It’s been something of a whirlwind here the past couple of days. A lot has been happening in a way I couldn’t have foreseen, and most of it is good stuff. And some of it has me thinking about my old friend Joe Campbell and something he said:
“When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.”
I wouldn’t say I’m in a state of bliss. Not by a long shot. I’m still jobless. The state cut off my food aid – a whopping $16 a month – because I balked at sending them the bank statements needed to prove I’m not stashing away $5000. I have just $100 in my bank account. And to drive into town, get the statement from the credit union and fax it in would have cost nearly as much as the $16 they gave me. I had a promising lead on job only to find out they picked someone else after two rounds of interviews. And I turn 40 tomorrow.
But I do feel I am doing what I am supposed to do.
It started with a simple gesture. I like to knit, and I had some hats and scarves left over from my knitting storm last winter. I wanted to give them to the people at the local Occupy site. So I took them into town on Wednesday. They gratefully took them and asked if I would join in on a march on Bank of America. As BoA is the bank that is stonewalling me on a mortgage negotiation, I decided to join in.
And then I saw my former coworkers. A reporter and a photographer were there to cover the event (though it looks like the story got killed, so unsurprising). I’ll get to how strange that felt a little later. And there was another reporter there, too, from an alternative news site.
He wanted to use me as a “poster child.” In journalism, the term refers to a person chosen to illustrate an story and humanize it. I’ve posted the letter to my neighbor (the previous blog post) on Facebook and it’s gotten some circulation. He wanted to show how the Occupy movement is not just comprised of aging hippies and anarchist young people, as so many on the right have been trying to make people think. He wanted to use my experience to show that the movement has a broader appeal.
He asked what it was like to see my former coworkers there.
I struggled with words to describe it, but that experience more than any other drew a line between who I am and who I was.
Who I was – a reporter – could never have taken place in the demonstration. Who I was may have been assigned to cover the protest and might have secretly agreed with it, but would have been fired if I dared say so to anyone outside the newsroom or outside my home. Who I was would have gone back to the office, and despite my support, would have snidely laughed about the protestors. Because that’s what journalists do; there’s a gallows humor that helps journalists cope with what they see but ultimately also wears away at their humanity. And I’m sure there was laughter at my expense when my former coworker returned to my former work place.
Who I am, though, is somebody totally different. I am free to publicly take a stand. I am free to carry a sign and be interviewed about my opinion and write about all this in a blog. I am free to be true to my conscience. And who I am is angry and hurt and scared. And who I am is unashamed of saying so, and saying it loudly.
I have a voice again.
The story from the alternative news site came out the following morning and the response was immediate. I got friend requests from people I knew and people I didn’t, people I used to work with and some who had been laid off along with me. I got messages of support and encouragement that I need more than you could probably understand.
By mid-afternoon the story was spreading. It got a mention on Huffington Post. It was being passed around on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter and Romanesko, the newsies’ news and gossip blog.
By the evening, I got a note from the reporter who had written about me. A producer from CBS news wanted to talk to me about benefit cutbacks in Michigan. I spoke to her this morning and she said she wanted to talk with me on camera next week.
I’m a bit floored by all of this.
I know there are people who are a lot worse off than me and who could tell of situations even more dire than mine. I have a roof over my head for the indefinite future. My dining room table is stocked up with cans of food so I know I won’t be going hungry anytime soon. I don’t have any immediate health needs.
But all the same, I’ve been put in this position to give a voice to so many of us who are going unheard. And – for better or worse – maybe people need an example like me to drive the point home that most of us are just a paycheck or two away from disaster. Maybe someone like me can shake people up in a way that someone expected to be poor could not.
For whatever reason, this opportunity has fallen to me. What an awesome thing that is. And I mean awesome in the true sense of the word: awe-inspiring. I say that because I feel that in doing this, I am a part of something larger than myself.
It’s not easy. I’m not entirely comfortable talking so openly about things normally kept private. I know my mom hurts over it. She aches at the thought that the nation will know my situation. My dad worries that some heartless people will use it to ridicule me. It’s not the most comfortable thing to put my personal situation out there for possible scrutiny, but I’m doing it.
One of the commentators on a blog called me brave for doing this. Reading that made me tear up. Courage has always been the thing I value most above everything else, because without courage, without conviction, good intentions are left untranslated into good actions. But so rarely do I feel brave. Even so, I have prayed for the opportunity to do something great, to be used for something truly good, and to have the courage to follow through.
So when that reporter asked to talk to me, I took a deep breath and said yes anyway. When I heard that CBS wanted to talk to me, I took a deep breath and said yes anyway.
As Joe said,
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
Here I am, and I am saying yes, and the doors are opening. I am saying yes with my voice. The voice I had to keep silent for so long.