Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Being Nobody

Each day that passes brings new awareness of the differences that surround me here in California versus Virginia. The weather is obviously and consistently WAY better than back home in Alexandria. Sunny days, even if they are chilly and worthy of a layer or two, are a fantastic winter surprise. I think my back is still aching from shoveling snow off of our steep driveway in Virginia last winter. There is an absence of the impatient horn honking on a daily basis. If you sit innocently at a green light you get a gentle tap - a reminder that it is time to go as opposed to a blaring horn that shouts "MOVE IT you Moron!" I guess folks are a bit more relaxed here. There is a demographic shift here that I am distinctly aware of now that I am likely the 4th Black American woman in Burlingame....in history. There just are not many people of my color, like there were in the DC area. There is tons of very welcome diversity here, just not many folks like me. I'm used to it, but I am reminded of it when I search for hair products or drive a distance to get my hair done. California has higher sales tax, higher property costs, higher EVERYTHING. I will never get accustomed to the high cost of living here. The jury is still out on whether it is worth it or not. Sadly, despite all of the expenses, the school system is bankrupt, compared to Alexandria at least. Here, there is a constant appeal for volunteers and fundraising help and donations. There is a whole organization dedicated to fundraising, above and beyond the PTA for each school. Because of the tight budget, there are no school buses, facilities are old, classrooms are overflowing and there is a lack of helping professionals in the building that I came to expect back in Virginia. Where are the school counselors, the nurses, the social workers? I'm not disappointed in the schools, but disappointed that all of the money California is collecting is not able to be distributed such that schools are top-notch, without question.

But I digress. It is with that general feeling of acknowledging the differences in each place that my latest reality check occurred. I was speaking with a fellow parent about the upcoming school auction, yet another fundraiser for the system. As she explained the many ways I could help I thought that for an auction, maybe there was something I could give - decorator pillows of the winner's choice, sewing lessons, custom drapery panels, a one-of-a-kind dress of their choice - there are endless possibilities. I have given to local auctions and sales in the past with great pride and success. She quickly and immediately said "But you are nobody....we can't use any of that from you." Oh. Well. Ok. I couldn't argue with that. But it sure feels like I should have. She wasn't particularly mean about it, but I don't think she thought about how it might sound. She called me "nobody".

I am profoundly aware of what a "nobody" I am out here - no one knows me and know one cares. I wish I had a better defense for myself but I just don't. What does it really mean to be "somebody"? A designer name? An athlete that garners cheers from the crowd? A recognizable musician or actress with more cash than talent? If that is the definition of "somebody" - being famous, or a perceived awesome entity - then I'll take being nobody any day. I don't need to be any of those things to feel good....but I certainly don't want to be so happily disregarded because I'm not one of those things that warrant the label "somebody".

There really isn't any such thing as a "nobody" is there? We hear it as an insult, hurled at the stranger who begs, or the person who happens to fail, but it is probably the most untrue statement we could mutter. Even the homeless person is somebody's son, or father, or brother or friend, even if his only friend is the dog by his side. The person who falters at the Olympics to earn 112th place in the race might not be a medal winner, but he or she is somebody - an athlete, a patriot, a fighter, a survivor, an Olympian just like the gold medal winner. That label "somebody" sure does reflect the worst of who we are and what we value. Butt your head into another human being and you are rewarded handsomely with a Super Bowl trophy and cash. Spend 3 weeks on a deserted island in front of a national television audience and you are regarded as a "Survivor". Pack your kids' lunches with a note and sticker on a daily basis and no one blinks an eye. Stay up all night with a sick child, clean your house, take care of the grocery shopping, take care of business that no one else wants to make time for and we are just - nobody. I don't think anyone deserves the nobody label (especially not parents). Everybody has a place, a stake, a value, a reason to be regarded as "somebody". Even little old me out here in big old anonymous California. I absolutely realize that when she called me a "nobody", it was strictly meant in relation to my sewing status. But be it sewing or my life otherwise, I should try my best to defy the nobody label....and just keep being the somebody that I have always been.  

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