superheroes

It is no secret that I adore my nephew, Ezra, with all of my heart. He has the kindest, purest heart and possesses the unique capability to see the good in everything. He’s observant, hilarious, and open to exploration; the simple things that make him happy encourage me to see simplicity as so marvelous and beautiful as well. He has a room full of toys but finds complete satisfaction in simply running “super-speed” while shouting, “Hey Mimi watch me run like Dash!”. He’s adorable, but what intrigues me about my small nephew, and all young children, is their ability to see the good in people. As we grow older, we become hardened by the world and its cruelty, distrust, and pain. I’m trying to learn something important here from my wild and curious 3-year-old nephew.

Ezra loves superheroes. He’s always asking to show us his newest (or oldest) superheroes, exhibiting their heroic talent like Hulk-smashing or Superman-flying. He loves a good fight (he’s always Hulk, the opponent is always less strong). What intrigues me about him is that he also loves the “bad guys”. He shows off Thanos (who I think is a bad guy) and others with equivalent excitement and satisfaction. He conservatively tells you, “He’s a bad guy,” but continues to interact and play with the “bad guy” understanding he is still pretty cool and interesting. What I think is so important about this is the childlike ability to empathize with and connect with the bad guy. I think there’s a lot of merit in listening to the other side.

In real life, we despise the bad guys. We even shy away from the “Other” in ways that I think are harmful for our growth and character. We don’t care about hearing what the bad guys have to say. Our lives are compartmentalized into “safe” and “unsafe” and we rarely venture to the side that makes us feel uncomfortable. I write this because I certainly feel this way. The world makes us fear the unknown, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar. It’s easy to live within your mindset, friend group, daily schedule and never venture into the marvelous world of the superheroes and bad guys, where things often become a little less binary than “good” or “bad”. The blurred middle is where we live, where a verdict can’t be placed on every person we meet without understanding the baggage, experiences, and tragedy they carry just like we do. This morning, I want to set a simple intention for this week to be more like my small, curious, and loving nephew. I’m not going to change the world or save a group of people, but hopefully I will save at least a small part of humanity that is quickly fading in the drowning depths of fear. I’ll always believe that love triumphs fear. This week, I hope to listen to the bad guys for just a little longer, step outside of my comfort zone to become a little wiser, and spread my love just a little wider.

who you are

Your life experiences unquestionably define who you are and guide where you belong in the world. We are each given unique stories – challenges, triumphs, memories, passions – that aid us in figuring out what type of life we are to live. Since I’ve been in college, I have met people from SO many different walks of life, and it has been one of my favorite aspects of moving out of a small town and into a more culturally and ethnically diverse city. The people I’ve become very close friends with come from all over the world and from every background – Russian, African, Indian, Egyptian, Irish, Ukrainian, American, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, poor, rich, sick, and every quality or descriptor in between. The love I have for each of these people is specific and unique to the friendship that we share, and I’m so glad that I’ve come to know them and their story. Along this journey though, I often found myself asking “Who am I? Where do I come from? What characteristics define me?” and yesterday I again happened upon this internal self-discussion after a conversation I had with a friend in my lab. He very casually told me, “Mary, I can finally hear your Southern accent!” which lead down a rabbit hole of conversation on the lifetime struggle of talking with a “twang” and how “cute” it is (Ha). I told him that sometimes people assume others with a Southern accent are less intelligent, less capable, or have certain ideologies. For this reason, I had become accustomed to avoiding phrases that make me sound more Southern. What I have learned though, through encountering others that embrace and welcome their cultural identity, is that I am Southern and I do have a Southern accent. I was raised in a small town and my identity is comprised of those memories that I created as a child. I had this unnerving feeling when I entered college of not having an identity at all, not belonging to a defined “group” with certain values. I often felt like others were very different from me (because, well, they were and still are in many ways) and didn’t share a lot of the experiences I had while growing up. Instead of shaming away from this I began to cherish my own culture. I shared with people what it was like growing up in a small town in Tennessee (as compared to Chicago or Memphis or New York City). I delighted in the fact that I had (and have) certain challenges different from others and that those things make me, me. This acceptance and confidence has permeated into other aspects of my life. Previously at work, I sought to make myself very . . . uniform. I dressed simply and didn’t feel comfortable sharing the intricacies and details of my personality. This was largely in part because I worked with male supervisors and male colleagues and didn’t want to be perceived as less intelligent or less focused on my career. I’ve learned though, by being surrounded by team members that fully accept and cherish who they are, that who I am doesn’t negate my abilities but encourages them. Speaking of my passions and my childhood memories, wearing the clothes that make me feel confident and feminine, and accepting that I am an empowered, capable female, has strengthened my work ethic and confidence, not taken away from it. Yes, I wear eyeliner and like to do yoga. I didn’t take ten AP classes or go to a private, preparatory high school, but I do have the capability to learn and to succeed just as my peers do and have demonstrated that learning is more important than formal education. This is so important, because I really feel like people who may not fit into certain groups need to be encouraged to come from a position of strength instead of weakness. Don’t let the influence of those around you – their maleness (or femaleness), intelligence, appearance, or success – alter the way that you view yourself. What I have learned since accepting that I have a past that makes me better, not worse, and a future that is as bright as the person next to me, is that people love me and appreciate my work for exactly who I am. They like that I can have a conversation about growing up in a small town and how I like to enjoy myself in Nashville. Just because I wear makeup and have my hair fixed doesn’t mean I don’t get called on during meetings to answer hard questions or given hard tasks to complete. I no longer feel like I have no identity because instead of trying to create one that didn’t exist, I accepted the one I already have. There is great power in knowing who you are, growing in who you are, and loving who you are. Not only is there power, but there is indefinite peace.