Written in 2017
My relatives have always been the kind of people that like to argue at the dining table. They like to think it makes lively conversation to discuss a touchy subject, but more often than not, it leads to several of them leaving the table with a scowl and a sour taste in the mouth. As I grew up, I learned the hard way that it is better to limit yourself to be an observer in these situations and that keeping your thoughts to yourself and writing them later serves you far better than arguing with your relatives. My aunts and uncles, however, are not of the same opinion.
“What is abundance?” My uncle asks the whole table. “Because I have been trying and trying to understand it and to grasp what it really means, and I just hit dead ends everywhere. So, what do you think?”
That’s a good question, I think as I look down and start to eat my soup quietly.
“It is when you feel you have plenty, that you never will lack something”, my aunt says.
I continue to eat the soup.
“It is when you have a lot of wealth”, says my cousin.
My uncle shakes his head and turns to me. “What do you think, mija? You are always connected, and you have read a lot. I want to know what you think.”
I smile, it warms my heart that my uncle asks me to speak my mind, and I know it is not to drag me into awkward conversations but because he genuinely wants to know what I have to say.
I look inside my mind’s archives for what I have read and heard and learned about abundance, and I try to form a thought that conveys what I believe to be true about it.
After a few seconds, I venture: “I believe abundance is something you are, rather than something you have. A state of being. Of giving freely because you know the source of where that came from is infinite… that being love, or money, or freedom, or joy, or—”
“Ugh!” My aunt’s grunt cuts me off and everyone turns to look at her.
She looks at me with fire in her eyes and with contempt in her voice she says, “You can only say such things because you have always had everything given to you, you have never lacked anything! Your parents have given you everything you have ever wanted, and you are way too fortunate to know what it’s like to have to work for what you have! You have never suffered so you cannot know what you are talking about so you shouldn’t even speak!”
Silence falls over my wide-eyed family. Even I, who has always known that this particular aunt has never liked me, am too stunned to speak. And I am sure now that part of her disliking me is the things she just said. Thoughts rush through my mind, But I do work hard! But I have suffered too! I have lived through the deaths of loved ones! My parents got divorced! I have buried a baby! I have seen and survived tough things! I know what it is to feel sad and broken and lonely!
I don’t say any of this because it all seems pointless and because in the back of my mind a small voice is asking: Why do I have to have suffered in order to have an opinion, to have something valuable to say, something worth listening to?
However, I don’t ask this either. I just press my lips together and look down at my soup. I barely hear what my grandmother says next, trying to deviate the conversation to a lighter place.
This is but one of the many instances in which I have been silenced, disregarded, or dismissed because I am too inexperienced, too young, too naïve, too innocent, too fortunate, too lucky, too loved to be able to speak about such topics as abundance, grief, success, violence, feminism, money, love, and anything really. After all, happy people, abundant people, lucky people, positive people, loved people can’t possibly understand what it is to feel grief, or pain, or heartbreak, or hopelessness, or loneliness.
This, of course, is bullshit because we have all lived through tough stuff and we have all had obstacles to overcome. Nobody is exempt from hardships, but it always amazes me how many people actually believe some people are, and how easy it is to confuse positivity, resilience, kindness and the relentless desire to see the good in even bad situations as naivety and lack of experience or knowledge.
In this world, it seems, suffering and going through tough things gives you the right to speak. And the worst thing is that, after people repeatedly tell you this, you start to believe it.
And the saddest thing was that when a few years later, a terrifying thing that left me shattered in pieces happened to me, one of my first conscious thoughts was: “Now, nobody can tell me I have not suffered. Now, I have earned my right to speak”.