When my firstborn son was a toddler, there was a game we would play when driving around town to keep him from becoming bored and restless, the “where is it” game. I would ask where something is and Matthew would say, “There it is!” with a point of his chubby finger.
“Where is the truck?”
His blue eyes would search the road around us until he found it and pointed, “There it is!”
“Where is your nose?”
His fingertip would squash his nose down followed by a nasally, “There it is!”
“Where is your shirt?”
With a tug of his collar, “Here it is!”
“Where are your fingers?”
All ten would stretch up into a sunbeam and wiggle in my mirror’s reflection, “Here they are!”
While at a stop light I asked, “Where is Matthew?”
This was a new question for him and I watched in the rearview mirror as he contemplated it, his eyes squinting and searching upwards as if trying to find the answer in his long eyelashes. Then suddenly it hit him. Delight overtook his face, his eyes widened, his grin infectious as he placed both hands on his chest, fingers splayed and proudly exclaimed, “Here I am!”
“That’s right, Matthew,” I said, “good job!”
I watched as he tapped his hands on his chest and whispered to himself, “Here I am, here I am.” I knew I was lucky to be able to witness such a beautiful thing, the first acknowledgement of one’s self.
As children, we are who we are, without judgement of who that is. If we are hungry, we eat. If something is funny, we laugh. If we are sad, we cry. If we like a certain toy or game, it doesn’t matter what others think of it. We set no limits for ourselves or others, failing to understand that one can eat “too much” ice cream or that play time can be “over”. We soak up as much love as we can and give it to others freely because there is always enough. We fight naptimes because this world is so interesting to us, there is so much to do. We are brutally honest without fear or offense. Spontaneity is our only rule, hopping from one activity or feeling to the next, relishing each experience just as it is, living always in the present, never worrying about the past, only planning ahead to the next fun thing.
But as we grow older, as we start to “grow up,” we lose that confidence in ourselves and in our lives and we begin to judge who we are against everyone and everything in our world. There are expectations, rules, pressures around every corner. We meet them, exceed them, fail them and tip toe around these boundaries all while trying to figure out “who to be.” The adults around us, and society in general, have plans for us; there is a map to success, a path to happiness and if we follow their guidance, we should have the life that we dream of one day, whatever that may be.
By the time that we are adults, only a few years later, we are expected to know what the heck we are doing with ourselves, with our lives. Some of us are lucky, we do know, we’ve always known. But for most, we are still trying to figure it all out. The expectations and pressures only increase and there is a never-ending supply of information telling us what is right or wrong, what we should or shouldn’t be doing and even what will and won’t make us happy. We wade through choice after choice while we study and start careers; while we fall in love and get married; even while we raise children, beginning the entire cycle again.
Sometimes, while going along in our lives, we hear a voice inside ourselves. We listen to that voice that, perhaps, was there all along, the one that’s only a whisper at first, “Here I am.” It’s a whisper because so many other voices are louder. The ones that say, “you can’t,” and “what will others think?” and the big one, “what if you fail?” But that little truth gets louder and louder until you can no longer deny that it is there. But, sharing that truth with others places one in a position of an extreme kind of vulnerability.
This world can be so cruel to those who give a voice to that whisper inside them. These truths can be met with anger and hostility, denial and ignorance. Still others are rejected and ostracized, turned away from by the ones the truth-teller seeks acceptance from the most. Many have lost a great deal by sharing their truths; family, friends, jobs. Others risk losing their very lives by sharing it. Sometimes other people take our truths and twist them to fit their own agendas, turning them into something ugly and use their twisted version against us. We can end up making an unintended mess of our lives and the lives of those we care about. It’s a risk and, yes, it can be scary.
It’s no wonder, when people give a voice to that whisper, when they say openly, “Here I am,” we call them brave. It takes a special kind of courage to be who we really are, to show how we really feel, to say what we really think and to move through our lives encompassing our truths. Whether it’s by coming out of a hiding place and addressing a sexual orientation, or a mental illness or the non-belief in the things others around them believe. Or it’s standing in solidarity with others with a shared experience and expressing that they too are a victim of sexual violence or they too believe that our justice system is flawed. Sometimes it is an unabashed cry for help that would force someone to travel thousands of miles with a small child to seek refuge or a community that warns of a major addiction crisis.
Matthew is turning 21 this year. I have watched and listened to him as he has whispered, “Here I am” so many times throughout the past two decades. He has a way of gobbling up life that most people do not. He grows and learns and changes, succeeds and fails without judgement of his own path. Everything that appeals to him, hobbies, subjects, people and places are all met with such excitement and dedication. He relishes evolving; still glancing towards his eyelashes when he considers a new idea. He finds so much beauty in this world even after witnessing and bearing so much ugliness in his life as a child of divorce and with an addict father now absent from his life.
It’s impossible for me to not smile when I think of him or burst with joy when I talk about him. I am still so lucky to witness such a beautiful thing. My hope is that Matthew continues to embrace life with such openness and consideration and that he will always have the courage to say, “Here I am.” I also hope that he will always have people in his life who accept his truths, whatever they may be, for decades to come.
Yes, I still see that little boy in him proudly exclaiming, “Here I am!” just as I see that little boy in all of us and in myself. Making it my purpose, as a mother, to always accept him, no matter what his truth, has made me a better person. For it is this kind of acceptance granted to others that changes lives, bringing happiness, peace, and hope not only to those we accept but also to ourselves. I have experienced this first hand in revealing my truths for all to see; I came out as an atheist in a very Christian town. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done and the acceptance that I received filled me with so much hope for mine and my children’s futures.
I will continue to accept others, when their whispers are spoken aloud, whatever their “Here I am” might be.