On Monday morning, I had the opportunity to speak to a sophomore high school class just down the street from my house, at La Cueva. The closest I'd ever come to getting inside of that building before was when I was in high school, skateboarding on their benches and getting kicked out of this amazing set of stairs they have leading up to the front entrance.
I've recently had the opportunity to speak and perform for a few different high schools in the area, whether it be for general English classes, or specific interest groups - like poetry or public speaking. Though it has been an honor, I've been conflicted within myself over whether or not I actually have anything valuable to pass along to the students condemned to sit through my shpeal. What I have come to conclude is something that is not new - rather, it is as old as time established at creation: our stories matter.
Story itself is the foundation of countless an organization that sets out to discover the narrative of individuals' lives - and not just for the sake of staying a bunch of autonomous entities - rather, for the sake of coming alongside one another in community. No longer are you a person who is alone - rather, you are a person who is known. We either escape into stories or find ourselves in them.
When I was in high school, I gave a teacher a book of poetry, which contained quite a few poems that ended up being recorded and released a couple years later on an album that I did called Werewolves. At the time, though, the journal was returned to me with a shrug and a "you'll get over it because it's only teenage angst." Well, in hindsight, my teacher was right - to some degree, I did get over it, and to some degree, it was writing reflective of my life-stage… but did that delegitimize the emotion that I felt? Did that mean that what I was experiencing was invalid?
You know how people will say things like, "You don't even know what suffering is!" because somewhere out there, someone is suffering more than you? Well, they're probably right to some degree, and typing this out on a Macbook Air that was graciously given to me while I drink coffee next to the couch I'm sitting on isn't much of an apologetic for attempting a comparison. But the truth is that I have gone through things. And so have you. Those things are real to us, the same way that whomever suffers or feels more deeply than us experiences the reality of their story.
So that's what I talked about at La Cueva, because I don't want to forget that even though a sophomore will get through what a sophomore has to get through, he or she is still experiencing life as it comes, and it comes in waves that can seem like they crash every day, just like the rest of us. In a sophomore classroom where insecurity and the abuse of a peer threatens anyone who might dare to share a bit of vulnerability, I want to encourage students that they can be expressive, sing out and risk believing that others might find themselves resonating with that same, buried chord.
There is a time for everything that is under the sun, and each of those seasons is real, felt, contributing to the next. We walk and talk and feel through them together. I get a lot of emails from a lot of people that ask how they can express themselves. I think it's hard to open up clenched fists and let the world see what's in your hands, because you might get responses like, "This is garbage. It's just teenage angst." Yeah, but it's not just teenage angst, is it? It is your story. We've got to start telling it somewhere if we ever hope to see it unfold. And we've got to be willing to be the listener. We've got to let others in if we ever want another character's hand to hold. And we've got to be willing to be the hand-holder.
There is a difference between "wrong" and "illegitimate". Maybe some of what I wrote was wrong. Maybe some of what you'll write will be wrong. But I don't think it will be illegitimate. There is grace that covers "wrong," and if "wrong" is where we start, then may we see ourselves corrected. But let's start.