Falling: An Education
This story was inspired by everything. Most directly, it is the product of: this song, this song, my experience reading this book, our discussions in class, and a conversation Anne and I had last Wednesday.
Falling: An Education
Some of my earliest memories are of asking questions. I wanted to know why the car turned on when you put the key in the ignition, why it was wrong to hit my friends when they refused to share their fruit roll ups with me, why trees grew so tall, and why I had to eat Brussels sprouts even though they tasted like barf. Usually, my parents spoiled me with answers. They spent time sharing, teaching, and arguing with me so that I could understand the world. But even the indulgent have their limits, and when my incessant questions began to grate on their patience, my parents told me that I was being a “Why Machine” and that I needed to go and entertain myself. Even though it came from a place of exasperation, I took the epithet as a term of endearment. I loved being a Why Machine, it made me feel like a superhero! Asking questions was my superpower. As a Why Machine, I could solve all problems just by asking the right questions.
In pre-school, having a superhero alter ego was cool, but in elementary school, it wasn’t anymore. Make believe was replaced with reading, art projects, and violin lessons. Honestly, I don’t think I missed being a Why Machine that much. I was excited to be in elementary school because I finally felt like I was actually a big kid. I liked the worksheets, and the rules, and the lunchroom. I liked it all. Besides, my new endeavors had tangible products: I could talk with my friends about stories, I could make potholders, and I could play Minuet in G. I was happy.
In fourth grade, my mom brought home a book called: The Book of Knowledge. It was encyclopedic and filled with facts that explained why the world worked, written simplistically, so that nine-year-olds would understand it. I loved this book. I loved its straightforward, uncomplicated story of the world. Sometime after reading it, I decided that asking questions was only worthwhile if I could have their answers too.
* * *
Over winter break this year, my grandmother asked me why I had decided to learn about science in college. I told her that I had been enthralled with the story of why the world works for forever. I love science because it tells this story in a way that it is easy for me understand. It’s a simple story, full of faith. It’s a story that makes me happy. At the end of our conversation, in the way that only grandmothers can, my grandma smiled. She told me she was glad that I liked school again.
For most of my life, I loved school. For me, it has been a place of success. I am good at meeting standards and getting people to like me and turning things in on time. When I was 19 though, I did not love school. Sophomore year, my world was shaken, and I fell. I fell hard. I was consumed by my falling. I couldn’t think about anything else. Nothing made sense. I was scared. I was scared because I lost faith in the stories I loved that had taught me everything I knew. I lost faith in the story of science, in the story of Judaism, in the story of my family, in the story of my life.
So I left school.
I planned a year of making things. I desperately needed to re-ground my life in things that were real--things I could touch and feel and trust. Ironically, before I left home, I went on a tirade against reality. At dinner one night, I belligerently announced that I couldn’t believe in anything anymore because everything was constructed. Everything was fake! My family could sense my pain, and told me calmly that I was going to be OK, that actually, there were very real problems in the world and that they knew I would make very real solutions. In response, I rolled my eyes.
And then, I made things. Last year, I made mittens and compost and bread and spoons and spreadsheets and music and community. It was great, real. I decided about halfway through that year that I was going to come back to college. It felt necessary to me, and my parents thought it was a good idea too.
So I returned. I returned willingly, happily even, with renewed confidence in my ability to trust and make sense of the world. What I wasn’t expecting, what I didn’t want, was to fall. I had had enough of that in college already. I just wanted to finish.
* * *
But as fate would have it, I fell. I fell last week. I fell into Persepolis. Something about the form of the story shook me, and I fell in. For those 300 pages, I was Marjane Satrapi, and I lived through the Islamic Revolution. At the end of the book, I was confused.
Who was I now? What did this mean?
Once again, I was consumed by my falling. I spent most of last week in my head. My thoughts weren’t cohesive like I expect them to be, and I was a little scared. And then, I made a decision. I decided to give myself to the fall, to stop trying to break it, to stop forcing meaning onto my experience. I decided that--even though I am Aliza, and I’m only 21 years old, and I’ve lived in the United States for my entire life, and I’ve never worn a head scarf-- I am Marjane Satrapi and I have lived through the Islamic Revolution. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s a fact.
To me, it feels like a fact that can change the world.
I believe that all of the bad that I am responsible for in this world stems from my compulsion to objectify#. I turn my experiences into objects when I reduce them by deciding that they mean something. If I had to, it wouldn’t take me that long to give meaning to my experience reading Persepolis--I like trite statements. But that would violate my experience, objectify it. Even more, if I did that, it would objectify the story of Persepolis, the story of Marjane Satrapi, the story of me.
We objectify when we construct meaning. We objectify when we don’t give ourselves time to honor stories exactly as they really are. When we resist the temptation to impose meaning on a story, we might be able to just accept it. We might allow ourselves the opportunity of experiencing that story exactly how it is supposed to be experienced. When this happens, we will empathize. We will change the world.
When I explained the story of this paper to my friends at dinner a couple of nights ago, they were skeptical. They said that there are complicated stories behind every fact and experience, and that we should absolutely try to understand those stories. They feel that stories do mean something, something important. Then they questioned if it was even possible to go through life without constructing meaning. I didn’t have answers, or even a coherent response, but afterward, as I was thinking about that conversation, I thought of a song that I love a lot. It’s a lullaby:
Find yourself in harmony
Let go of all your fears
And you’ll find that the place to be is right here
Right here, right now
When I sing this song, I can feel myself fall. I feel myself falling into the moment, falling into the song of my story, falling into the voices of all of the stories that make the world, falling and becoming almost complete...
Sometimes, this feels a little overwhelming. But falling is supposed to be overwhelming! It’s supposed to be scary! It's supposed to consume! It's not supposed to make sense! This is what makes it transformative. Falling changes me, it lets me accept my experiences fully, it makes me a better person.
What makes you a better person?