Love and Belonging

It’s only the end of the first week of school, and already I feel as though I’ve never left. I’ve only seen my students for a day and a half; the rest of the time has been taken up with preparing my room, meetings with parents, and in-service meetings with fellow staff. We even had an in-service day today, Saturday. Fortunately, our new principal, Dan, had previously checked with us that this was okay. It helped that our presenter was none other than Janet, who is now in her third year of working with the school. While the program she runs has changed a little in that time, the concept is still the same: creating connections between students, teachers, parents, school, and community. A dynamic, engaging speaker, Janet has to be one of my favorite people. Among other concepts, she reminds us that all people act in order to fulfill one of five basic needs, among which are things like Survival, Power, and Love and Belonging. Janet is not fond of people sitting for long periods of time; instead, she intersperses her comments with many activities that make us teachers get up, move around, and talk to one another. During one such activity, she asked us to think of where we are and who is with us when we feel that we are loved and belong somewhere. As soon as she said it, my hand crept into my jeans pockets and found the coin my dear friend Hatter gave to me before I first came up here, and I was pulled back in time….

January of 2014 found me in something of a funk. I’d been working in the labs for longer than I had ever intended, and lately things with my coworkers had been more than a little tense. I’d submitted some of my original fiction to another magazine, but given that I’d already received two rejection slips I wasn’t hopeful. There was a minor family crisis when my cousin ended up in the hospital. Outside of work, I spent a fair amount of time working with the Initiative for Transgender Leadership (ITL) as part of a peer mentorship program for trans-identified youth. I’d helped design the program the year before, and had been flattered to ask to participate in its inaugural year. While initially I greatly enjoyed the work, lately it had been more of a drag. It felt as if we weren’t making progress on any of the several projects we had going. I worked Saturdays, so the Sunday meetings ate into my too-short weekend. When I made a suggestion, it felt as though I was being ignored. In short, I didn’t feel like I belonged. When this happened in the past, I would retreat for some “me” time; in this instance, I decided the best way to do that was to quit my work with ITL. After one meeting, I mentioned to Hatter, the “adult” at the day’s session, that I felt like I needed to do this. She asked that I not make a final decision yet, but instead offered to buy me dinner at a time and place of my choosing in the next couple of weeks so that we could talk one-on-one.

Barely five days later, I found myself seated at a table for two in a small French restaurant a couple of blocks from my apartment. While I don’t remember the actual conversation, I do remember feeling a sense of peace. Hatter listened attentively as I laid out my reasons for wanting to leave the program. She took time to think over what I said. Initially, she offered not advice but observations; among other things, she noted that I often set high standards for myself and others, and that I’m happiest when I have some measure of control over situations. Rather than judgmental or accusatory, her voice merely had the calm, measured tone of one making an objective observation. She then offered me a gift: Her permission and that of the other organizers of ITL that I should consider myself “off-duty”, that is, I didn’t need to constantly worry about how they saw the program and if it was measuring up to their standards. It sounds so silly now, but in that moment it was exactly what I needed. She further offered to help me with my then-on-going job hunt in any way she could. In that moment, and for the rest of our friendship, I could feel the love and warmth rolling off of Hatter, reaching out to envelope me.

To this day, it is a gift that I cherish.

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