From the time I was six until I was fourteen, I attended the same school: a private Catholic school that was so small, I and my classmates numbered about 24 in total by the time we reached the eighth grade — and we were the biggest graduating class to that date.
Naturally, in a grade level with so few students, it seemed like everybody knew everything about everybody else. (And the teachers probably knew even more than everything about us, especially the ones who taught us year after year.)
So the one thing that everybody always knew about me was who I was crushing on. And there was always one boy or other, and it would bounce around and circle back to previous crushes. Of course it would.
And in addition to everybody knowing that I had a crush on this boy at this time, everybody always seemed to think that everything I did revolved around this person. It didn’t. But my classmates didn’t know that, or if they did they didn’t care.
Like this one time: it must have been in seventh grade because by eighth, this boy had moved away; we were all talking about high school and what classes we wanted to take. What foreign language we wanted to study, because you had to have one, and our school only offered us Spanish but high school would have more options. I said something about wanting to take French. And the boy I liked said, “Why, because I’m taking French?”
No. Actually, my wanting to study French stemmed from a fascination with France that I’d had since I was a toddler, probably born from that children’s character named Madeline, a little redheaded French girl who lived “in an old house in Paris that was covered with vines.” And it stemmed from a lack of interest in Spanish and wanting to try something new after so many years of the same foreign language. It didn’t have anything at all to do with anyone but myself.
Not that I said any of that. I didn’t say anything other than “No” and I didn’t say it in the same matter-of-fact tone of voice that I hear in my head now; I was probably defensive about it, in the kind of way that leads nobody to believe anything you’re saying. He certainly didn’t, I’m sure. My classmates probably didn’t, either, and I didn’t try to defend myself any further. Even if I was thinking about all the real reasons at the time, I wouldn’t have voiced any of them because, outwardly, there wouldn’t have been any conviction behind the words because, inwardly, I didn’t have the confidence in myself. But maybe I should’ve said something anyway. You can’t always change people’s opinions about you, but you can use your voice to speak up for yourself where it matters.
When we don’t do that…why is that? Sure, it’s not always important to fight every battle and win every argument, and if I found myself back in that situation now, I might not say anything just because I might not find it to be a battle worth expending energy for. But I’m a different person now than I was back then, and back then, it mattered to me what the people I went to school with thought of me. It mattered to me what he thought of me, and it bothered me that he thought I was just so fixated on my feelings for him that I would do the same thing he was doing in the hopes of attracting his attention. I mean, he wasn’t always wrong — an introspection for another time — but that time he was. And I said nothing.
I should have said something. I should have used my voice.
Another email appeared in my inbox today: “Jane Doe started following you on Medium” and — while they’re always nice surprises — I couldn’t help but wonder why. Why does Jane Doe or Johnny Appleseed want to follow me on Medium when I’m not even writing any articles, or sharing any unique points of view?
But then I remembered that I make highlights in and give claps to many of the articles I read on this site — and I read a lot of articles on this site. And those claps and highlights show up on my profile — except how they show up to anyone else who probably isn’t looking at my profile, I’ve no idea — and maybe that is my unique point of view. Because maybe those are things I have to say, or that I’m in agreement with, or that hold some kind of meaning for me. And maybe, somehow via my profile, they get reshared to someone else for whom they hold meaning, too.
Each of us has a voice, and probably each of us also has something to say. Even when we’re not sure of it, or we don’t yet have the confidence in ourselves that we might need in order to speak up for ourselves. That we might need in order to share our unique point of view with the rest of the world.
Somebody, somewhere, might just believe you. And even more than that, whatever it is you want to use your voice to speak up about, somebody, somewhere, might need to hear it from you.