I ran across a meme today that almost had freshly brewed Pike Place spewing out of my nose. It read, “Dear Algebra, stop asking us to find your X. She isn’t coming back.”
(pause for laughter)
My first though was this, “Whoever makes this shirt, Gets. Me.”
And my second thought was this (in two parts): memories of the freshman year high school algebra teacher who said to me in a moment of frustration, “You’re just never going to get this, are you?!?” and the female church member who pulled me aside after a sermon a few years ago and said, “Don’t tell us you don’t like math. So many little girls look up to you, and we need strong women who like math and are good at it.”
Sorry, Teacher. Sorry, Lady.
Because you know what? No, I still don’t get algebra. And no, I still don’t like math.
But at 44, having beat myself up long enough for not being “that kind of smart,” I am pretty sure that we also, in this world, need strong women who can communicate. And write. And think big picture. And tell a good story. These things, I can do–and it took me until I was well this side of 40 to learn that they, too, were gifts the world needed, gifts that little girls could also look up to.
Look, I get it. We ought to be ashamed as a society of how girls get pigeon-holed as not being good at science or math–but honestly, a 5-minute Google search can tell you all the amazing women who have advanced us as a nation and as a world in those fields. And also, I get it–teachers get frustrated. But I’m pretty sure that telling a 14 year-old she isn’t EVER going to get something does nothing but insure that, yep, she’ll never get it.
But my bigger concern is this–our propensity for valuing certain gifts over others, for lifting up one set of skills as marketable and another as inconsequential–this is utter BS. And it can do such deep harm to our overall sense of self and worth and well-being.
I read a news story this morning about a young man who was diagnosed with ADHD as a little boy. If you love someone with ADHD, you know how complicated and misunderstood it is; and, for this little boy, things grew profoundly difficult as he worked his way through grade school and into middle school. He was, simply and beautifully, different. And his mom said of him, so lovingly, “He’d sit there with me, trying to do his homework, trying to learn about multiplication…really trying…but in his head, he was building an airplane out of thin air.”
In his head he was building an airplane out of thin air….
That, too, is a gift. And one that is often entirely unappreciated. Because by and large we don’t value dreamers in this world. Playwrights and artists and musicians and actors and novelists…they are our entertainment, nice hobbies to have. We do not acknowledge that they are actually pulsing, vibrant, necessary pieces of who we are as a people. I, for one, am convinced we’d cease full breath without the oxygen the souls of such dreamers offer us.
The reverse is true, too. I know this. Even as we put a high market value on bankers and investors and planners and the like, we often stereotype such folks as being lifeless…as having no imagination and only caring about the bottom line. And while of course money talks far more loudly and with much more frequency than is good for any of us, we cannot dismiss those who handle it as unfeeling or callous. Because these, too, are gifts. And money can be used to do incredibly good and transforming things.
My point is this: we are so freaking hard on each other! Mostly because we assume that my way of being should match yours and vice versa. This is so ridiculous, if you think about it–each of us are so uniquely made, so specifically gifted, so intricately made up of experience and aptitude and creativity…and instead of letting this inspire us, letting it encourage us to greatness, we become threatened, afraid, and judgmental.
(Now y’all, when I say, “way of being,” I’m not talking about racism or abuse or betrayal or any of the things evil sets loose in the world. Not at all. I’m only referring to the things in me and the things in you that are not the same…and how the world needs us both. Needs us all.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about mercy lately–which, for me, is the route by which love and grace are able to be made known. Mercy depends upon being able to offer compassion, and it is only when we are able to offer this, to both ourselves and one another, that we find what it means to love and to be truly loved. If mercy is present, arrogance is not. If mercy is present, narcissism cannot flourish. If mercy is present, truth and kindness are able to emerge.
There is such mercy to be found in the spaces between our differences. Different gifts. Different experiences. Different griefs. Different joys. Different ways of seeing the world.
There is mercy to be found in different political views; in theologies that don’t see eye-to-eye.
There is mercy to be found in the place where your heart and mine don’t quite understand each other, but where we’ve also discovered that each of our hearts bleed red…and so, perhaps, we are not that different after all, even if we do not quite see the world the same way…and maybe, just perhaps, we could summon the courage and the caring enough to try again at recognizing that a bit of God dwells in each of us.
There is mercy to be found.
And where mercy is found, hope dwells.
And dear God, how we need such hope.