy schools.

I’ve seen “the young girl sees friend shot and needs to decide whether or not to come forward as a witness” story before in movies like Free of Eden (with Sidney Poitier and his daughter). I’d seen fights, drugs, SWAT teams, and injustices growing up. I live in what is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the country – Chicago. I know the names of the TOO many black boys who’ve died at the hands of a police officer and the fear that it could someday be my child or husband (as I wrote about here).

I intended to view, with curiosity, how this movie portrayed the struggle, and head home to read a good relaxing book before the start of my work week.

As the movie progressed, I couldn’t help but think ‘every white person in America needs to see this’ – just as I did with so many other movies: I Am Not Your Negro, Hidden Figures, Fences, and the many movies my husband wrote about in his blog post.

This movie – like so many before – made me laugh, made me think, made me cry, but mostly it made me angry.

Aftermath

By the time I walked the length of the parking lot to get to my car, I was shaking; my heart raced; my head pounded. I couldn’t drive. My normal heart 70 bpm heart rate was clocking 103 bpm (Samsung Health) – and I’d been sitting for 2.5 hours.

I sat at the nearby bookstore, attempting to breathe deeply and get a grip.

Anger isn’t new to me. I’ve been angry before:

  • When friends were unfairly arrested after outsiders arrived in the neighborhood to make trouble; when my neighbor beat his wife and child; when my father abandoned us. (1970s)
  • When a high school teacher announced to a room full of wealthy white classmates that “everyone on welfare is lazy and ignorant.” (1977)
  • When students fasting for Democracy in TianAnMen Square were murdered. (1989)
  • When fellow Sisters were being compelled to get U.S. green cards against their wishes. (1991)
  • When local school authorities planned to merge two schools serving rival gang members in a building around the corner from my home. (2004)
  • When a coworker sexually harassed students but kept his job. (2000-2007)
  • When someone I love was refused a job and told he would be ‘better for the job at an all-black school.’ (2007)
  • When a woman explained that the school’s diversity policy didn’t mean ‘that kind of diversity’ speaking of race. (2008)
  • When I was told my ideas were ‘too big’ and they just wanted a simple school. (2015)
  • When the Catholic church covered up massive, widespread sexual assault of children. (ongoing)
  • When Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castillo, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, LaQuan McDonald, and so many other young black men became household names. (ongoing)
  • When a self-confessed sexual assaulter was elected president. (2016)
  • When a proven liar was seated on the Supreme Court. (2018)

Anger at violence, racism, police brutality, poverty, and injustice are always with me. But instead of carrying anger like a sword and shield to fight for justice, my anger fits like a snug under-garment – glimpsed only rarely, almost by accident.

For more than 25 years, I taught teenagers with the hopes of influencing the next generation to break the cycles of ignorance and hate that lead to injustice.

But I can’t help but think: what difference did I make?

My entire life has been spent trying to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly within my sphere of influence. Every once in a while, I get fed up and fired up – and make big plans to make a big difference – and the world gets a glimpse of my under-garment, for a moment.

But I can’t help but think: what difference did I make?

I share articles and memes on social media. I yell at news programs on television. I educate anyone who says something ignorant. I call out hatred whenever and wherever I can.

But I can’t help but think: what difference did I make?

I hear some say that they’ve stopped paying attention – that they turn it off for their own sanity – that they just want to live in peace. And this makes me angry and I think, “Lucky for you that you have a choice to ignore it all – to not have your life or the life of someone you love on the line every minute of every day.

And then I wonder if my anger is any different than their apathy – because really when it comes down to it:

I can’t help but think: what difference did I make?

30 comments

  1. You will never know the extent of what you have done. You have no way of knowing how many decisions have been coloured by the example you set. For some folk, your kindness, or morality might be the only example they ever experienced.

    Just because you don’t know, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. I doubt if you could repeat your life you would act with less grace 2nd time around?

    The world needs more folk like you – not less

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with the above comment … you may never know what difference you made in the lives you touched. And I might add, you may never know the difference you made in those lives who watched you from the sidelines. But I believe your honesty, your love and mercy, and your righteous anger does have an impact. Even if you influence only one, you may never know what difference they will make because of you.

    I encourage you to keep fighting the good fight… and keep sharing with us. You may never who you will encourage to abandon apathy and take a stand with you.

    Like

  3. Janet, every time you speak up about this type of issue you make others more aware of it. I’m safely ensconced in Australia, but I feel your pain and I see the reality more clearly when you write about it. No honest discussion is ever for nothing – each small victory adds to creating a new “normal”. I just watched a show about Rosa Parks and look what her small stand created. Keep speaking your truth – it’s important for the rest of us to hear it.
    MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You may not be we well known as Dr. Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks for the BIG difference that they made…but rest assured that you are making a difference. Just by posting about this, you have made a difference. And making MANY small differences is worthwhile and important too!

    Like

    • Darlene – yes, isn’t it often the little things in life that make an impact. I hope that my nagging frustration that I am not making a difference prepares me for that moment of truth if I am ever presented with it. Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Like

  5. Hi Janet, I think it matters deeply that you stand up for what is right and try to influence change. None of us can control what others choose to do or think, but our lives can be an example for those who are watching — and this would include our children. I think we have to keep our focus on that — our own actions. Sometime I get lost in the anger about the unfairness of our world (I felt that way after watching BlackkKlansman recently, or reading the headlines just this morning). But that kind of rumination drains us, so I keep trying to pull myself back to center, so that whatever I do, I can do it with power. Hugs.

    Like

  6. Hi Janet, you might wonder if you have made a difference but remember one voice can be very powerful. Even if your message only reaches family, friends and the blogging world you have made a difference because you have spoken up when many of us don’t. It takes courage and yes, I think you have made a difference. Thank you for sharing with us at #MLSTL and have a beautiful week.xx

    Like

  7. I feel the same as you Janet. I have fought against injustice and for the underdog in my own small way since I was a young person. Have I made a difference? Have any of us? Seeing society backslide has been so disheartening.

    I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all so fucking tired of still having to protest this shit, and fight for basic human dignity and rights for our friends and family, for humanity.

    I just want to lock the door, close the blinds and curl up into a ball most days and yes, I am aware that that is very privileged of me, to even have that option to do so. I don’t have any answers but I will continue to stand up against injustice whenever it enters my sphere. I may not be able to effect change on a societal level, but I can try my best on a personal or neighbourhood level.

    Deb

    Like

  8. I’ll say this for making a difference: you made a difference to me by sharing your story with me and the readers of my blog. You made a difference in your thoughtful answers to tough questions. I’m so glad you’re out there, doing what you do.

    Like

  9. I have not walked in your shoes, Janet. I’ve lived a relatively sheltered life, but I do know this. When I feel overwhelmed by all that’s wrong in the world, by the size of the task or the futility of what I can accomplish, I focus on what’s right in front of me, the small kindnesses I can commit, the harm I can avoid doing. If I touch one person’s life or prevent harm to one living being, that’s something. It’s not nothing. Thanks for the reminder, though, that I can and must do more. As long as we keep trying, there is hope. #MLSTL

    Like

    • Christie, I totally agree that as long as we keep trying there is hope — I just also hope that more people realize how critical some of the current social issues are for so many people. We can so easily get lost in our own bubble (myself included) or get so distracted by so many directions that we become ineffective. I’m currently feeling stuck at that crossroad – which to focus on without becoming so overwhelmed that I hide in a bubble. Thanks for your insights and for joining the conversation.

      Like

  10. You made a difference. And even if it was for one person, one reviewed opinion, or one minute a day, it counts! I used to be a teacher as well and while most of my actions, discussions, advice,
    .. might have reached deaf ears, the inspiratîon or open mind created in others are so worthwhile! It’s easy these days to be mad and become depressed – the (political) world causes this daily, but, it’s those days when we feel empowered that hopefully dwarf the other moments of “what difference did I make?”

    By the way, not every post has to be joyful and cheery. Life is more than that! 🙂

    Like

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.