“The road may be long, but it is not dull for long as the hero faces many adventures along the way. Each trial may be more difficult than the last as the hero grows in confidence and capability.”
When discussing the recent unfoldings of my Fellowship with a wise woman in my life, she said, “Asia…you have started on the road of trials.” Described by the quote above, the road of trials is often referenced in storytelling as part of the hero’s journey as the series of challenges, “battles”, and personal struggles that lead to the hero’s growth and development. In this story, I’m the hero, although on 95% of days I feel the farthest thing from it, and as of right now, I can say that the road of trials is testing me in the deepest, most difficult ways.
A view while hiking along the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
This journey has demonstrated to me the deeply entrenched systems of power and oppression that impact our lives in a multitude of ways, and rob us from potential richness and learning. When I started my Fellowship journey, “inclusivity” was being tossed around like a buzzword, and now, it feels central to my very existence and is the motivation behind every conversation, every question asked, and every action I take. I’ve learned that inclusivity is so beyond accessibility and being conscious of language, it’s about valuing people and fostering spaces where their voices are acknowledged and celebrated. Inclusivity is about seeing how each individual human being is critical to the whole, and about valuing all people as belonging to and enriching our humanity. Another wise woman in my life shared that inclusion is about letting go of our sense of control. It requires challenging power hierarchies that place value on certain voices causing the marginalization of the voices of others. This lens, as you can imagine, is very difficult to carry as an individual, and a huge piece of my current struggle is convincing people that it is critical to value inclusion and demonstrating that it’s worth investing time and energy into.
Inclusion is not something that shows up overnight. Fostering true inclusion requires work, persistence, and a bold fire. It also requires a willingness to be vulnerable and question the ways in which we are implicated in contributing to exclusive spaces. Inclusion in my community goes against every single societal stereotype that operates here, and the word itself shakes up power dynamics that operate in this space. When we think about the huge systems of oppression that I’m coming up against, there is no question that patience and trust in the process are critical here. All I feel I can do is continue to bring the agenda forward of amplifying the voices of those who are at the bottom of society’s power hierarchies. As this agenda has been brought forward, I’ve come up against a multitude of barriers. I’ve lost support from people who hold a lot of power in my community, I’ve connected with the grief in realizing how consistently people with disabilities are silenced, and I’ve struggled to find clarity around this Fellowship and how I want to define success for myself for the coming year.
Part of the beautiful Hearts & Hands community
The theme of inclusion has been the catalyst of my road of trials, even beyond this community that I’m working in. One of my mentors spoke to me about how those who work in the field of disability activism are often hit by disability in a very personal way as the “personal is political”. This has manifested in my grandfather, a member of my family that I deeply care about whose eye sight is continuing to decline, and whose mobility is worsening as well. My grandfather now defines himself as a person with a disability, and is in a place of self-doubt, frustration, and a whole lot of anger since his disability is something that has developed with age. He believes that if he “works hard enough”, his mobility will make a turn around and he will be able to walk “normally” again. What a painful, powerful, and enraging example of how deeply entrenched the expectations around us contributing to a capitalistic society are. I’ve now transitioned into a role of having to convince my family that our behaviour needs to change if we are to ensure that my grandfather feels included and valued. While this particular example breaks my heart, it also fuels my fire and has forced me to continue to find ways of transforming my grief into motivation, anger, and boldness.
The dichotomy of inclusion and exclusion has showed up in one other place, and that is surrounding how I value and assert my own voice. Even I have found that there are a multitude of spaces in which I do not believe my voice is important, and I find myself waiting to be invited into conversations rather than claiming space with confidence. What I’m continuing to reflect on and learn about is how do I, as a young woman who holds a lot of privilege, find ways to navigate a society that is layered with exclusive spaces, pieced together by pockets of dialogue in which my voice will not be assumed to be important, and how do I create space for my voice despite fears of rejection, aggression, and dismissal. I don’t have answers as of now, but when I think about success, I believe that if a single individual leaves this Fellowship believing their voice matters and that they are valued despite the messages they have internalized from their surroundings, regardless of whether it’s a core member of L’Arche, my grandfather, or myself, then this initiative will have been successful. If one person believes that their voice is important and that they are worthy of inclusion, my belief is that they will never go back to thinking they don’t matter. When questioning whether this outcome would be worth the money that I’ve had the privilege of receiving to do this work, one of my closest friends reminded me that to the one person I impact, it will be worth more than any sum of money. I think it’s important that I try to keep connecting with that as I move forward through the coming months.
My friend Lisa & I walking in Antigonish!
A central element of the road of trials is that the hero leaves each battle a little stronger, a little more confident, and with a whole lot of learning. I’ve continued on this road collecting gems that serve to guide me as I journey down this path. I’ve learned about what I need for my bold fire to stay burning, and the struggles have forced me to test the strength of my support system, who have been completely unwavering in their solidarity. As mentioned, I’ve learned how to transform grief into motivation. I’ve learned sign language and the tiny ways I can adjust my behaviour to include people in conversations regardless of the ways they communicate. I’m continuing to learn how to gently challenge people on the way they define “ability” and how they normalize verbal communication. I’ve learned a whole lot about sitting with uncertainty, discomfort with my own privilege, and deflecting expectations that others project onto me. I’ve learned about participation and both the incredible rewards, and the incredible challenges that arise when fostering true participation. I’ve learned about saying “no”…and about when it’s important to say “yes”. I’ve learned that even though the work I’m attempting to do is not necessarily new, that does not mean it’s not valuable. I’ve learned that support doesn’t have to come from the people who we define as most powerful (what does it say about the work I’m doing when support is unwavering from those who have the least “power”?), and that I deserve to be the hero of my own story.
Adventures on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton
This blog post doesn’t really read as a “Fellowship update”, but similar to what my soul sister Rachel said in terms of responding to people that ask how it’s all going, I have responded with “ups and downs”. There are days when I feel we’re moving forward and I’m finding allies in the work I’m doing, and there are days when I feel completely lost and unclear on the value of me being in this community. I think her post is a beautiful reminder to value what we’re learning rather than focussing on what our society would typically define as an “accomplishment”. I hope that as I move forward I can connect with my inner hero on more than 5% of days, and my intention is to continue to celebrate how this work is transforming my life in more ways than I can count.
One final tidbit of wisdom I’ve been privileged to have had shared with me is this:
“You can’t know how things will unfold. All you can do is show up every day. If you commit to showing up, you’re getting exactly what you need from this and so is everyone else.”
Incredible humans…keep showing up. Stay connected to your bold, powerful, and tender hears, and continue to remind yourself that what you’re doing is important and worthy of celebration. We can’t know or even begin to predict what’s going to happen in our communities, and I think that’s a huge gift. Cheers to the unknown and to a road of trials that will teach us, challenge us, and catalyze our growth.
With gratitude, and with a voice that is worthy of inclusion and acknowledgement,