*** As fellows of Global Citizen Year we are expected to participate in a “Speak Up” presentation. This leadership challenge not only allows fellows to share personal stories, idea or thoughts with the cohort, but also allows us to develop crucial critical thinking and public speaking skills. While in Ayampe, last weekend for Training Seminar 2, I had the pleasure of presenting my “Speak Up”. This blog post stems from the concepts that I presented.
Down here in Ecuador, I find myself questioning many of the beliefs that I have held since I can even remember. This curiosity is not the result of forgetting where I come from, merely reinforcing that my upbringing has allowed me the opportunity to have this questioning mindset. My time in Ecuador has provided me with the opportunity to encounter experiences and adventures to question my beliefs, values, stereotypes and cultural knowledge and awareness. This bridge year experience has allowed me to consider particularly the concept of “stereotyping” and how we allow this mindset to cloud our experiences. We are surrounded by the opportunity to be impacted by stereotyping every single day of our lives, with this mindset our experiences are filtered and consequently we become prisoners of our thoughts. I ask you to read the following story that I have written keeping these principles in mind.
Lieutenant and Me
I place my hand on the handle, it took all my might to open the car door. I knew this should be one of the best things I have ever done, however I was doubtful. I lift my right thigh and place it on the ground of the Fort Lauderdale Military Base, my left leg reluctantly follows. I begin to shift my weight forward and finally begin to exert significant effort towards getting out of the car. As soon as my body is free of the car the heat hits me. The Florida air is thick and it feels as if it is sticking to my every curve. I am starting to regret wearing this heavy sweater; however as I begin to roll up my sleeves I am reminded of why I made the choice I did. I turn around, closing the door, trying to forget about the excessive heat. I see Lieutenant standing at the other side of the car. We lock eyes. The amount of emotion that is held in the face that I am seeing is indescribable. We both knew that this deployment was going to be the worst of them all. Lieutenant was going to Iraq, the center of Middle Eastern conflict. But, this was something that we had to do, together, supporting each other and remaining strong, just like every other couple that we see in this parking lot.
I walk around the car, Lieutenant grabs my hand. Our fingers intertwine, as they feel like they were made to. Ours hands begin to grow sweaty as we start walking, past the rows of the perfectly parked cars, towards the building. With every step my heart rate begins to increase, my breathing is becoming forced. These feelings reaffirmed my beliefs that this was the hardest thing that I was ever going to have to do. By this point Lieutenant’s grip on my hand had become that of a mother and child during a tsunami, the strong, and death-like grip was beginning to hurt. The pace of our strides began to slow. I felt a tugging then spinning motion, and I was now standing face to face with Lieutenant.
When I see Lieutenant’s face, I am truly shocked. Tears steaming down the face that I have grown to love. I can’t remember the last time I saw real emotion’s flooding out of my soul mate. I feel shivers running down my spine, my mind is beginning to realize the gravity of this situation. Lieutenant will be on the airplane to the Middle East is less than 6 hours. There is no real answer to the question will I ever be able to see this person again. That was what came as such a shock to me. Despite the looming fate, Lieutenant stood there, trying to force a smile. We begin to embrace, Lieutenant pulled me into sculpted and muscular arms and I followed without any resistance. I began to melt into this body until it felt like we were simply one.
We begin to walk as if nothing had happened. At this point we are approaching the building. As I look around, all of the other couples and families are feeling the exact way I knew I should be feeling. Instead of this flood of emotions, I felt the beads of sweat beginning to collect on the crevice of my back, again truly regretting wearing such a heavy sweater, yet not willing to think about why I had to do this. My whole body was aching from the experiences over the last few weeks. It had been growing worse. I think that with the stress of deployment Lieutenant was beginning to have violent outbursts a lot more than usual. My body was feeling all of these effects, as I was covered in a collection of colorful bruises. I can’t wait for this to end, however, I know that it will only end when that plane begins its long journey to the Middle East. Inside the feeling of regret and dishonesty towards my partner was growing stronger every single day, however today this regret was about to erupt. I wanted Lieutenant to be deployed so I can escape the hell; the hell which has become my life.
I snap out of this and continue the facade that I have become so good at portraying. I felt the need to act like every other partner to these deployed soldier. But instead floods of relief were sweeping over me. We reach the door, I stretch out my arm and hold it for Lieutenant, I see the uniformed body of a solider march past. We enter the base, like we have many times before. I feel that this time is different; in fact I know this time is different. With the other deployments, I was inconsolable. I knew something was different. I knew that I would not be able to survive long if Lieutenant was not deployed. I felt as if I was the worst military spouse ever, I knew that my body could not handle one more day of this torture. No more nights spent locked in the bathroom, hiding from the powerful hands of Lieutenant, no more making up excuses for the terrible bruises that I have covering my body and no more emotion taunting and belittling. Once that plane’s wheels are off the ground of the tarmac I am free. Free to be who I want to be without Lieutenant dictating every moment of my life.
We begin walking towards the sign-in table. Lieutenant leans over and begins to fill out the materials. I stand close, watching the pen move, knowing that with every letter I am a little closer to breaking free from the life that has imprisoned me. When the card was completed, we both knew that it was time to say goodbye. This was the moment that we had both been dreading. We start moving towards the side of the large atrium. Lieutenant’s hand is holding mine, tight, like usual. We end at the bench, the same bench in which we have said goodbye before. We know that the time has come for us to go our separate ways. We sit there for a moment, I think about how much our life together has changed since we sat at this same bench, 16 months ago. Back then there were no bruises, no emotional scars, it was still a truly loving relationship. Now, I have no idea how to get out of this failing marriage. I am feeling trapped and overwhelmed, I knew this deployment had come just in the knick of time. I looked over towards Lieutenant, we knew that we had to say goodbye. I pulled myself together, and knew that I needed to act as if I was upset, however deep down we both knew that this was for show. I leaned forward and we embraced in the hug that had to last me until the next time I stepped onto this base for homecoming. I knew this wouldn’t be hard. We begin to separate as I felt Lieutenants soft lips meet mine. It was refreshing to feel such a strong connection to someone that I felt was slipping out of my grasp. As Lieutenant reached down to collect the backpack that seemed to have been following us all day, we shared a very intense stare. We embraced once again, with the backpack secure on the strong, muscular torso, we began to release and Lieutenant began to turn. The long walk down the hallway began.
Stop. Take a moment to ask yourself the question; what is the sex of the person that is being deployed?
I was watching as my wife walked away from me. Her long blonde hair was swaying in the ponytail that she seemed to always have it in. My heart broke at the fact that she was leaving, however I could feel a sense of calm coming over my body. No more nights spent locked in the bathroom, hiding from her powerful hands, no more excuses for the terrible bruises that she has caused that are covering my body and no more emotion taunting and belittling. As she turned the corner, which was at the end of the hallway, she waved. She waved with the hands that have caused me so much pain over the last 6 months since she has been back from her last tour. It was with those hands that she had singlehandedly destroyed our marriage. She knew this, however, she was just too ashamed to admit it. Without thinking, my hand began to raise as I found myself waving goodbye to the women that I once loved. Hoping, deep, deep, down that I would never see her again.
This story illustrates how deeply ingrained stereotypes can become. I challenge you to ask yourself, what else are you overlooking in your life, what else is your mindset filtering, stealing you of opportunities? What stereotypes are you letting exist in your world without truly understanding why they are there? When you delve into these details you will create a new perception, a new world, maybe a new you.