I slammed the sliding glass door of my dad’s apartment and hurled myself onto his hunter-green futon in a cluster of sobs. Concerned, my dad ran out of the kitchen, dish and drying towel still in hand.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Senior awards are coming out soon and for the first time they are going to be printed in the yearbook instead of just in the Senior edition of the school newspaper!” I howled in a new wave of sobs.
“So?” He responded sounding a little less concerned and a little more annoyed that my initial reaction led him to believe that someone had died.
One of my best friends was an editor for our school newspaper, so naturally when I found out that the votes had been tallied for the awards, I probingly asked if I had won anything. My heart raced… ‘Best Smile’?? Nah, who was I kidding? My dearest friend Amanda had the most beautiful set of pearly whites that lit up every room AND her last name was Smiley for crying out loud. ‘Class Clown?’ I did like to make people laugh… ‘Most Likely to….’ The acceptance speech that started to swirl in my head stopped before it began when I heard, “You either won ‘Most Optimistic’ or ‘Most Gullible’ but I can’t remember which one.”
“Most Gullible??” I yelled, straightening myself up on the futon. “MOST GULLIBLE??!”
“Well, maybe you won ‘Most Optimistic?’” my dad offered as he continued to dry the dish. “She said she couldn’t remember.”
“No, I didn’t!” I wailed as I wiped the snot from my nose. “I know I won ‘Most Gullible.’ I just KNOW it!”
“Well…” my dad said as he headed back into the kitchen. “Maybe you don’t deserve ‘Most Optimistic.’”
The thing is, I have always considered myself to be a rational optimist. I believe in love at first sight, but also believe two people can be entirely meant to be in so many ways, and sometimes things just don’t work out no matter how hard you try. I believed in Santa until I was nine, and it breaks my heart when my five year old tells me that unicorns are most definitely not real. I am constantly amazed by how far a simple smile, genuine eye contact, and a kind word can shift a dynamic. Okay, maybe those things do make me naïve or gullible (especially the Santa part) or perhaps the line between gullibility and optimism is a fine one.
I decided to go to the Women’s March to stand alongside a community. I walked next to my dear friend Hayley who I respect and admire for so many reasons, and my sweet mamma who has served others her whole life as a nurse and a teacher. She had just gotten off her 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. night shift at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and had to go back to do it all again later that evening. As we shuffled along, I saw tears streaming down her face. “I can’t believe we are still having to do this,” she gasped, visibly exhausted by more than her third 14-hour night shift in a row.
Backwards steps, although painful and frustrating, can’t take away the momentum of moving forward. Although it may sting, and gut, and tear you down to your studs wondering what is this all even for, it can’t take away from the original investment.
Maybe a legacy does not have to be permanent, but rather proves that greatness if possible. Progress is possible. And the thing about progress is that, in and of itself, progress is permanent. No matter what happens after, you can’t take away the fact that progress was made. I have to remind myself that as a parent all the time. For instance, in the season of potty training, when my kids would have an accident, especially after being dry and unsoiled for days prior, I would freak out and obsess over what went wrong. I was so quick to be terrified of regressions that I completely disregarded the other 30+ days that everything went smoothly (potty pun not intended).
As we walked, Hayley asked me if I remembered President Obama’s ‘Fired Up’ speech. I hadn’t heard of it, so of course looked it up when we got home and instantly found myself in a pool of tears. I will include the link to it below in case you haven’t seen it, but basically Obama talked about when he ran for President in 2008 and found himself in this tiny town out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a torrential rainstorm in order to drum up support only to find himself in a room of about 20 cold, soaked, and tired people who looked like they wanted to be there as much as he did. Then all of a sudden, he heard a voice from the back of the room, “Fired Up?” The crowd responded “Fired Up!” and then the voice came again. “Ready to Go?” “Ready to Go!” the people responded. This chant continued for the next few minutes until Obama finally saw its instigator. There in the back sat a small older woman donning a big ol’ church hat. Her name, it so happens, is Edith S. Childs, and she is famous for using this chant at various games, rallies, and activities in her community to get people engaged and motivated. Those five words—fired up, ready to go—changed the spirit of the entire room. Obama ended this speech explaining the origins of the “Fired Up, Ready to Go” mantra that would follow him on the rest of his campaign trail by saying that Edith S. Childs reminded him that, “One voice can change a room. And if one voice can change a room, then one voice can change a city. And if one voice can change a city, then one voice can change a nation. And if one voice can change a nation, then one voice can change the world.” And even that is something this runner-up for ‘Most Optimistic’ can appreciate.
It’s our job as a collective humanity to not only have our own voices but to also seek the marginalized voices. The voices that couldn’t get a Saturday off of work to come and take a stand. Or the voices who may be too afraid to speak out. We need to encourage, we need to listen, we need to speak, we need to educate, we need to learn, and we need to feel. As my lovely friend Gina said recently about this media saturated age, we need more than ever to “connect with real, living people who have experiences to share.”
I may be immortalized between the hardback covers of my high school yearbook under the caption “Just Fell Off The Turnip Truck,” which I still contend means that I trust people, and I will continue to trust people. Also, for the record, all are welcome on my turnip truck. We can drive around as we laugh, cry, united, and hear each others’ stories. I’ll even bring the snacks.
Marissa B. Niranjan is a quarter Italian, mixed with some Scotch-Irish and English and is married to an Indian. We, along with countless others, exist because someone fought hard to come to this country. Let’s do what we can to encourage others, along with ourselves, to stay fired up and ready to go. The world needs you and there is much work to be done.
Also, here is a link to the origins of Obama’s ‘Fired Up’ mantra if you are interested.