Enlightening the Enlightened: We are never above the lessons learned from our Family

There are two worlds that I live and they are entirely different – or at least I have always seen them as two separate spheres. My life as a feminist, activist, Duke student, and young woman trying to figure out who she is (this is who I am for a majority of the year) and then there is my family, my upbringing…my roots. Some people aren’t very close with their family. They can go through an entire college experience without visiting home, or move far away when they have obtained a career, not to be heard from for years on end.  I never had this attitude with my family. In high school we were together every weekend, my nana, papa and aunt pam coming in from Queens and my cousins living just 5 minutes away. Rarely did it feel forced, rarely did I want to be somewhere else, other than with them…until I went to Duke and found my new independent self.  Of course I have always felt that I was independent, but this was new. I was 10 hours away, I was engulfed in a community of “intellectuals” my age, and I was forced to figure out everything on my own.  Over the years at Duke I have gained so much from other students, classes and numerous opportunities that would never have been available to me if I were to live at home and go to a school right down the road from my house.  However, Duke also changed me in another way, which I constantly have to check myself for.

             Being at an elite institution can sometimes make you feel “Elite”. It can make you feel as if your knowledge, and the education you are privileged enough to have access to, makes your opinion more right, or closer to truth, than another’s. I dislike this attitude, but it seems as if whenever I go home I unknowingly speak with a know-it-all tone, and it can often sound dismissive.  This weekend I saw it happen again and I justify it by saying “its my passion…I have done multiple readings on this topic so I know what I am talking about…it’s not opinion it is truth.” Not only did I learn that these statements are reflective of an uncontrolled Ego, but I also found that there are so many things that I can get from being with my family, that my other world could never give me.  It took 24 hours, removing myself from the city (Moxie Life), opening up of an undefended self, and 15 close family members to open my eyes.

            Here are just a few things that I took from this weekend:

little marc

1.      No matter what age, wherever they are in their life, everyone has a story and whether it is my grandmother or my 2-year-old cousin I can take something valuable from each of them.  On Sunday it was uncomfortably hot and no one wanted to do much. Many, if not all individuals in this weather, usually get cranky and irritated but not my baby cousin Marc.  Driven by the curiosity that all children have, and the energy of life pulsing through him, Marc was exploring everything and everywhere (that is, after a 2 hour nap).  He reminded me of the care free attitude that is intertwined with innocence, the freedom that comes with naivety.  Sadly, as we get older and are exposed to the truths of our world I see many losing hope, losing energy and frankly, losing interest.  

2.      Speaking to my nana the evening before, I saw an entirely different attitude than Marc’s and rightly so. She is on the other end of the spectrum; describing it as being “on her way out.”Here I am, a 21 year old, still in college, still trying to decide what to do with my life, going on and on about my passion and about “changing the world,” trying to make her understand.  I can now see why it was more difficult to jump on Brianna’s Activist Train. My nana has been through much more than I know, and even though she has not studied feminist theory or has researched social norms and gender construction, she has seen the world, she has had the experiences.  It is more difficult for her to be invested in a movement that takes time, lots of energy and acquired knowledge when she knows the world better than I do and may have lost some of the optimism that fuels me.  My nana is an activist in her own way. She is an assertive, strong, compassionate woman, she is a leader, an amazing grandmother, mother, sister, and aunt, and she is always there to shoulder the burden of others.  Whether it is watching her grandchildren, cooking for 15 people, taking care of her husband or calling up her sister when she is sick, she does not miss a beat. I come from a line of independent and tough women – and my nana is one of them.  She reminded me that we all have different passions and responsibilities throughout our life and right now her’s is taking care of her family and helping those close to her. She reminded me when I spoke about changing the world and empowering others, that charity always begins in the home. nana and pam

3.      I will always remember my 12 year old sisters embrace and my 15 year old brothers smile when they walked into my nana’s house after a long ride back from their soccer tournament. They were probably wiped out, hungry and just wanted to sleep but they still had the energy to show their love for me.  I must always remember these little moments when we are in a fight or irritated with each other over stupid things, never let the emotions overwhelm me, because it is not worth it.  There is nothing comparable to having my younger siblings still be excited to see me. I do believe they look up to me and I constantly try to be a good role model, sharing my passion and enthusiasm with them so that they can enter the “real world,” prepared, but also optimistic that they have the power to create change.   So when they have these moments it subconsciously affirms my role and responsibility as the older sister and I will never take them for granted.

4.      My final conversation of the night was with my uncle Paul, who I always get into philosophical conversations with. It is usually about examining the self, being in the now, and most importantly being aware of the Ego and the power it has over our expressions and I believe, our outlook on life.  As I described to him the difficulties I was having during Moxie Reflections, and coming off too strong and sounding dismissive of others opinions because I was so consumed by my own, he reminded me that when I get sucked into these thoughts and beliefs it is because I am allowing my Ego and my thoughts to define me. I have attached myself so strongly to these ideas that anything that challenges them seems like they are questioning me as an individual.  What I need to consciously practice, is stepping outside of my thoughts and just observing, listening, and allow the world to happen around me and speak to me, rather than forcing my energy, passion, and many times, my EGO on it.  That doesn’t only go for taking a break from my thoughts, but taking a break from “doing”,  as well.  Sometimes just sitting in your Nana’s house on a Sunday observing, interacting, and taking everyone and everything in, is more enlightening, refreshing and inspiring than anything you could read in a book.

I am so grateful to have a close family that loves, encourages, but also pushes me out of my comfort zone. They may not be my fellow students at Duke but they teach me about love, life, compassion, strength, family and support, to name a few. They teach me how to be a better me, to remember my roots and also to take a step back from it all.  And for that, I am forever grateful.

4 thoughts on “Enlightening the Enlightened: We are never above the lessons learned from our Family

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post maybe because it was both personal and perceptive. It really showed a level of self-awareness that’s refreshing and, at least to me, demonstrates the value and the benefits of living in two worlds but never fully inhabiting either. There’s strength in that and so much to be gained from being able to appreciate the things you take and bring to each of them. Thanks for sharing this.

    • This is a lovely and touching post about you, your family and the work you are doing. Thanks very much for your openness and for sharing this with us.
      Eric Mlyn
      DukeEngage

  2. Wow, I’m really impressed with how well you absorbed the ideas I was sharing with you. Keep up the vigilance on “catching” the ego in yourself, and remember to overlook the ego in others as someone once said, a long time ago, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.

    • Thanks! I really enjoyed our talk (all of our talks) and I definitely know that this is something that I have to constantly check myself for — its not a “one time fixes all” type of thing. I know I told you that I have some difficulty not pushing my opinions on others when I become very passionate about something…but I actually have been practicing it this week, thanks to our talk! 😀

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