One Monday morning, during 1st period, two of my 6th grade band students decided to lick the chairs in my music room. I told them that the last thing to happen in that room was preschool orientation Friday night and to imagine what went on in those chairs. They won’t do that again.
I have a senior trumpet player this year. Last year, my first year of teaching band, he was also in my music theory class. This kid is smart and awesome and I’m so proud of him. He’s also in men’s quartet. Last week the quartet was reading a new piece. After class he came to my office, pointed to a double flat, and simply said ‘thank you’. Some days are stressful and difficult, but that makes it all worth it.
I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.
But I know something. I know this. You are called.
You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.
The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.
Too loud. Too greedy. Too masculine. Too angry. Too emotional.
Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.
Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.
That place is yours.
There is enough space for all of you. I swear there is, I promise. Even for all your noise, opinions, intelligence, even for the pure size of your frame. Even for your passion and force of will and love of justice.
This fight, to claim your right to be, is on the inside. But when you are a woman who leads, the world will try to tell you otherwise.
Oh, sweet girl…I could wish for you an easier path than this.
You will not often be the pretty one. Pretty is one part what you actually look like and two parts not being a threat. Learn to wear your beauty like a lion, or a tall tree. Learn to wear boots, and jackets. Learn to wear whatever you want.
You will not always know what you are doing. You will lead in the dark, with your eyes closed. Sometimes your mistakes will cause harm, and that will make you question your calling. Don’t. Don’t question the calling. Question your skill. Get better. Work harder. Learn to do your work well.
You will have trouble with friends. Sometimes this will be your fault. You will practice power instead of leadership. This is a trick of the darkness. You will have to learn to trust without controlling.
Sometimes it will not be your fault. A strong woman will be threatened by you. A weaker woman will betray you. Someone that you care about will tell you that you are being selfish. This will hurt like hell, and there is not a darn thing that I can do about it.
Baby, I am so sorry.
But it will help you to understand this, and this is maybe the most important thing of all. There is no woman in the world – I don’t care how brave, how beautiful, how wildly fortunate, or how questionable her values – There is no woman in the world who needs you to cut her down.
Please, lean in to other women. We have heard that we women aren’t very nice to each other, that it is our nature to cut and compete. If so, it is only from living in too-small boxes, and competing for too-small parcels of air. It doesn’t have to be that way. Make it not that way.
It will happen, too, that a man is at your side to help you. Look for that. He might be there when you are just about to lose control of the wheel and you are also trying to hold a crying baby. Listen to me, now, this is important.
It is okay to ask the man to hold the baby.
Listen to this, too. You may find that someday you need to leave your babies in someone else’s arms. Probably this will hurt you. But beyond the hurting there is a darkness, too, that tells you this is wrong. It tells you that you should feel ashamed. Resist it. Don’t let that darkness drown out your call. Like the Buddha, turn your hand to the earth. They are all your children.
And you will see your own children soon. Again and again, you will be called back home, like Ulysses, in your time. There will be time for Sabbath, when the call is quiet and the task is rest. You can rest from the world. But you can’t rest from yourself.
Be true to yourself.
And, women, there may be a hard thing about food. If you are a woman who leads (or any other woman…or some men), you may find it hard to feed yourself. If that happens to you, please, look for the friend. She is the friend who shares her French fries with you when you won’t order food of your own. He is the assistant, or the husband, who rolls his eyes and says, “She never eats when she’s working.” She is the midwife who brings you peanut butter toast after you have given birth. She is your sister, your mother. She will save you. Please, let her feed you.
Sweet girl, I will not tell you that this road is easy.
But one day you will slip into your skin like it fits you, and you’ll look around and you won’t know what you were fighting all those years. I can’t wait to see it. I’m going to be so proud.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”—
-F.Scott Fitzgerald from The Great Gatsby
The green light is my first tattoo. I chose it for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is one of literature’s greatest symbols of hope. It also reminds me to consider what I am chasing and expecting to make me happy. And finally, it’s a reminder that my past does matter and influence my future, but that does not have to be a negative thing.