Teach Me Your Ways

2017-10-03 15_27_37-Emily Michelle Hodges (@barefootmichelley) • Instagram photos and videosFun fact: I’ve lived in Central Illinois for quite a few years, but I grew up near Tucson, Arizona. Caterpillar moved my family there when I was one year old, so I grew up in a world without snow, falling leaves, and temperatures below fifty degrees. When we moved to Illinois, a couple things took me by surprise. For one thing, there were no Kokopellis anywhere. For another, my new, 99% white school was comprised entirely of Michaels, Jacks, Hannahs, and Caitlyns. Where were all the Alejandros, Xaviers, Rosas, and Josefinas?

As time went on and I became accustomed to life in Illinois, I gradually went from wondering why everyone was white to being surprised to see someone who wasn’t white. My school was 95% white. So was my church. So was my entire community. This gradually became my normal.

My best friend went to Namibia on a missions trip a year or two ago and met fellow missionaries who are now some of her closest friends. She recently attended a missions conference in Florida, where she was reunited with those friends and had the opportunity to worship in a crowd of several thousand people from nearly a hundred different countries. During each session, she told me, the lyrics to the songs were on one screen in English, another in Spanish, another in French, and so on. I hung on her every word as she described the experience of worshipping in such a diverse setting. Suddenly, a thought struck me. That’s what heaven is going to be like. This realization made me long for the diversity I’d known in Arizona.

Thus, moving to college was like a breath of fresh air. I was placed back into an environment in which not everyone was the same. I made a new friend after we found ourselves talking on our phones with our families in the same dorm kitchen, her in half Spanish, half English, me in half German, half English. We exchanged some kind of knowing smile/soul wink as we listened to each other. Before the week was over, we were hanging out in each other’s rooms and grabbing dinner together. Not long after, we stood over the stove in the same kitchen, her mixing up a pot of Chocolate Caliente Abuelita, and me mixing up a pot of Kinderspunch. We sat in the kitchen with our drinks, serving them to passers-by and talking for hours.

These experiences made me wonder: If I long for culture and diversity and the ability they give us to connect beneath the surface, why do I nonetheless build friend groups out of people so similar to me? And while I understand the reality of true cultural appropriation, if I call myself a lover of culture, why do I hesitate to share in the cultures of others? A line from my art teacher in high school came back to me: humans like things that look like us.

Ugh. If I’m going to call myself a lover of culture but maintain that attitude, why don’t I just move back to Central Illinois, where the people are as similar to one another as the infinite rows of cornstalks?

In order to truly love a diverse group of people and connect on that deeper level, I’m going to have to actively remember that 1) I’m programmed to love myself and will therefore be most comfortable with people like me, but 2) that there are a lot of people out there with whom I could connect if I would simply get over myself.

So today, the people manning the Hispanic Heritage Club’s booth at college called me over as I passed through the cafeteria. I’m not Hispanic; They must be calling someone else, I thought. But the man pointed directly at me, yelled, ‘Headscarf! (yes, I do respond to that)’ and motioned for me to come over. I headed on over and met a man named Jose. We talked for a while and tried to get one another to cough up the phonetics of our own languages. (Is Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften really that hard to pronounce?!) It was a little connection, but I left the cafeteria higher on life than I was when I walked in.

So my conclusion is this: Culture is not a sociological phenomenon; it’s a gift from God to help us humans love and connect with each other! So I’m embarking on this adventure of getting over myself to learn how to connect. And I even have an extra incentive: Maybe I’ll get more Mexican Hot Chocolate out of the deal!

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Taking My Earbuds Out

IMG_20171013_080828549Having already ugly-cried in a professor’s office that day, standing in the middle of the college cafeteria, I could feel another meltdown coming on. My face heated up and my eyes began to well with tears. I tossed a couple more vegetables onto my salad, grabbed some silverware and a cup of coffee, and headed over to a table. I put in my earbuds, pulled up the Audible app on my phone, and lost myself in the world of my book.

I ate quickly, then headed off to work. Once at work, I removed my earbuds and sunk back into my grief. Work distracted me effectively, after all, gotta act happy for those customers, and by the end of my shift, I was myself again. I walked briskly through the cool night air to the beat of my favourite band (Yonina, if anyone cares), heading back to my dorm to sleep the day off.

Once I was back at my dorm, my boyfriend called me on Skype. He asked about the details of my rough day, and I switched off my video and cried all over again. He comforted and encouraged me, and finally, we said goodnight. I wiped up my tears and opened Spotify. Before long, I was humming along with Elton John and Billy Joel as I carried out my bedtime routine. Finally, I switched off the music, crawled into bed, and drifted off to sleep, leaving the miserable day behind.

As I drifted off to sleep, though, I remembered my near-meltdown in the cafeteria and what I’d done to prevent it. I had inserted my earbuds and drifted off to a different world. I remembered my tears on the phone with my boyfriend and what I’d done to end them. I had pulled up my music and focused on that. I realized that just like a drug user inserts a needle to avoid his issues, I’d inserted my earbuds to avoid mine.

I picked up my phone and glanced at the apps. Spotify. Pandora. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Pinterest (did I just confess to that?). Youtube. An impressive stash.

Today, I was going through my camera roll, looking for a picture, and something struck me. It was the amount of pictures of me in which I had earbuds either in my ears or draped around my neck as my favourite accessory. After all, you never know when you might wind up in a stir-fry line a mile long with nothing to do. But then again, the stir-fry line is where I met Katy and Ben. And Alyssa and Lauren. Why was I thankful for those relationships, yet making myself unapproachable to others I could cherish just as much?

So when I went off to class today, I left my earbuds behind. During the ten minutes I call my “ten seconds of sanity,” which I usually use to sit on a retaining wall, listening to my favourite songs before heading off to class again, I sat on the retaining wall, simply listening to birds and wind and distant chatter. A couple friends greeted me as they passed by. Between classes, I didn’t check my social media. I smiled at people’s real faces and chatted with friends in the cafeteria. And at the end of the day, I felt… peaceful. And at the end of the day, while I brushed my teeth and washed my face, I played a song. It was nice. I checked Instagram. It was also nice. But nicest of all was the day I spent with friends and nature and… quiet.

Thank Goodness for Change

2017-10-13 08_13_34-Michelle Hodges (@barefootmichelley) • Instagram photos and videosToday, a little grey cloud has settled over my soul. In a little encounter that seemed to happen in half a second, I greeted, then confused, then really offended a friend of mine. As he turned to run off to his class, I blurted an incoherent apology, then scurried up the steps of the building and headed for class.

I might as well have skipped class. As my favourite professor, whose class I’ve always found fascinating, expounded on his models of polysaccharides and phospholipids, I replayed the dialogue with my friend over and over again, kicking myself for every word I’d said. Really, Michelle?!?! Really?!?!

The encounter isn’t really what’s eating at me. In fact, my friend readily forgave me and agreed to get lunch later. The thing that’s eating at me is the fact that everything about me in that moment was exactly not who I want to be. I had justified myself to a human. I had panicked. I had failed to explain the meaning of something important to me. As I replayed the dialogue to myself for hours and hours, the more I was bothered by the proof that the Michelle I am is not the Michelle I want to be.

After nearly nine hours of turning over the encounter in my mind, I had a thought. How often do I think of an embarrassing moment from middle school, cringe, and think to myself, ‘Younger Michelle, what were you THINKING?!?!” How often do I tell a story from high school with the disclaimer, “I have grown up since then and would not do that again?” Why do we condemn the actions of our previous selves, when they seemed like a fine thing to do at the time? Well, we change, of course. We become more mature and more like the people we want to be.

Humans are programmed not to like change. Change is stressful and difficult, however, today I am indescribably grateful for the existence of change. The existence of change is the hope I have to become the Michelle I want to be. So as the sun sets in Northern Illinois, I begin to contemplate heading off to bed, where I will sleep today off and wake up re-energized and ready to chase down the Michelle I want to be.