No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.
Usually I got bored at the movies but this time, for maybe the first time in my life, I was being truly affected by what I was watching.
You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!
My first “activism” happened in kindergarten. I got my class to boycott nap time, pounding our little fists on the desk chanting “We want to learn! We want to learn!” My teacher sent home a report card that said “Ragen is an excellent student, but she leads small revolts.” I explained to my mom that I involved my whole class so I didn’t see how it could have been any bigger, and my poor mom had to explain that the teacher wasn’t suggesting that my revolt was too small. I was constantly getting in trouble for standing up for what I believed in, standing up to bullies, standing up for other kids, wanting to try to do things that adults insisted were impossible, and generally displaying characteristics that would have been valued if I was 20 years old instead of 6. My long suffering mother was at the school what seemed like every other week until I graduated – supporting me, defending me, showing me how to be an advocate.
Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go,”that’s baaaaad.” Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Sitting in that theater, watching that movie, it all came crashing in – the kind of person I was striving to be, and why.
O Captain! my Captain!
As I sat in the dark theater, sobbing as the credits rolled, I knew for sure that I wanted to spend the rest of my life standing on desks, inspiring others to stand on desks or, preferably, doing both at the same time. I went home and wrote down the quotes I could remember on index cards, starting with these two:
Oh to struggle against great odds, to meet enemies undaunted.
To mount the scaffold. to advance to the muzzles of guns with perfect nonchalance!
It was the start of a collection of quotes that would eventually be stored, handwritten, on hundreds of index cards. I would add to it whenever I heard something that inspired me – poetry, a passage from a book, a famous quote, song lyrics, whatever. I would read them when living in small towns with small-minded people where I never really fit in became overwhelming, and then in college when the work I was doing as a young queer activist seemed too daunting, too dangerous, or simply impossible. I have them, and read them, to this day.
The movie, Dead Poets Society, was also my introduction to Robin Williams, whose talent I was awed by. I became a great fan of his work – acting, comedy, late show appearances, Saturday Night Live – I would watch anything with him in it. He was on my dream list of people to take to lunch. When I heard that he passed away I was incredibly sad. Even more so when I learned that it was suicide likely linked to depression. Sadder still when I saw people discuss it in ways that suggest that they don’t understand depression. To me it’s a reminder of what can happen when we as a society ignore, blame, stigmatize, and fail to make treatment options accessible to, people dealing with depression and other mental illnesses.
Rest in Peace Robin Williams, and thank you.
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