How to Live Your Truth
"You feel your strength in the experience of pain." -Jim Morrison
“My dad says you people eat dogs.” The little boy hollers, running to catch up to me.
Caught off guard, I froze in mid-stride. I turned and stood blinking at him in that way you do after someone sucker punched you in the stomach.
Past his shoulders, I could still see my schoolyard. Class just let out, and I was making my trek home.
I recognized him as one of the younger brothers of the boy in my fifth grade class. They generally walk home in packs of six. I saw his brothers within earshot of us, hanging back a little, waiting to see how I would respond. Something told me they had put him up to it.
I felt tears stung my eyes, and I knew that was the reaction they were waiting for. I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. Somehow this thought steady my voice, and I found myself saying to him evenly, “No. We don’t.”
“Yes, you do. You eat dogs. Gooks eat dogs.” And off he went, running and laughing to his big brothers who took up the chant. They pulled down their eyelids in slants and spoke singsong nonsense while I walked the longest mile home.
“I wish I was back in Chicago.” I muttered underneath my breath. I’ve been speaking the words like an omen since I moved to this small cattle town in northeastern New Mexico.
At home, I asked Dad if he’d ever eaten a dog.
“No, I’m partial to chicken.” He said with a straight face.
“How about other Laotians you know, Dad? Do they eat dogs?” I persisted.
“If they did, I was never invited to that dinner. What’s this about? Are kids at school picking on you?”
“No, dad. No one’s picking on me.” I said before slumping away.
It wouldn’t have made a difference what my Dad told me. I already chose to believe the boy’s story.
In this small town, I was subjected to every level of intolerance. I would have bought every single story like the ones told by the boy if not for a few guardian angels. For nearly every hateful thing thrown at me, a group of trusted teachers and coaches were there to cushion the fall.
There was the vet who was hurting so much that he felt the need to strike out on a seventh grader (me) for the loss he experienced in Vietnam. His brother was killed in the line of duty, and he couldn’t understand why an enemy followed him home.
“Why don’t you stay in your own country?” he asked me, his eyes brimmed with hatred and pain. It was a question my then 13-year-old self could not find wisdom for, so I quietly told him that I was not Vietnamese, though I knew, as soon as I said it, that it didn’t matter. In his eyes, we were all the same.
He had approached me after I have given a speech on democracy. I was one of the students whom the local rotary club invited to speak at their function.
I remembered, as I stood there allowing myself to being shamed, that my teacher, Mrs. Rene Smith, swooped in and gently led the man by the elbow to a quiet corner of the room. I watched them traded words before he took off in a huff.
In her car, after telling me to buckle up, she drove us home in silence. I watched her knuckles clenched and unclenched while she was wrestling with some troubling thought. Finally, when she turned to look at me, I can see tears welling up on the corners of her eyes.
“You know, not all of us think like him.”
“I know, Mrs. Smith. He lost his brother. I kind of know how that feels.”
She nodded. “You’re a kind and gentle girl. I never want you to lose that important part of you. Promise me you won’t believe in other people’s stories, their version of you. It’s not your truth. These things are more about them, because many times, it is their pain talking. The moment you believe in their story, it becomes your story. Am I making sense to you?”
She made perfect sense.
Fear is born from the stories we tell ourselves. When these stories no longer serve you – that is, they no longer align with your values and character – it is time to tell a different story.
This is not the same as swapping one illusion for another.
To figure out what’s true, here are a few suggestions.
Write the fear fiction down on paper.
Share it with someone who knows you best, whom you trust.
Turn it upside down, inside out. Is there another side to this story that may be closer to the truth?
Meditate on it. Pray about it.
What does your intuition tell you? What does your track record show?
If the story is coming from another person, what may be the person’s intentions? What’s the underlying hurt?
Does this opportunity present a lesson?
If not, can you forgive, let go, and move on?
Accept no one else’s version of you. You know the original and true story. That is the only one that matters. Be brave enough to claim it. Live your truth.