A Time to Speak

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”  — Anne Frank

Over spring break, I went with my sons to South Carolina to visit my parents. At the end of our week, three of my aunts drove in from three different states. These are my mother’s sisters, and they have been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember.

It was a mostly good visit. We sat around telling stories, and I always love hearing about my mom before she was my mom. They told how some cousins scared her in the graveyard, and she fainted. The cousins were so afraid Mama would tell on them, they waited on her hand and foot for a month.

It’s hard to imagine my mother helping with a séance in the graveyard at night (most of their stories involve graveyards, because we are from eastern Kentucky, where every house has its own cemetery). She grew up to be my hard-working, penny-pinching, bluegrass-singing, quilt-quilting Mama, and I’d be lucky to be half the woman she is.

Unfortunately, it is an election year, so the conversation eventually turned to which candidate everyone is voting for. That’s when I had to start biting my tongue. I won’t tell you whom my aunts liked and didn’t like, but I will tell you, we didn’t agree on any of them.

I bit my tongue so often it’s amazing I didn’t come home with a bloody chin, but I digress.

As I sat, listening (and trying not to listen) while they justified their choices in both logical and illogical ways, I thought about how strange it is to be with them as a grown-up. If I did open my mouth and explain my opinion on a certain orange-haired man or former first lady, would they have listened? Would they have carefully considered my contribution to the conversation?

For most of my life, I was a child to them. I could be wooed with candy and puppies and new dresses. Since reaching adulthood, I rarely get to see this part of my family. We are scattered from Ohio to Mississippi, and they have not witnessed the last fifteen years of my life.

How surreal to be an adult among my adults, to be a grown-up among the very people I always thought of as “the grown-ups.”

For most of the hours I spent with my family that weekend, I remembered Proverbs 29:11: “A fool lets fly with all his temper, but a wise person keeps it back.” So I kept it back. I bit my tongue harder and harder. I met my sister’s eyes across the table, commiserating when the conversation hit landmines once again. I played games on my cell phone and pretended not to hear.

I almost made it, friends. Almost.

But politics are one thing, and they are not the only thing. On my last morning with my family, I overheard a statement that loosed my tongue. I wish I had paused and thought out my response, because my words are always better with a little editing. However, I don’t regret speaking that morning, on that subject. Someone had to speak for justice, for love, for reconciliation and equality.

Yes, the Bible says a fool let’s fly with her temper, and my family may have seen me as a fool that morning, leaving the room to cry because the words people sometimes say break my heart. But the Bible also says there is a time to be quiet and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7-8).

IT WAS MY TIME TO SPEAK UP FOR JUSTICE.

I left thinking of my own place in this world. Those women were my adults, but now they are my peers. And as much as I love and respect them as my elders and my family, I also get to have a voice. And my voice matters.

For a while, crying in my childhood bedroom, I felt like a little kid again. But then I stood up, washed my face, and returned to the kitchen for breakfast. The conversation moved on. I gathered our belongings and my husband loaded the car for our drive back to Mississippi.

Somewhere along the Interstate between Mama’s house and my own, I accepted who I am. I decided I get to be me, the character I formed with my own hands. I decided that the advice my family gave me over the years mattered, and the path they set me on is the path that led me to here. It may not be the path they thought it was, because it did not twist and turn how their own journeys once twisted and turned, but it is my path, and I have walked it.

I HAVE WALKED MY OWN PATH AND EARNED MY OWN VOICE.

Now I am one of the grown-ups. I will watch my own kids go down their own paths and earn their own voices. They will form their characters and become the grown-ups for other children. And I will respect their thoughts and opinions, even when they are not my own.

Can you pinpoint the moment you grew up?

I thought it might have been when I got married or had a child or overcame a parenting obstacle, but I was wrong.

The moment I became my own, I was thirty-four-years-old and no longer afraid to say, “I think you are wrong, and this is why.”

 

*originally published on Middle Places

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