I often don’t understand how other people see me or why they are seeing me that way. I don’t mean that about negative things. It is more sort of general. And it’s mostly about things I am doing that I have kept from myself.
I understand now that I care very much about my students, but I didn’t used to know that. Or I didn’t know what made them able to perceive that I cared. I remember one talk I had with a therapist. “How do you show people you care?” “Well, you look happy to see them.” That wasn’t the only way she mentioned, but it’s the easiest one to observe.
I didn’t know about many of my feelings. I didn’t know I felt happy to see them or that my happiness was showing in my face.
Because I am happy to see my students when I run across them playing football outside or loitering outside the shops. Yesterday, I went buying vegetables. From across the street came a loud chorus of “Good evening, madams…” I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I don’t really have any idea of who they were. But I’m sure they were my students. Other days, the boys will come to the edge of the field and bow and say “Good afternoon, madam.”
Now, they are supposed to greet us, but there is no real requirement that they need to yell from across the street or stop playing with their friends some distance away from the road and come closer. They do this because they want me to see them. They know that I like seeing them. They know I will be happy to see them, and they like that feeling of having someone being happy to see them.
They feel wanted.
These days, I can feel that sense of happiness in seeing them. I couldn’t before, and so all of that kind of thing was a bit of a puzzle. How did they know they were wanted? What was I doing? And because I could not feel what was in my heart, I looked only at what I did. And maybe if I needed to, I would make up reasons for what I was doing that seemed in line with not feeling too much.
But I did feel. I just didn’t tell myself.
Yesterday, I looked down from my bedroom window and saw Madame Kay standing in the street with her friends. I put my shoes on and went down afterward. They were in the shop on the ground floor, looking at earrings. I went and sat in a stool behind her. She didn’t realize I was there. A minute later, one of her friends told her I had come, and so she turned. She stretched out her hand to me the way she does, took mine in hers, looked happy to see me.
I was thinking today Madame Kay makes me feel wanted. I went down from my house to see her because I felt confident I would be wanted when I got there. And I felt that way because she does these small, small things: she looks happy to see me. And maybe it isn’t every time I happen to wander across the field of her vision—she is not hypervigilant the way I am—but it’s often enough that I understand it as a kind of general truth.
There are a few implications to this: when you are raised by people who don’t care about others, you don’t grow up with any general sense of being wanted in the world or by those most important in your life. Whether you are wanted or not is a constant, open question. You don’t feel secure about it. You wonder. And some part of me is like that too.
But, more importantly, I did not want to be here in this world or to be a part of it. So I did not want to see that I was wanted in the world or to feel happy that I was wanted. I did not want to see that I want others either. It is both too dreadful to be involved in the world and too precarious. Better to stay uninvolved and to maintain a kind of distance from it all. And yet I wasn’t maintaining a distance. I was involved.
I kept that from myself—my involvement in the world—but also the feeling of being wanted.
I am wanted. I am wanted here in this community. I am wanted in my classroom by the students. I am wanted at the school by the teachers. When I write in this blog, my readers want me to be here. Not everyone is going to like everyone else, and not everyone is going to like me. But, generally, overall, I am wanted in my little corner of the world by those around me. I couldn’t see that. I couldn’t see in your comments that all of you want me in the world.
I could perceive it. I have been neither blind nor stupid. But I denied it.
And it means my vision of the world is distorted. My vision of myself is distorted. I cannot tell you how much I will have to rearrange the thoughts in my head based on removing this one little brick of denial, but if you have to do this yourself from time to time, then maybe you know what I mean.
I think I had better get started.