Nice is as nice does

Transition is a funny thing. It is altogether liberating and terrifying at the same time. Given that there are some things that ought to remain constant. The core of who we are, the people we are socialized to be, at some point a percentage of that person is cemented, we become set in our ways as they say and very little can rock our routines. There are the rare life events that change us: violence, illness, loss – those that won’t happen to me things that always happen to each of us in turn. But ultimately our reactions are predetermined by the person we’ve been constructed as. We only know where we’ve been and we use that to inform where we are going.

I recently met someone charming and open, perhaps one of the few other “open books” I have met. At some point he asked me about my tattoos and reluctantly, after I caught him staring, I explained to him, in my very casual manner, why they exist. He stared, I wasn’t sure if he was in awe or altogether sorry he had asked. Then, after a few failed sentences he looked at me and asked me how it changed me, if I was “this nice” before. I’ve thought about that. Quite frankly I thought Herbert made me a bit more bitchy than I’ve ever been but I think the question deserves a slightly deeper analysis.

I remember being a little kid and my Mom and Dad would dress me up in my red velvet dress with the white eyelet lace around the neckline and the sleeves and we’d go to Rotary events. AS a little kid it seemed like a bunch of stodgy old folks schmoozing over fancy drinks with fruits and olives in them. I thought Rotary was a club that you used to make friends. You know, like the Babysitter’s Club. Sure there was always an underlying purpose but it was really to surround yourself with friends. As I got older my parents encouraged me to participate in the non party dress events. I remember one Thanksgiving in particular, long before we used cellphones and GPS, my siblings and parents mapped addresses that existed just slightly outside of my personal area of familiarity. I was set to go with my big sister and we drove to a nondescript brick apartment building and my sister took a box of donated food, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, marshmallows, all of it and ran it up to one of the units. It was a thanksgiving basket donation program sponsored by my Dad’s rotary club. Later as an ungrateful high school student my Dad signed me up for a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Program (RYLA) and reluctantly I went. I learned about tolerance, hope, commitment to action, the four way test, principles of living in fairness to all concerned. Hmmm, this is all very interesting. It made sense to me. I was a blessed child, I never wanted for clothing, food, toys, or love. And what I had I LOVED sharing with my friends and family. I remember one assignment in high school to start a business and all I wanted to figure out was how that business could be socially responsible. I eagerly donated to causes without a second thought. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I calmly said, “I’d like to be a Rotarian.”

I later learned to dissect and analyze the pros and cons of everything and while Rotary International is not a perfect organization, it is an amazing one. It was where I met my family of choice and where I understood that there was a place for those who place humanity’s concerns over their own. That it is not enough to tolerate your fellow human, you must learn from them, embrace their history and meet people where they are. I always just wanted to help people. I learned in college to push back against those that used misguided beliefs or faith to entice others into following them. I believed fiercely in principles of fairness, secularism and honestly. I believed in learning from and understanding people’s felt and expressed needs. People were equal but not the same to me. We aren’t color-blind of uniform, we are each unique and that is what gives us our power, our charm, our resilience and our hope. It is in our difference we form collective imaginaries of who we are. It is in our difference we define ourselves. It’s all very semiological and post-modern, I know.

I’m not a Rotarian (yet) but I am working on a degree that, at it’s heart, makes me an advocate for people around the world. It is a calling not a job. It is a place in the world for me to exist, more central to my being than any arbitrary career goal, bottom line, or material motivation. I don’t want to save anyone, I just want to help, as I was helped, I want to pay it forward. Is it problematic? Absolutely. Am I privileged to even be able to sit here saying this? Of course. Can I use my platform for good? I should. I will. It would be a disavowal to who I am if I didn’t.

So was I this nice before? I don’t even know that I’m nice. It’s rather self-indulgent and stereotypical to honor myself for my call to action to help. It’s not niceness, it’s construction. My parents, my upbringing, my friends, my siblings all made me this way, they taught me compassion, love and hope. My tumor? Well Herbert, and many other of life’s tragedies, taught me resilience, empathy, and respect. Respect for my body, respect for love, respect for my goals, respect for suffering. They also taught me to laugh. TO laugh through the pain, the heartache, the disappointment. Laugh through the journey.

I’m in transition. It’s strange, sometimes hard but I don’t expect any grand shifts to take place. My life is on a slow steady journey towards change, progress, fairness and love – maybe not for everyone, maybe just for a few of us- who knows. A song I heard once says “Love is the Greatest Revenge.” (Listen Here: I believe that, and if I make it to some kind of grandiose end goal then great, if not – I’ll be here loving forward, getting my revenge on the universe, one little bit of love at a time.

As for my health – Well I’m dragging my feet on my decision of what to do with my CSF leak, having lots of caffeine as it helps the pain, trying to take way less ibuprofen to maintain an ulcer free future and waiting to hear back from Barrow Neurosurgical on my CT scans. I just passed my 5 month anniversary and I am going strong for the most part. Each day is different and new, some are better than others but I’m moving forward and my forward motion propels me to new things. I see promise in my future and am staying the course, working on my school projects and gearing up to teach for the summer. I’m also making time for fun, for as we know from facing our many challenges big and small – life is short.

With peace and love –


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