When I stumbled across the quote by Shirley Chisholm, I had never known a quote that so accurately defined me. It was instantaneous. It drew my heart and pulled my soul. I could feel it resonating deep inside me. It was palpable. Was I being too dramatic? Nah. I know dramatic. (Trust me. Anyone who knows me would nod emphatically at that statement.) This wasn’t that. This was real. As you get to know my story, the explanation for how that quote could have captured me so much will hopefully unfold.
(Insert mental picture of a folding chair being unfolded for dramatic imagery.)
Anyway, I realize there are people who might question how that particular quote could have so much meaning. They may say, “But, Rosanne. There are so many other quotes that have so much more connection to your faith or your moral conviction. Wouldn’t one of those be more fitting?”, to which I would say, “Let me tell you about my chair…”. And, that’s how my conversation would start. Or stop. Depending on the person.
But, since this conversation doesn’t depend on anyone other than me, I’m going to tell you a little about my chair.
To be fair, I didn’t grow up thinking I didn’t belong. I didn’t face discrimination. I wasn’t really bullied. I was rarely excluded (except in my own mind). So not “having a seat at the table” didn’t really resonate with me. Until now. And, to more adequately describe it, it could have resonated with me years ago. But that is all part of the point. I knew for a long time that I wanted something. I knew I was fighting for something. There was something I kept tugging on, clinging to. I had that “white-knuckled” grip that refuses to let go. But I couldn’t see what it was. Things were foggy. My vision was blurry. Usually from tears, but sometimes from exhaustion or smoke. Not actual smoke. Just the kind of smoke that comes from lies, manipulation, abuse. The stuff that clouds every real thing and makes you think you can’t see straight, so you’re forced to trust what is the loudest thing in front of you. Not because you want to, but because it’s constantly waving in your face, blocking your view. So you try to trust it. But it’s a very flimsy trust. Not really trust at all. More like resignation and acceptance, knowing there’s something else in the distance, but you may never be able to see it clearly enough to trust it more than that obnoxious, fear-causing thing in front of your face. Somehow, though, I inherently knew that I could clear my eyes. I didn’t know when I would or how I would, but I knew I could. And when I finally did, I realized what it was I was clinging to. It was my chair.
MY chair. My chair that belonged to me. My chair that I could hold. My chair that I could carry. My chair that I could take with me. My chair that gave me a place to rest no matter where I was. My chair that I could unfold wherever I felt like being a part, and my chair that I could fold up when I no longer felt like being where I was. My knuckles were white (and bruised and scarred and, in some places, still bleeding) from the life-grip I had had for over two decades. Without understanding fully what I was doing, I had been holding on to my chair. Because that chair was my space. My belonging. My world. My life.
Which brings me back to that quote. I spent over 20 years refusing to die, clinging to “my chair”, and realizing, when I read those words that Shirley Chisholm so brilliantly wove together, that what I wanted, what I needed, and what I would never let go of was my right to have a seat at the table.
And that is what this blog is about. This is my seat at the table. My voice.
My folding chair.