Stories & Lessons

Running with the Wolves

As Anna told her story about dogs and wolves, I was fascinated. I think I was drawn in because her story resonated with where I am in my life right now…getting ready to break out of the pack of dogs and head out on my own. Away from the safety and confines of humans, into uncertainty and possibility. As I was preparing the facilitators to do the identity work with themselves and each other, I thought about how each one of them was making a “wolf” move just by being in that room. Then I watched them learn and question, advocate and query, open themselves up and make themselves vulnerable. Ahhhh…I was informed and comforted and encouraged by the participants. I knew that I’d come to work with the group for a reason, that I was going to get some learning from this community. Anna’s story provided one message that I knew I was supposed to hear. And then the second message came from this young woman with her hair wrapped in a colorful scarf. Her reflections on her responses to the Social Identity Profile blew me away. She talked about the intersectionality of gender, race, class and…height. Height? Height? How is height related to …anything? I don’t think I’ll ever forget her response. She talked about how her height determined so much…and she didn’t even realize until she saw how many times she’d checked it off on her profile worksheet. “Can you tell me more?,” I asked her. She looked at me and I could see her measuring the risk she could take, determining whether she was going to share her insights which might give me a peep at her deepest pain. She took a breath and she started. Being tall is hard if you are a poor Black woman. It determines everything. I looked at her quizzically. Let me explain, she said. I won’t raise my hand sometimes because my shirt, which was not made for a tall person, will ride up, showing my stomach. I don’t want that. I know that my shirt sleeves are not going to come all the way to my wrists…and it will look like my clothes are not really made for me. My pants stop right above my ankles…I think about that in the winter as I am preparing to go outside. I realized how much all of these things affect how I act…and I realized that I don’t talk, I don’t want to be seen…because of how I look. Now, she’d said things that I, as a 5’5” woman who is able to buy well-made clothes, had never even considered. When I saw the pain dance across her face as she talked about how she felt, I was dumbstruck. I think my mouth literally dropped open. I thanked her…told her that I’d never, in all the years that I’d been doing this exercise, heard an example quite like hers. She said, yes…most of the time when we think of height, it’s a good thing. And if you are a cis-gender white male, it’s good to be tall. But that is not the case for a poor tall Black woman. It was as if she’d taken a lens away from my eyes and I could see things that I had not seen before. And I was grateful. I asked her if she would share this insight with the whole group of her 55 fellow facilitators…only if she felt comfortable. This was her story, her life, her vulnerability to share. And I didn’t know if she would. But when we pulled the whole group together again, I saw her raise her hand for me to come to her. I saw her screw up her courage and gather her words. I looked at her and nodded and smiled, so that she could see that she was doing something so powerful. I watched the other participants take in what she said, I heard them gasp ever so lightly when she talked about her clothing and the impact…because you could viscerally feel her pain…you got it. I saw/heard some of them snap their fingers to say thank you, we appreciate your step into this precious space that we have created. I felt a wave of … feeling…support coming across the room to hold her and thank her. And I had the biggest hope for what this group of facilitators, in all of their variety of ages and genders and hues and sizes, was going to become. I think Anna has gathered together a community of wolves…yeah.

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