Yesterday, as I participated in the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism, I realized that I had broken the advice I give others. Ninety percent of what makes for a successful life stems from merely showing up to live it. My first year back at work, I gave the induction lecture to the members of a freshman honors society. I took showing up as my theme for collegiate success: show up for class, show up for office hours, show up to the office of fellowships. You need not be the best student in the class, the most engaging conversationalist the professor ever met, or a natural fit for a particular scholarship; just show up for the opportunities offered you. Without that first step of a physical presence, nothing good can happen. If you DO show up, unexpected benefits may follow.
I stood on a street corner waiving my sign, chatting with friends and strangers who, like me, had decided to show up on a cold, damp, Friday lunch hour to “stand against racism.” We had fun, and we stood for something. What struck me was how few people made the effort. Then I realized that I had yet to “show up” for UVenus this month
I knew I was tardy. My editorial deadline came during a family vacation. I told myself that I would write when I got home. When I got home our family schedules exploded, and I told myself that I would write when things calmed down.
As I walked back to my office, I came to terms with the uncomfortable equivalency between my excuse-making for why I have not “shown up” in print, and those who stayed warm in dorms and homes, cafeterias and restaurants, gyms and offices, rather than showing up to line the street and make physically manifest their philosophical opposition to prejudice.
Showing up for what matters is not without its costs. I’ve been called some pretty nasty names over the years I’ve written for UVenus. Stand up for just about anything and someone will likely volunteer to take you down. Fortunately, we enjoyed happy honking while we stood yesterday. In a different community or on a different day, we might not have been so lucky.
The fact that light-skinned women of a certain age and class dominated our ranks may indicate who thinks they can afford to take a stand. Hourly workers can’t extend their lunch breaks. The rich and powerful can hide behind the curtain of immediate responsibilities and shy away from the symbolic. These folks on the far ends of the economic spectrum “show up” for other things. Those of us in the middle make time to stand up on principles like the housewives of the temperance movement or the students of the sixties.
Where were those students? Some were further down the same street. My corner held no particular priority. Most, however, have greater affinity with those showing up to other things. As the student body splits between the haves (who pay full freight in anticipation of immediate ascent to wealth and power) and the have-nots (who take on loans and work-study jobs to squeak through to self-sufficiency), they align rather closely in attitude to the absent hourly workers and CEOs.
That leaves the job to my kind. We latter-day, well-meaning, “ladies of leisure” wave signs and post blogs over lunch, after work, between carpools, and whenever else daily life leaves space and time to stand up for something more important than ourselves. Thus, I sit here on a Saturday afternoon between collecting one child from the high school and preparing a pasta salad for another child’s team pot luck and produce prose.
I am late, but I showed up for UVenus and stand for all it represents.
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