Have you ever had to defend yourself, your character or your beliefs? I have. It has taken me half of my lifetime to stand up and declare some of my strongest beliefs… one of which I am about to share, and tear off the band-aid that has been protecting my wounds.
I believe in cheering for the underdog, because I WAS HER.
WHY the underdog? Well, I have been able to relate to the underdog since I was a teen. Much like Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger from the 1993 American sports film, I have been determined to overcome the odds and especially when I was told I couldn't do something. (You are too small and too skinny. You haven't fully "developed" like the other girls.) I also know what it feels like to be the victim of a social injustice. While my experiences had a great impact on my life, they do not define me. They are a part of my journey, my growth, and who I am at my core.
As the underdog, I have always had empathy and sensitivity for the oppressed. Even at a young age. It wasn't until I understood what it actually felt like to be oppressed that my sensitivity quickly changed to compassion.
So recently, when a wise and respected friend challenged me to think about how I feel for the oppressor and the idea of having empathy and sensitivity for him or her, I knew I needed to speak up and share what has been at the core of my wounds.
I decided that today and every day forward, I need to declare what I stand for and what I believe. Because if we haven't met yet, I want you to know that without a doubt… “though she be but little, she is fierce”! Thanks for the quote, Will Shakespeare! ;-)
I do believe that having empathy and sensitivity for the oppressor is hard, and if you can open your heart to finding either of these for the oppressor than you can accomplish something even harder. It's called forgiveness. In my experience, forgiveness isn't given lightly. It isn't as easy as some may think.
At one point in my life I would have rather died than to forgive a certain person. I was 16 years old and my (inner) spirit had stopped breathing, my light had burned out. I was judged harshly. I was criticized. I was lied to AND about. I was harassed. I was bullied. I was unpopular. I was called a whore. I was told I would never be anything of value. I was told I would never do anything that mattered. I fought so hard to be heard. I desperately wanted to be understood. I fought for my truth. And you know what happened? No one listened. So I turned to silence and I grew weak... until a light flickered inside of me and everything changed.
I overcame my circumstances and I fought my way back. I wanted to prove that no matter what was said I knew better. I chose to rise above. I chose to break free of the misery and hardship that was forced on me. I persevered because I knew that I had a story to tell and I didn't want it to end there. I didn't want to remain silent. I wanted to be understood AND heard. I mattered.
What I want you to know is that my forgiveness for my oppressor was the ultimate act of love and grace. It was my way of acknowledging that we couldn't change the past and having hope that we could change the future. I know the gift of forgiveness because I have both given and received it. It allows you the understanding to see yourself as an imperfect human being and to see the other as one too.
So I'd like to challenge your opinions on forgiveness. It is not just a gift that you give yourself. It is also a gift that you give another so they can grow beyond their own suffering while receiving your acknowledgement, compassion and love.
I also believe that anyone who says forgiveness is easy or selfish has never stared in the eyes of their bully, rapist, attacker, abuser or oppressor and said "I forgive you" to their face.
- If they had, they would know that nothing about that was easy or selfish.
- If they had, they would know that it took a lot of hard work to get to that place.
- If they had, they would know that a part of you dies when you are oppressed, and if you are one of the lucky ones that part of you can also experience an incredible rebirth.
- If they had, they would know that you have spent a lot of time wondering why you were a victim and you have spent almost as much time trying to understand why the oppressor was so hostile or angry and how they got this way.
- If they had, they would know that it takes an extraordinary person to overcome this type of experience or suffering.
- If they had, they wouldn't assume that your act of forgiveness was just for you.
I read another MLK quote today from when he was just 38 years old and it challenged me to stand for something. Here is my version of his famous quote...
I am thirty-seven years old, and some great opportunity stood before me and called upon me to stand up for myself and those who have been bullied or oppressed. This is my great issue or cause. I am not afraid to speak out about it any longer. I am not afraid of your criticism. I am not afraid of losing my popularity. I am not afraid of taking a stand or speaking the truth or fighting for justice. You may not understand me and that's OK. I am no longer alone because "one with God is a majority. And God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority". Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr., for this very timely reminder.
I am Sarah. I believe in cheering for the underdog, because I WAS HER.