A Three-word Challenge

Jackie - Greenland, New Hampshire
Entered on August 23, 2007

I loved my middle school teaching job. Administrators; parents; colleagues; a weak union; and lack of advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels contributed to my termination. I battled for nine years to change the direction, but I lost. In an institution that supposedly embraces inclusion, I was an invisible exception. I have epilepsy.

The discrimination traumatized me; I felt worthless. Yet as I sobbed while packing up my classroom, I found too many reasons to disbelieve what my judges imagined. I had profound, joyous connections with the kids; some of the most precious memories are framed at home.

Forgive and forget — I can’t. I’ll never forget “catching” people avoiding me. I’ll never forget those who made fun of my bruised face from a fall during a seizure, laughing that my man had bopped me a good one, only to chastise me for being over-sensitive when I cried. I’ll never forget the scrutiny, the targeting, the mob mentality. A few of the sickest adults involved kids to do their dirty work. Not a single colleague said good-bye to me. I’m still having nightmares.

Epilepsy is a lonely, dehumanizing, and isolating condition; the social issues are as painful as the disorder itself. But pain motivates me, and I focus on forgiveness. I don’t forgive others. How patronizing; I have so much to forgive myself for. Therein lies my challenge. All I have to do when someone hurts me is ask myself the question, “Have you ever….?”

Those three words seize me. When someone wounds me, I can always invoke a parallel circumstance in which I’ve been less than good. Failures are valuable guides for current and new relationships. That question encourages me to examine my own inappropriate behaviors. It’s gentle tough love, with no place for self-loathing (which takes lots of practice). I maintain a lively inner dialogue every day, full of questions, not wanting to have all of the answers.

I don’t have much company to enjoy, so I’d better enjoy myself. I do! Forgiveness makes me a better Jackie. I try not to compare myself with others because it only invites arrogance and self-righteousness, which are just cozy blankets for insecurity. Instead, I compare myself with former Jackies. My progress destroys self-pity. Am I better now than I was? I am. The better I get, the more creative and candid I become with myself. It’s easier to be who I want to be right now.

This productive self-centeredness helps me combat my sadness. My goal is realistic: I want to be less flawed. When I regress, true forgiveness allows me to do damage control I was formerly incapable of. I have more compassion for others’ faults because of that three-word question. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings about their behaviors, but I frequently end my observations with an inward invitation. Practice, practice, practice, forever and ever.

This I believe: my greatest liberation is the connection with my Self.