It has been a week. I've been watching the the reports from France and remembering.
Out to dinner, one of my companions, surveying the menu asks "what is gateau?” Cake, I say without hesitation. Some one else asks are you French? Partly, I say, also without hesitation. I explain that I grew up listening to it, and try to stop there. It’s complicated and I don’t always want to explain how I developed an ear for language listening to my partly white, partly black, french-speaking English teacher father, who sometimes spoke proper French, sometimes a partly-French partly-German version spoken in Alsace-Lorraine.
I remember one day teaching, during a first day of class introduction exercise a young woman introduced herself saying she was nervous to be speaking in class, because she is French. Another young woman jumped up to admonish her “What kind of French girl are you, saying you are nervous? You have to be strong and show people what we are all about!" They became fast friends and represented their culture well all semester.
Watching the people of France surge back to cafes and restaurants as an act of defiance, I remember some of my father's defiance. I remember how he refused to compromise his integrity to get ahead. I remember his admonitions: always do your best, don't settle for mediocrity, but also manage to...enjoy the moment. I remember going with my father to small, good restaurants for fresh crab, or clams, to a good play or an exhibit that wasn't well known. I remember how a raised eyebrow from him conveyed that certain popular books, music or films I was eagerly consuming were somehow not all they could be. I learned not to make a statement I couldn't back up, not to accept a theory that couldn't be explained in plain language, not take things at face value. I learned to be skeptical and discerning, without losing any of my enthusiasm.
I learned growing up in a household with one biracial parent and one bisexual one that few things are as they seem, and that people who are not easily categorized must be careful who they reveal their identities to. I remember the first time client called me in tears to ask if I could work with her without judging her sexual practices. I remember wondering what was wrong with my (then new) profession that she had to ask such a question.
Today as I eagerly consume research to understand what really helps clients, I must remain skeptical that some theory is all it claims to be. There is too much at stake. I can't forget how my parents, friends and clients have suffered defying easy categorization. There are many ways to be defiant. Mine is to not accept things at face value, to always do my best and to...enjoy the moment. I am partly French after all.