I’ve hesitated to write this blog post because it’s honest. Don’t get me wrong, all of my posts have been honest about what I’ve experienced so far and how those experiences have touched me, and worked in my life. But this post is more introspective, more honest into ME. This post is a conglomeration of some of the insecurities and concerns I’ve had this year that have only made a few very vague appearances in previous posts. And this doesn’t have so much to do with guilt as it does with perspective. So here we go:
I feel guilty for how much I love Los Angeles. The very first night in Hollywood I knew I was going to love it here. I left home and I haven’t looked back. Part of me is concerned about that: what kind of person leaves everyone she loves behind to move across the country to place where she’s never been and she knows no one? (Evidently people in this program.) But what kind of person hardly misses what she’s left behind because she’s so enraptured with the place she’s in? Is it selfish? Is it ok?
I feel guilty for being 18. I HATE when people ask me how old I am. I don’t even know how to explain the magnitude of that. Last week, one of our clients who is 23 point blank asked me, “Hey Row, how old are you?” She’s the first client to ever ask. It was so unexpected that I froze up and felt the blood drain from my face. “You’re an impostor,” my mind whispered to me. “You’ve been working with her and listening to her and helping her and now she will think that you are unqualified to give her any advice because you are only 18.” I started feeling nauseous because this is a huge fear of mine: To have clients (and well, anyone) learn how old I am and refuse to trust or respect me because I’m so young. My coworker chuckled and nudged me. “It’s ok,” he told me. “You can tell her how old you are.” I swallowed hard and forced those words I hate out of my mouth. “I’m 18.” Our client was silent. For a few agonizing moments every fear raced through my mind on a rapid cycle over and over, “she’s going to hate me now; she’ll never talk to me again; she’ll think I don’t know anything about the world; I don’t know if I can stand it if she shuts down on me now.” But nothing changed. She shrugged it off. I have to remind myself daily that individuals experiencing homelessness are some of the most non-judgmental people I will ever meet in my life. Many homeless individuals become homeless when they are very young themselves, and so they know what it’s like to be an adult at a young age. They know not to judge other people’s stories. But even still. At 18 years old, I feel like an impostor in a real adult world sometimes. I’m working in an intense environment. I have a lot of responsibility at work and at home. Most people in this program have graduated college and are in transition between school and a job. Most people in this program have been an adult for longer than a year. And though I know who I am, and what I can do, there’s nothing I hate more than the look on peoples’ faces when they hear the words, “I’m 18.” Everyone has their own perceptions and opinions of each age. As long as my age isn’t known, I can be judged by my actions and my competency. But as soon as my age is known, I have the label of that number and whatever it entails to each individual. And I hate that. Whether or not anyone holds my age against me, it’s still out there. And I’m still just 18.
I feel guilty for being white. But. Stop for one moment before you throw me on the white guilt bandwagon. That’s not what I’m talking about here, and as mentioned before, I hate being labeled by anything other than my own choices and actions. This has made me think a lot about how my skin color is one of the labels that takes a lot of labels away. As an Anglo individual, I have certain privileges that I wouldn’t have otherwise as a person of color, especially as an 18 year old, and as a woman. I find myself feeling frustrated when I know that sometimes I can fall back on the color of my skin for protection or for advantage when I need it and that’s guilt in it’s raw form. Here’s a passage from a poem I wrote a few months ago that sums up what I’m trying to say:
I walk to work in the morning, when the sky is still pink and gray; I try to smile when I pass by someone, but often they never meet my eyes and often, I admit, I never meet theirs.
I cannot see the way I look walking to work because my eyes are not on myself; I watch everything around me. But I do know, that on my walk to work, the only white person I see is myself. Me, with my light brown hair and hazel eyes. And I’m tall too; taller than even most of the men I see on my walk to work.
I know I stand out, and in the same way I don’t. Because I’m white. Because as a white woman, I’m never really out of place. I swallow down that frustration, that privilege, and the guilt for appreciating my comfort.
Do they ever wonder where I come from or why I’m here? Or do they not even give me a second thought when they see me walking to work every day? And when I forget that my skin is white and that I’m not from here, do they ever?
I feel guilty for not being. Another one of my coworkers has referred to Hollywood Boulevard as Broken Dreams Boulevard. And it’s true. Hollywood disappoints a lot of people hoping to make it, and Hollywood doesn’t have much compassion for those who can’t. There are times when I think about how I was raised in a nice community, and in a nice two parent family, in a nice Church, received a nice public education, and I wonder whether I will ever have the right to say, “I understand.” As much as I try, I cannot honestly say, “I understand,” when a client talks about an abusive home life, or childhood trauma. And I cannot say, “I understand,” when a client is going through withdrawal, or trying to quit using. I have no idea what it’s like to go through withdrawal, or what it’s even like to use drugs. I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless personally; to feel so hungry that I’d dig through the trash for food. And I thank God for the beautiful place I was raised in and for the support that I’ve that has allowed me to even be here in Hollywood. But despite hearing many stories, and meeting many people, in the end, it’s a lie to say “I understand,” when my only experiences are through other peoples’ lives. I never want to take what others are feeling lightly. I want to be able to admit when all I can do is feel their pain and walk beside them, because I’ve never had to walk the path myself. I may call this guilt, but I also think it’s important to be able to say when you don’t understand. I would never want someone assuming they knew what was best for me, or that they had the right to say they knew how I felt, if they had never personally experienced it before. And so I try to love and support, instead of saying that I understand where they are coming from. Maybe part of me does understand. Maybe my vast friendships and relationships and encounters have instilled in me an understanding and an empathy beyond my own privileged life. But I don’t take that for granted. And I’m not going to assume it does.
Maybe some of you know what I’m feeling in this post, and maybe some of you can’t say, “I understand.” But in the end, in the very end, we are all united by humanity itself. We are all people with fears, and insecurities, and guilt, and dreams, and goals.
Guilt can be crippling, but it can also be empowering. It forces me to look closely at my life and the way that it intertwines with the lives of others. It forces me to think about who I am, and where I am, and how to serve the people around me. It makes me realize that God has given me a chance to learn and grow and understand in ways that I never have before. And that is worth writing an uncomfortably introspective post listing all the reasons I feel guilty.
God bless ❤