What does it mean to have heart?
As the principal of The Community School, the importance of ‘having heart’ is a foundational part of our culture. We designed our school with the commitment that we could create and maintain an environment where every person was free to be all of who they are. A safe and inviting school where our hearts are just as important as our minds.
These commitments are captured in our beliefs, beginning with the powerful statement that ‘Every individual has infinite worth.’ By holding this belief, we allow for the full expression of every student and staff member. Having infinite worth means we are supportive of each other’s growth and discovery. This requires having an open heart–relinquishing judgment and being curious about who we each are and how we belong in this community. Having an open heart means I share who I am and honor who you are. It means seeking to understand the other, creating acceptance of those who experience the world differently than me.
The OneHeart project started with an encounter, an idea, and a shared belief in the power of relationship. While we honor and support each other’s unique individuality, we also paradoxically hold the notion that we have so much in common. The constructs that can divide us — race, nationality, gender, age, religion, politics–fall away when we realize that our lives are entwined by our human connection. The OneHeart project is the embodiment of this truth–that we can break down the walls and barriers that create separateness and open our hearts to each other–with respect, and tenderness, and Love. Even at school. And I would say, especially at school. Children learn to trust, take risks, and thrive in an environment that is loving and accepting. I am so fortunate to be part of this community.
I am also incredibly grateful to the gift of the OneHeart Call, to have been invited to join Christina’s vision that is reaching so many people by connecting us through word, art, music, and dance. Through the most primal of all rhythms, our heartbeat. This is the universal language that brings us together — to appreciate both our uniqueness and our ‘one heart.’
That kid’s all heart. He needs to toughen up.
To “have a heart” typically means one is kind and sympathetic. It also might describe someone with the will, determination or courage to accomplish something difficult. Some coaches like to say their most successful athletes “have heart” because they are dedicated to their sport.
But for many boys and young men in various parts of American culture, “having heart” is actually a negative trait that draws criticism, attracts bullying, and can even threaten a child’s safety.
When I was growing up, I was the kind of kid that people described as “all heart.” Well, at least that’s the kindest way I heard it said.
The kid I was
I grew up in rural Western Kansas in the 1970’s, where it wasn’t okay for a boy to be sensitive, emotional, empathetic and sweet. I figured out at an extremely early age that I was different, and part of that difference would eventually emerge, in part, because I was gay. Like most gay kids, I was a little gay boy long before I grew into my sexuality, and that difference put me at risk – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and of course physically.
I was empathetic and emotional. I was very intellectual, a reader, a reflective thinker and extremely creative. As the baby of the family, I was also fun, playful and sweet. At home and in public, I was often described as “a sensitive boy.”
On the outside, I probably always seemed to be having fun. In my internal world, I was horrified by so much of the suffering and cruelty I saw and sensed all around me. I was acutely aware of injustice and I could sniff out another person’s emotional pain in an instant. As soon as I could talk, other people’s sadness and suffering was part of my vocabulary.
I strictly avoided people I sensed were mean, cruel and intolerant, but I sought out people I thought might need some encouragement, a kind word or some cheering up – and always I tried to make their day a bit brighter. Actually, I still do.
I loved nature and the freedom of being outdoors. I loved animals — from cute pets to livestock — and I would get wildly distressed about cruelty anyone might show toward any animal. In fact, cruelty of all sorts was horrifying, mystifying and heartbreaking to me.
Thanks to my parents’ and grandparents’ example, as well as a few of the more compassionate teachings from our conservative church, I was always gentle and patient with other kids, animals and adults. But there was an innate programming that arose from deep inside my individual self – part of my built-in operating system – that guided me to be more or less obsessed with kindness and being helpful.
A lot of the time, my heart was filled with love and excitement for the world, just as any child should be! But I was also living in the shadow of some pretty big, scary stuff that made my overall childhood far less idyllic than it seemed on the surface.
Good Boys are Tough
There are so many examples of me chafing at the ill-fitting expectations that came with my boyhood… One of the earliest I recall arose because I liked to crawl around in the yard as a toddler and I would quickly wear through the knees of my little jeans. I preferred jeans because my legs were so skinny and I didn’t like people teasing me for having little “bird legs.” In the very early 1970’s, my exasperated mother bought some “ToughSkins” jeans for me. ToughSkins were these jeans from Sears that had reinforced patches inside the knees so they would resist wearing through & developing holes. This was a great idea, and I loved the notion that I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty about ruining my clothes. I also didn’t have to worry so much about skinning my knees as easily. But I also remember cringing at the idea of wearing pants that were for “tough boys.” From a very early age, I was super uncomfortable with this kind of traditionally boy-ish identity.
In rural America, honestly both then and now, there are really only two gender archetypes – one for boys and one for girls, and expectations remain pretty rigid. Unfortunately for me, my nature was never going to fit into the mold of an idyllic “tough boy.” In fact, when I was young, comparing me to a more masculine, hetero-normative boy actually frightened and upset me. I felt certain that this kind of essential shortcoming was disappointing for my family and would actually diminish their love for me. I knew that being a “different kind of boy” eroded my friendships and put me at risk of being an outcast. At home, at church and in social situations, those embarrassing comparisons happened regularly throughout my early developmental years.
At church I was at risk of going to hell. At school I was at risk of becoming a target for intimidation and violence. In the community I was at risk of embarrassing my family and being publicly ridiculed. At home I believed I was at risk of being rejected for being unacceptably different, and even perhaps cast out of the family if they found out how different I truly was.
Being a disappointment to others is one of my earliest memories of heartbreak. It was devastating to feel so often that I was on the verge of losing all the love in my life because I was so far outside the norm.
My Father – god bless him – was a naturally manly guy. Very tall, athletic, really handsome and blessed with a big, open and very likeable personality. He was authoritative, confident, strong, charismatic and gregarious. He was an excellent example of what a man should be.
And I constantly tried to emulate his example. But I wasn’t the son you would expect from such a manly man.
He was never a macho jerk, but he was raised in the 1950s so his programming sure hadn’t accounted for having a son like me. He rarely said anything disparaging, but deep down I just knew I had to be a big disappointment to him. I was certain he wanted me to be more like the son he would have imagined and hoped for – what father doesn’t want a son who emulates his most lauded qualities?
Now, my dad was actually an incredibly good father, and as the years have come and gone I have realized just how generous, kind and loving he is. He’s also grown and adapted to the world we live in today with a very open heart, and today I see him as my greatest champion. One of the few regrets I have in life is that my Dad didn’t get the pleasure of having “the ideal son” – the boy he could play catch with, the star athlete who won games and earned scholarships, the celebrated soldier, perhaps – but then, I wouldn’t change a thing if it would change or diminish the relationship I have with him today. In fact, as an adult, my family holds the lion’s share of my heart.
As a boy, I did hear people remark that I was “all heart” – but it was usually paired with a disapproving or even threatening declaration that made it clear that this kind of sensitivity was a bad thing. People would warn me that I’d wind up being physically hurt because I was “soft” or “girly.”
I knew I wasn’t a “good” boy because I wasn’t boyish enough. I wasn’t necessarily bad, but I knew I wasn’t what I was supposed to be, and try as I might, I couldn’t be that. By being too effeminate, I was sure I was making it very difficult for my parents and family to love me.
I remember hearing an older man at church tell my father, “That boy’s a real sissy. He needs to toughen up. You might just have to beat it out of him.” Because it was the 70’s, spanking and “the belt” we’re occasionally part of the disciplinary code at home, so I took that threat of violence very seriously.
Butch it up.
That interaction with that “Godly man” at church was one of the events that set me on a quest to present – at all times – what I thought might be a more masculine version of myself. Of course, I was a child. I would often get lost in imagination and play, and I’d let my guard down. It never took long for something – or someone – to remind me that “my sissy side” was showing. Cue: shame, embarrassment and often tears of self-loathing.
I can think of 3 occasions when grown men (men who weren’t my family) actually slapped me across the face and told me to “man up” or “stop acting like a sissy.” One interesting aspect of those experiences is that all 3 of them had an immediate look of surprise on their face after they’d hit me, like they didn’t know what had come over them. But as they backed away, they let me know it was MY OWN fault, and they admonished me for not being boyish or masculine enough – at least not enough for their liking. (I’ve often wondered what other feelings those men may have been struggling with in those instances… because I was also the recipient of unwanted sexual advances from several men and older boys as I was growing up. Some of those encounters were eerily similar…) All of these experiences put more fear in my heart than I knew what to do with for decades.
I also recall grownups scoffing at what a “sissy” I was, and a couple of older WWII vets often called me “Dolly.” I’m not aware of the intent behind that particular pet name, but in one instance I felt it was an affectionate moniker, and in the other I definitely did not.) Occasionally adults would wonder aloud to one another – in my presence – how my father must feel about having such a girly, sissy son. That kind of thoughtless criticism has an immeasurable impact on a child.
So yes, being a little “sissy boy” did put me at risk of verbal humiliation from adults, but in social settings it definitely put me at risk of physical harm from other boys – especially boys who were slightly older. Typically, with boys my own age, I had time to establish rapport in classes or in group events, but older boys only saw me as a target – and they easily spotted me in the crowd and singled me out. So boys, for the most part, just weren’t my thing.
Partly because I had an older sister whose friends were fun and quick to include me — and defend me — and because there were a lot of girls in my neighborhood, and they thought I was wonderful fun to play with, I began very early to feel much safer with girls. Instinctively, I built most of my childhood social circle around the company of girls. Boys were too unpredictable, and their interests just weren’t at all aligned with mine.
You know, for all our sophistication and comforts, the modern world really isn’t so different from life in the jungle or on the savannah. By that, I mean that I learned quickly that my world was fraught with danger and had great potential for many kinds of harm. But also, kids are resourceful and adapt to stimuli – both positive and negative. I learned quickly that there were safe places & safe people. Naturally, I was drawn to situations and relationships that helped me feel safe.
Also, like most children, I equated feeling safe with feeling loved. I know it would break my parents’ hearts to hear this now, but because my childhood home life was rooted in fairly strict discipline and my family unit was controlled by fundamentalist Christian dogma, I often found myself questioning the degree to which I was actually safe and loved at home. Discipline can mold a child, but it can also break a child and cause trauma. Rigid dogma can undermine a child’s healthy development and pervert their sense of self.
Without doubt, I now know my parents and family loved me, but my childhood memories are all tinged with a constant uncertainty about familial love and acceptance – particularly because I wasn’t a masculine boy. It was the fundamental “problem” of my childhood.
Like nearly all parents at that time, spanking and “the belt” were punishments that came quick and forcefully if we got out of line. I was often told that if I didn’t like the rules, I was welcome to find somewhere else to live. If I didn’t like the food my mother prepared, I was welcome to find someone else to feed, dress and house me. If I didn’t do my chores or wear my hair as my parents liked, I was threatened with being sent to military school. This is just how parenting was DONE in the ‘70s.
And I had no reason to doubt these warnings. I accepted these threats as facts, and it led me to feel I could be ejected from the family unit for just about any infraction. I spent countless hours trying to sort out some kind of plan for what I’d do when I’d eventually get kicked out of the house for displeasing my parents.
So, yes, there was often a feeling of inevitable dread in my heart that was driven in particular by a frightening and constant awareness of my own unacceptable identity.
For years I tried to compensate for the fact that I wasn’t “naturally” macho, or dominant, or “tough-enough.” I worked hard, in front of the mirror, and observing my own shadow, trying to “butch up” my mannerisms. I sent off for the Charles Atlas body-building plan advertised in the back of a comic book. I was looking for ways to safely “pass” in the hetero-normative world. Masculinity became a kind of Drag I was performing each day, and although I was never gonna fool everybody, I was determined to get by and thrive in a frequently hostile & dangerous environment.
I guess I was lucky to realize very early that there was something more than just my sissy nature that put me at risk of violence and rejection.
When I was five, I joined an older neighbor girl and an older neighbor boy as they looked at a Playgirl and Playboy magazine, respectively. The boy asked me: “which do you like better, the naked women or the men?” It was easy to answer, because I knew exactly what looked good to me. “Oh, the men’s bodies, definitely!” That boy jumped to his feet and spun to face me, shouting “Oh my god, that means you’re a fag!”
But that girl was quick. She shot back, “Oh leave him alone. He’s way too young to know about that. It doesn’t mean anything. How could he possibly know what he likes?” I loved her for standing up for me so forcefully (and I still do), but I knew in that instant that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and it was something I was going to have to hide from everyone if I was going to survive.
(Interestingly, that boy would soon begin grooming me for sexual encounters that, while interesting, validating and exciting on a certain level, I was entirely too young to process. He would not be alone in such pursuits. Until recently I would have indicated that these experiences were likely just a natural part of any young boy’s sexual awakening, but I actually suspect these experiences may have occurred many years prematurely. This is a fact that only now in my 50s am I beginning to process.)
Still, I cannot deny that I was incredibly fortunate as a child, despite any hardships or challenges I faced. I was part of a loving and secure family unit. We were prosperous enough that all my basic needs were more than met and I was afforded privilege, access, care, education and advantages that most children simply are not.
Many of the advantages I enjoyed were innate, built right into my operating system. I was tremendously lucky that my childhood social skills translated into highly effective survival skills. I quickly learned how to establish rapport, how to build alliances and make people feel good about themselves so they didn’t feel the need to make me feel bad about myself. I intuitively understood a lot of the interpersonal dynamics that would allow me to easily forge even unlikely friendships, which created forms of “social insurance” that helped maintain a kind of détente, even with potential bullies and adversaries. Over the years, I have learned to leverage those skills that compensated for what I saw back then as shortcomings. Those strategies and adaptations have helped me create success in business and in my adult life.
Eventually, in my later childhood, I was actually somewhat successful in limiting the expression of some of my more feminine qualities… I got better at “butching it up” to create a safer space in which to exist and hopefully thrive. As I conformed in that way, I both gained and lost. But my heart remained intact and I was eventually able to be open enough to find, give & receive love.
Just as importantly, I have learned to love those formerly disowned and unwelcome parts of myself. I no longer try to hide my gentle, fun and sensitive nature. As the world has changed, I’m still a little shocked to find that these qualities are now celebrated and welcomed in men by many, many people.
Today, I have mixed feelings about the fact that I worked so hard – and was somewhat successful at – suppressing my more effeminate qualities. I’m certain that if I hadn’t, I would likely not have survived to middle age, and I probably would never have achieved the life I enjoy today. In a way, I gave myself a bit of “personality plastic surgery,” that made it easier to navigate a dangerous world. But like all Queer people, I felt constant fear and vulnerability, and I gave up a lot in order to survive.
Let’s not forget that as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, the public diminishment and vilification of all gay people was commonplace. We had to listen to the most vile, devaluing, threatening and hateful rhetoric on the street, in everyday conversation and even on the broadcast news, as if the age-old fearmongering and lies about us were unassailable truths.
So there was a very real need for strategies and tactics that kept us safe. It was sensible and essential that we push aspects of ourselves down whenever and wherever we could. We hid, we lied, we pretended and we did what we had to do to survive.
Many people still refuse to see that those social & professional circumstances were horrific and deadly for many of us, and however noble or godly their intentions, they were perpetrating psychological warfare against people who were no threat to them or their way of life.
I mean, in what way has my marriage diminished anyone else’s marriage since it became legal? How has my relationship done anything but benefit the community, my family, and humanity as a whole? How does me – and others like me – living our lives more fully and openly, joyfully and positively, with open and full hearts, do anything but benefit the common good?
Yeah, you may want to unfurl of the flag cue some John Phillips Souza here, but honestly so much toxicity has been washed away with the light of truth and the advancement of freedom.
I can see now that when I was investing so much energy in hiding, suppressing and disowning so much of myself, I never felt authentic. I never got to know who I really am, and I promise you that kind of distortion affects your life in incredibly unhealthy ways.
Bit by bit, year by year, my heart was corroding, hardening, blackening and being further walled-off. Every time a situation made me hold my wrists stiffer, lower my voice and assume the “man stance,” my authentic self was withering a bit more.
So it came as a very welcome – but also wholly unexpected and totally disorienting – shock when American laws and social norms so swiftly changed to decriminalize gayness and legalize our existence and relationships. It is still taking many of us a long time to unpack all the layers of social and individual meaning as we emerge from a lifetime of hiding and suppression. So many Queer Americans are still learning what it means to us personally to live in a world where we are no longer outlawed. We are still finding new ways to reintegrate pieces of ourselves and own what has been, for so long, disowned.
It’s so interesting that as I began to accept more aspects of myself and fully embrace who I am, the world was simultaneously opening up and embracing people like me. For many gay and lesbian people today, the world looks unimaginably improved. Many, many people still struggle, live in fear and face horrible discrimination, persecution, and even risk death by being a sissy, by acknowledging their sexual and gender “difference.”
But on my path, on my journey, I have found a life that accepts, embraces and fully integrates my identity as a gay man with lots of co-existing masculine and feminine traits. I have found that I actually possess plenty of toughness, that I am appropriately competitive, aggressive and dominant in ways that serve my needs, while still embodying all the compassion, sensitivity and heart that comes naturally to me.
I no longer worry about coming off as “manly,” but I’m much more comfortable with my masculinity – and I’m also increasingly accepting of and comfortable with my femininity. I have discovered that when I’m just myself, I actually like my own company and I feel far more joy than I could have possibly felt when presenting a conjured façade.
My husband and I have traveled back to my little hometown to isolate from this pandemic as best we can. While we have been here, I have had time to digest a lot of the pivotal and formative experiences I’m referencing here — experiences that built the foundation upon which my whole life has been constructed.
When Christina asked me many months ago if I wanted to participate in this project and start thinking about what it means to have heart – to consider more deeply the ways that “heart” affects and manifests the world around us – I had no idea what a deeply personal journey that would become.
As Christina described back then her vision for a visual, and tactile, and auditory song celebrating One Heart, I instantly recalled that phrase I heard in my childhood: “That kid has a lot of heart.” At first, I shuddered to recall some of those feelings that were attached to that memory, and several times I’ve considered declining the offer – it just felt sometimes like I was being invited to tiptoe into a minefield. But I just can’t say no to anyone working to make the world a better, more beautiful place! So here we are.
For several months now I have been peeling back layers of my own personal history and thinking about the delicate and finely-detailed ways the tapestry of my personal narrative has been stitched and woven together. These questions have been lingering and percolating, almost haunting the back of my mind for weeks and weeks. Particularly since I arrived here this spring, back at home, I have been challenged daily to confront uncomfortable and upsetting memories and consider aspects of my origin story that all along I’ve been all too happy to leave buried.
As I’ve examined many of these challenging, uncomfortable and even occasionally traumatic experiences, it has all been cast in a new light with the backdrop of a global pandemic upending the world economy and, sadly, already ending the lives of a few friends and even family members.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has added some rather dramatic perspective to the past that I could never have seen without all this grief and uncertainty.
The surprising result has been an odd sense of peace and acceptance, and a feeling of re-integration of many long-disowned aspects of myself. I literally feel that my heart is more whole – more whole than it has been probably since childhood.
I honestly feel that, by taking the time to honor and embrace the skinny, frightened, sissy-boy of my youth, I have found a new way to connect more fully with the man I am now, and the one heart all of humanity shares. Far too many of us live our lives completely disconnected from our own hearts – and the universal heart.
I hope this project helps and inspires a few more people to explore, nurture and possibly even heal their own heart journey. I also hope that everyone who experiences any aspect of this remarkable project, regardless of their age, circumstance, or history, has the opportunity to feel the sun dawning on their own heart, just as I have.
My name is Dustin Daugherty. My pronouns are He/Him/His. I am a 50 year old gay cis male professional, who has lived in Spokane, WA for 25 years, and was born and raised in Russell, KS. I’ve been very happily married to a South African man named Raef Baard for 18 years. Neither of us is macho. We are both well adjusted, successful and happy in our lives.
Ilse Killian Tan
The Way of Happiness
Thoughts of Joy Behr
As a little girl four years old I am becoming an artist. When I was a child of four years my dad age forty-two passed away. Mom was left with two little girls, four and eight. Mom did not have money for toys for us. When the Watkins salesman would come around to sell vanilla and spices mom would exchange garden food in exchange. She had a big garden. He was a nice man, and he gave me a real nice pencil that had a big eraser on it. Wow, was that special. Now I could go outside and all around and find things to draw with my brand new pencil. How happy I was. This was my beginning of my art career. It became a special recreational interest. I entered many contests, I won some, I lost some. I still like to draw even after I married. My husband bought me a wood burning machine and I loved it. I began working on wood. At St.Johns on Fountain Lake they have hung my eagle on cypress wood from Florida. The only paint on it is on his white tail and head and his yellow beak and talons. The rest is all wood burned. I feel God has given me this talent and I use that talent to give pleasure to others.
Sincerely, Joy Behr
I awoke from a nap recently
I awoke from a nap recently and remained lying in bed, listening to my sill sleeping dog’s breathing and heartbeat. It was calming, peaceful, listening to this 4-legged companion who seems happiest just being next to me, close to me.
At other times of the day, I’m aware of her eyes following my every move. I’m retired and am often at home. My dog relies totally on me and the responsibility is sometimes daunting.
It’s like, many years ago, when I was a mother and my children were in my arms, nursing. I’d sit and marvel at their little lives so entwined with mind. Our hearts beating together in a miraculous weave of our existence.
I was aware of my husband’s heartbeat, too, as we slept curled around each other, or as we hugged and embraced. So reassuring, never taken for granted.
The marriage is long over, the children grown, and grandchildren too far away to share physical heart sounds. None of their hugs, eyes following my every move, reliant upon my takin care of their needs, their lives. Although it’s a relief on one hand, on the other there’s something missing, a silence.
I have close friends and hugs with them sometimes enable the gift of exchanged heart beats. But I’m not an always hugging person.
So, I have a dog. And I’m comforted and strengthened by her nearness to share heartbeats. There’s something about love without agenda, without expectation of something in return.
She’s still young and has the need to be the sole focus of my attention, barking when I don’t immediately respond to her overtures to play, or to let her in from outside. But at night, when we settle down to sleep, she immediately snuggles as close as possible, just creature need to be close, creature comfort to hear someone else’s heart.
Coming to America
Hi. My name is Mira. I came here 30 years ago from Korea. Starting my life in America was so tough because as soon as I came here I was faced with a language barrier. I was a teacher in Korea, but I couldn’t do anything here because I spoke poor English. I felt like I was useless. I still remember I couldn’t communicate with my American born little niece and nephew. And I couldn’t understand my pastor’s sermon at my church. When my kids were babies I couldn’t do anything for a while, because I felt a responsibility to be there for them. Years went by, and I didn’t even have a driver’s license. I had wanted to but I couldn’t start school right away. And when my kids went to preschool, I started school so I could finally learn English.
Taking that first English class was a turning point in my life here. I remember my first essay for my ESL 101 writing class. The prompt was, “What’s the best way to learn English?” My answer was reading children’s books for my kids every night. Not only did I get to practice, I got to spend time with them. I’m so thankful for this experience.
Another great thing that helped was having a Bible study with my friend Suella Graybill. She offered me to have Bible study with her and opened her house for 8 years. To this day, we are still having Bible study whenever we can. I’m so grateful for her friendship.
I also think taking English and art classes made a big difference in my life here. I had 2 great instructors for both classes, English and art, Mr. Duman and Mrs. Voght. They guided me and encouraged me to stay in school and I’m so thankful for their great teachings.
And I found myself loving oil painting so much that I wanted to finish all the oil painting classes. I took a long break but now I’m back, taking art classes from NIC after 15 years because my instructor Mrs. Voght encouraged me to come back to school to learn more about art.
I am very happy that I am a student again. And my family has been supporting me endlessly. I am so grateful for this opportunity for learning and growing in all my life here. I love this country that embraces diversity of people and gives all the opportunities we need as immigrants. Now, I am enjoying my art journey and helping my husband at his office.
I realized that dreams come true when you really look for the opportunities and try your best to live your life fully. You can start your life here just one step at a time and you will find your way.
Life is very adventurous and very rewarding in America.
End of a Long Journey
I went back to north Idaho college four years ago to study art. My art journey has been really great and I particularly loved watercolor painting class where I made these two paintings. My inspiration came from both my family and my spiritual journey and you will find there to be a lot of symbolism in my paintings.
“Resurrection_End of a long journey.” When I was making my final watercolor project last spring semester, I was getting the ideas from Easter, envisioning my project as a painting about the Resurrection.
But on my son Howard’s medical school Match Day, he gave me the inspiration for this title, “End of a Long Journey.” This led me to combine the two ideas into the Resurrection painting. Jesus is wearing a white gown. I wanted this painting to speak to Howard that when he wears his white coat, he should remember that Jesus is the greatest Physician.
“Crucifixion_Thank you for carrying me.” In my “Crucifixion” painting, I started with the concept of my son’s initially difficult transition to medical school. I chose the piggybacking images of my husband and my children to symbolize the support of family.
The crucifixion idea came to me later, as I did research on artist David Rathman. I was inspired by his color scheme, sepia tone, and his wash techniques to portray the blood of Jesus, the greatest possible support shown to man. My husband and my children, Howard and Elizabeth, supported me endlessly for my art journey, supporting me to do critiques, presentations and PowerPoints.
I’m offering these paintings to Jesus, my greatest supporter and Savior.
Believe in Yourselves
Hello my name is Madeline and today is November 24th, 2019. This is kind of the heart conversation I wanted to have. Three points I wanted to make was talking about bravery and courage. The other one I wanted to make was to believe in yourselves. The last point I wanted to talk about at the end was the law of conservation and of mass.
I guess I’ll just start by telling my story and where I come from and where I began. When I was a child I was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder and a lot of people over the years whenever I talked to them about my disorder they kind of say ‘Well, you know, I really struggled in school and everything too’ in order to comfort me and to feel a connection and everything but with my story and with how it started for me as a small child, I didn’t really know, I didn’t have any awareness of it at all and that I was different; my very beginning before I went to school or anything. My parents, my mom did not tell me that I was different or that I had any kind of disorder or anything like that. I had no awareness of it.
When I started school that’s when I became aware. I guess what I noticed the most was I just was struggling with the phonic reading. I processed sounds, basically what it is, it takes me longer to process written or said information. How this kind of translates into my struggle with school was how you traditionally learn is, you sound out the letters. I just really had a hard time with that. It was really challenging for me and I kind of was taken aside a lot of the time to do kind of like a special education. I kind of became aware of this all probably first or second grade when I really noticed that I was kind of being treated differently and other kids knew it too. I got teased a lot and it was a very very difficult time in my life. I mean a lot of the time I came home crying, and the next day I would wake up and come up with some excuse to stay home or whatever. I say ‘mom, I am sick.’ Something that helped me to get through that was my mom.
I remember we would have lots of heart to heart conversations, she would come in and lay down in bed with me and we would just talk about everything, what I was feeling and what I was going through. It was a huge part of just processing of what was going on and how to deal with it. She would reassure me. You are going to get through this. Everything is going to be alright.
There was a time where I just was like ‘I am just going to be illiterate my whole life’ like ’I don’t know when I am going to be able to do this’ or ‘how I am going to do this?’ Then one day I just kind of accepted. I just accepted what was and I just accepted the situation, and I just kept going and kept doing it even though I did not want to, because I had to. I did not have any other option. I think that I had to learn at a very young age what being brave or what courage is, is doing the things that you do not want to do. It is something you don’t want to do. It is what you have to do in order to get to your ultimate purpose and to get to where you need to be in your life, or what you want to do in your life you ought to do the things you do not want to do and to learn to be okay with that and to have a certain level of acceptance in that.
For a long time I just wanted to leave. I was like ‘why do I need to be in school?’, ‘why do I need to do this?’, it felt like prison to me. I can just go to art school and do what I meant to do. I was really talented, gifted in doing art and I found that out pretty early on. I started looking at cartoons and things, little things and started to reproduce them. I was very good at taking an image or something from nature and replicating it. I was very detailed oriented in that way, and so I recognized, I had a talent there. I was like ‘I just want to be an artist. This is want I want to do. This is my passion’ and so I found out very early on what my purpose was and what I wanted to do.
In fifth or sixth grade just one day it all connected and I just knew how to read. I do not even think I learnt in the traditional kind of way, I think I just kind of memorized the words over time, I just saw the words and knew and just being exposed to the words so much through years and years.
Jumping ahead to highschool, I had an idea of maybe I could become like an art restorer. I had read some articles about art restoration and I got kind of interested in it. My mom introduced me to it as well. I was like ‘that sounds like something I really could do,’ like I said I am really good at seeing something and how it should be and then kind of reproducing that. That’s my talent. That’s what I am really really good at. Kind of translating leading that into a career in art restoration and conservation it just seemed to make sense to me.
I get on with highschool and I really wanted to do art and I was like ‘I want a bachelor in Fine Arts’ and ‘I want the professional degree’ and I thought ‘I minor in chemistry’. I take my math placement. I did not do well on my math placement in college, and so I really became discouraged and fearful. I kind of turned back into that little girl who in first and second grade that felt like I could not do it. I could not read. I could not do what I needed to do. The fear kind of overtook me and I thought, ‘well, I ‘ll do it some other time.’ I kind of put it off. You know looking back, I think I would have done it differently but obviously that was just part of my path.
Years and years later kind of went by. I got my [highschool] degree. I completed everything. I worked some food service jobs after I graduated, I still had that fear that I can’t do chemistry. I’m not smart enough. I’m an artist you know. I’m a born artist you know. ‘How am I going to do this?’ It seemed so overwhelming to me to go into chemistry and to do math and things like this because my whole life like it was a struggle for me. I kind of went through this transformational period. It really was about a year ago, I started this whole process of kind of change. I was with one of my exes. One day we were having a conversation and he said to me, you know you just are really negative, really really negative. I heard that and I took it really seriously you know and I was like ‘well, I need to figure out what I can do to be different.’
I tried to search for answers. I started reading books, self help books. I tried to get information about on how I can change this behaviour and pattern that I had, because I did. I think part of being brave too is being able to acknowledge your patterns, acknowledge that you have a pattern and slowly kind of dismantling that pattern. I had this pattern of not believing in myself. I had this pattern of thinking that I wasn’t smart enough to do whatever because of my learning disability. I just one day decided that I was going to believe in myself and believe that I can do it. At first it is like you just tell yourself that you can do it, that you can believe in yourself, ‘oh, I can do chemistry’ and even though you don’t really believe it, you just sort of say it.
You just keep saying it and you keep doing it and you keep saying like ‘yes, I am beautiful’ or ‘yes, I can do chemistry’, ‘yes, I am smart enough’ and slowly and slowly you start to actually believing it and it starts to become part of your conscience. It was a tool I have learnt from one of my self-help books. It’s amazing of how it has just changed my life so much.
I got back to Spokane and broke up with my ex. We had been together for on and off for many many years. I was planning on marrying him and being with him for the rest of my life. We did end up splitting for good. I decided that I was just going to start anew and just take one day at a time and to believe in myself. And so ‘I can’t do chemistry right now’ but ‘I can start with math and just practice every single day.’ Just like art, I mean in art you practice art and you get better and better. I just took books and equations and started doing my own thing. I swear I went from third grade math to college level in a matter of a couple of months.
Now I just started my first quarter in chemistry. Actually, this past exam I took on Wednesday I got a hundred point six percent. I don’t even remember the last time I got a hundred percent on any exam but alone a chemistry exam. It just goes to show what believing in yourself, what kind of power that has over your life and how it can change everything. Almost everything that I wanted a year and a half ago I have now. It all started with just believing that I can do it.
This last point that I wanted to make, if nothing else having the courage and bravery to do something that you don’t want to do and accepting what you have is the first part. The second part is believing in yourself and if neither of those things kind of resonate with you or if you are not sure what your purpose is or what your path is and you are trying to figure it out; something that I actually learnt in chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, he is a scientist in 1785, discovered the law of conservation of mass. The law states that despite chemical reaction or physical transformation mass is conserved. So it can not be created or destroyed.
What that means is every atom in our body, every molecule, everything around us was all part of something else at one point. So even thinking about the heart and atoms that were required to create that heart at one point it was something else, it was part of something else and the amazing thing is, we can not count how many chemical reactions were all happening at once; it is impossible. The fact is that the atoms that created your heart or someone else’s, or the blood in our body, those atoms could have been used to be in a rock in the ground or could have been used in start dust in some random nebular somewhere else but instead those atoms were I guess transformed to create you and to create us.
It’s amazing how we have this existence and that we have this consciousness and that we have this life. There are so many atoms that are just used towards inanimate objects and things. It is a miracle and a blessing. I guess we shouldn’t take that for granted and feel gratitude for the life and the existence that we have because all of the atoms, all of the molecules in our body could be part of something else but instead it created us. I guess, that’s the main point that I wanted to make in this heart conversation.
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. Mark Twain.
I was born in 1961 in the union of South Africa. In May of that year South Africa Declared it’s independence from the United Kingdom and became a republic. this event was the catalyst that allowed the Afrikaaner led government to fully implement the system of apartheid.
I was born privileged, white , and gay. Like all gay kids of my generation, school was a war zone for me. I was bullied relentlessly and teased by my classmates who knew what I was despite my best effort‘s to hide the truth from them. But, I was also part of the white privileged class of the apartheid system. Things could have been so much worse for me.
As a child I never understood that the black population was oppressed and that there was a revolution building.
Over the years people have asked me how I could not know. When the government of the country you live in controls the minds of the people it’s possible not to know.
We’ve seen examples throughout history. Nazi Germany for example.
The success of the South African system was partly the isolation of the country on the southern most tip of the African continent. The other key factor was a well organized governmental system.
The government controlled everything and they managed to keep the system going by controlling the cornerstones of society. First of all everyone was classified by their race group and appearance. They had a hierarchy. Whites at the top, then Asians then Indians then colords which in south Africa meant people of mixed heritage and then the lowest, anyone who was descended from bantu tribes. They were classified as black. Only people classified as white could vote in elections.
The educational system was segregated by race group. We were taught a carefully curated version of history . In this version of history the white settlers were the heroes and the black tribes of Africa the villains. We were taught to be afraid of the forces such as the ANC, SWAPO and FRELEMA. Organizations that were only asking for a fair system. Our schools taught to be afraid of black people.
The press was completely controlled by the government. Books that did not support the government agenda such as to kill a mockingbird were banned. The censorship laws controlled what was in the press, what was in magazines, what was broadcast on the radio and later what we could see on television. South Africa did not get television until 1976 because the government was afraid that it would lead to the downfall of their system. Everything we were allowed to see in media supported the ideals of the apartheid system.
In church on Sundays we were taught a version of religion that supported the system. The ministers would talk about die swart Gevaar which literally translates to The black danger. Additionally they taught me that I was defective and that if I was true to myself, I would be sure to end up in hell.
Then everything changed for me. In 1979 I enrolled in Rhodes university, an English speaking liberal university which was granted special dispensation to allow a limited number of students of Indian or colored decent to enroll. University was an awakening for me. For one thing, I found my tribe for the first time- other gay men. For another, I made friends with people of other race groups and discovered that things in South Africa were not as I imagined.
At university I discovered the truth about the South African system. Slowly I became aware that the system was not what I had been led to believe. I learned the truth. That the system was unfair and unjust. That people were being banned, that people were being beaten for that they believed, that people were being killed for daring to say that the system should be different.
Slowly I learned that the South Africa that I had taken for granted was really an evil and carefully constructed lie. I became part of what was known as the radical left. At the end of the day the strain of living in South Africa was too much for me and I lost hope that the system would ever change.
In 1984 I left for the United States of America. Emigrating to the USA was the best thing I could have ever done. I felt like I had arrived in paradise, a country with the police did not rule, where you were free to think whatever you wanted, where people lived in harmony compared to war torn South Africa that I left far behind me.
I did not return to South Africa until 1996 long after Mandella had already taken office. The new South Africa was exciting, Mandela and his ideas of a rainbow nation were taking hold.
However, I felt no love for this country that I had left to far behind me. The trauma of what I experienced while there was too deep for me to ever return. I had fallen head over heals in love with America. I have never looked back or longed for South Africa. I have been very happy and very blessed living in this beautiful country.
Today I am troubled, lately I see troubling signs that remind me intensely of Apartheid South Africa . News stories that are designed to instill fear. Journalists that are targeted while they attempt to report on events. Attempts to detain people indefinitely without trial. Attempts to declare organizations such as ANTIFA as terrorist organizations. ICE raids that round up people, children separated from their parents. Police who treat one race better than another. These are all things that I have already seen growing up in South Africa.
However, this is the United States of America. I have hope, I have hope because we are better than this. If there is one thing that I wish for this beautiful country, it is that we get out and vote this November. People here do not seem to understand what a privilege it is to be able to vote. In South Africa in 1994 when people were finally able to vote for the first time, my mother stood in line with people of all colors and backgrounds for 8 hours waiting patiently to be able to vote for the very first time. This is the United States of America. Under our system we have the ability to change things with a mark on a ballot. My one hope is that this November people get out, stand in line, do what it takes to make your voice count.
I live by the words of Mark Twain. It aint what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. In the end its what you know for sure that just aint so.
we're in the hold your breath days
we’re in the
hold your breath days
we’ve always been
since stone age spears
and seed-dirt dreaming.
but this time it tastes different.
maybe it’s because
I don’t have many rings round me
so many witch hazel grandmothers
know more than I.
it’s easy to choke
on the current events in my cereal
a future called Not Knowing
now we can’t touch.
voices carry still
a child dreams of
being an astronaut still
if you smile at me
I’ll smile back.
// March 13 – Taylor Pannell