In grade school at Annunciation, I had one male teacher; his name was Mr. Hall. In a school full of nuns and female teachers he had a more relaxed approach to teaching and seemed to have more fun than most of our teachers. (I know that nuns are women but I was a child then and only saw their faces most of my time in grade school. Back then, the nuns wore habits and covered their hair until I was in seventh or eight grade; later on some began to wear regular clothes.)
Up until that point in time, Mr. Hall was the only educator that I can remember expressing a particular political affiliation. This was 1972 and he was a McGovern guy. After Mr. Hall mentioned his support for George McGovern, most of us assumed he was a Democrat.
During a class conversation about government, he encouraged me to consider a political career when I got older. I was always a leader in my class and maybe he saw something else in me that suggested that I’d be good in politics.
I told him “I’d run for office except I know that I would get angry if I saw people being treated unfairly.” I guess I saw anger as a disadvantage in leadership, or maybe it was more anger than I wanted to feel at the time. I was already angry enough about the inequities I saw in my school.
“That’s okay,” he said, “we need people who will speak up and that might mean being angry sometimes.”
I didn’t have a response, but I considered that maybe there were other ways to deal with injustice, ones that would not take so much out of me emotionally. Over the years I also learned that this culture chafes when women get angry; our anger is seen as not nice, too harsh, shrill, unladylike. Sometimes women are accused of being angry when they are simply using their voice, or speaking up for themselves. That’s not anger; it is exercising your right to express your opinion, even if the volume or vehemence is uncomfortable to some.
Over the last couple of weeks, my former teacher’s words have come back to me almost daily. I am angry, and disappointed. Not being “in” politics hasn’t saved me. I now realize that the only thing that will save me is action, getting involved, and opening my mouth. My family, friends, and colleagues know that I don’t shy away from hard conversations, and I have had some very frank discussions recently.
I don’t know where Mr. Hall is now; maybe he is retired and only occasionally reflects on his time as a teacher, but his words have stayed with me. I sense that many of you are angry too, maybe afraid or concerned that our country is being led off in a direction that we did not choose. What matters is our response to these feelings, and each one of us will have to determine what that will be.
When I was a child there was a TV commercial for Maxwell House coffee; a coffeepot gave off a musical whistle when the coffee finished percolating and was ready to serve. That is the kind of simmering, brewing outrage I see in people and in the media, and it is what we talk about when we are one-on-one, or in groups. The anger is almost unseen, like the water heating up in that pot, yet it is also the kind of anger that can erupt, prompting people to search for answers rather than simmer in their rage and disbelief. If anger drives me to positive action, and forces people to have tough conversations, then maybe it will do some good. Mr. Hall was right—we might need to get angry sometimes.