I remember being excited to pick out the frames of my first pair of glasses. Not yet five, I selected a brown and blue patterned pair. It was the 1980s, so the frames were large. I wince now when I see them in pictures.
It’s a cliche for a reason: On the drive home, proudly wearing my new frames, I was amazed to see the individual leaves and branches on the trees. Before then, it had all been a green blur against a blue and white blur.
When Mike talks about his childhood memories, he (of the few words) spills forth with detail after detail about growing up . My memories are fuzzier. Blurry. Unreliable, according to my family, who insist that we never had that brown refrigerator I remember.
For a long time, I believed that that was how I was seen: out-of-focus in the background. At school, a smart girl who follows the rules easily becomes invisible. At church, most of the attention fell on the boys. This is troubling to me as a parent: a loving family that affirmed my worth couldn’t overcome the messages I was getting from the world around me. Messages that gave me the idea that nobody saw me.
The people around me could perhaps be forgiven for not making much of a girl who spent most of her time reading and most of her Friday nights at home. The flush of shame and rejection combined with the knowledge that that came with feeling that I couldn’t possibly ever be seen for who I was. In the normal way of teenagers, I thought that not fitting in meant something bigger: that God was also relegating me to the background.
I started to fight these wrongheaded ideas in college, protesting when I was told that what was important about my time there was being a messenger for Jesus. I was beginning to be convinced of just the opposite, that a God who would create me and then only want to see Jesus in me didn’t make any sense.
There were people who taught me that I was important, who listened to my dreams. They looked me straight in the eye and they saw me. I held on to those moments, strung them together like beads on a necklace.
One of my students has been buzzing around the library this week, a purple tiara balanced on top of her curly hair. She chatters as she shelves books and organizes my mess. There’s another who reminds me of Luna Lovegood, and I agree with her when she tells me how awful Bella Swan is as a protagonist. There’s the one whose eyes light up when he sees a new graphic novel he hasn’t read. There’s the one who makes fun of the way I talk, and I smile at him and keep talking. There’s the one who tears up when I read her the recommendation letter I wrote for her. There’s the one who says he’s doing a project on Atticus Finch and he thought I would want to know.
I get fierce inside when I think about them. I want to protect them and I want to hold their hands and I want to set them free. But the truth is that my scope is much more narrow, so I do what I can. I try to see them in the ways that I wanted to be seen, both because I care and because when you have been invisible and then you have been seen, you have no choice but to see.
I have a lot of students and I cannot remember everything about them. But they are more than just a blur and I try to make sure I know that one thing at least.