The Gift of Discernment
This gift came in the form of punishment. Not from GOD, but from the cruelty of others. One thing I have learned in this life is that; Ms. Patti LaBelle was correct. Beauty buys what a child gets for free (from her song “Little Girls”). What if you are not what the world considers beautiful? What is your path to survive in a world that already treats Girls and Women less than?
There is a running joke among female and male comedians. There are four types of women that are friends; the pretty one, the smart one, the whore and the ugly one. I have never been the pretty one. My Mom and Sister tried to make me more feminine, but I was just tall, awkward, smart and ugly. My brothers called me ugly, and my Mom would give me a bang to cover my large forehead as she tried to make me a beauty. (My discernment, something was wrong with the way I looked.) I just did not have her beauty; she was like a model. My friends and people in our community called her Ms. Movie Star.
When you are not pretty or beautiful you learn the discernment. You don’t have to pay real close attention for the lesson. If you are not careful you will be used by everyone. When your self-esteem is damaged by being called ugly you compensate. My other gift, GOD blessed me with a great amount of smarts and intelligence. My Mummy and Daddy sacrificed to send us (Six Kids) to Catholic school. This gave me a great head start in the world of academics and in life.
Now my double-edged sword/gift is that I am a Woman with a really deep voice. Imagine a little girl with two ponytails and a bang who sounds like a man. At age eight, I had to have my tonsils and adenoids removed, so the sound got deeper, like Lurch (From the Addams Family). Imagine when my Daddy asked me to speak and seeing the look of mortification on his face, from the sound of my voice. I stopped talking for a while. I didn’t participate in class or ask questions at my new school.
My Discernment, in that moment is that if my Daddy didn’t like it and he loved me, no one else would accept me. The new model, keep your head down, perform your work and be really good. After our Black Catholic school was shut down by the diocese and we were entering integration (I grew up in jim crow Mississippi). I attended school with White children and other Black Children. I learned that White people in the south, automatically assumed that Black Children were ignorant and dumb.
How was I able to discern this information? My deep and unusual voice got me assigned to a Tier 4 Classroom. (Today we call this Special Education (SPED)class) As a good Catholic girl, I was obedient and kept my head down as I was navigating a new environment. I was really tall for my age and so the stereotype was Big, Black, Athletic and Dumb. The first day of school 4th grade, my first class (Math) we were given a workbook and was told to perform the problems on the first page. I did as I was instructed and closed my book and put my hands down on my desk and sat in silence. This took all of 1–2 minutes. This was part of the manners we learned attending Catholic School. Being good by sitting still and in silence (Discernment; Speak when you are spoken to).
My teacher saw that I was sitting there with my workbook closed and asked me; Michelle have you completed the assignment? I nodded yes. She motioned me to come to her desk, so she could check my work. Every question was answered correctly. She gave me a puzzled look and requested that I complete the next page. She told me, once I was complete to raise my hand. Another minute; I completed that task and raised my hand. She came to my desk and checked my work. After this she told me to complete as many pages as possible. I completed the entire workbook in fifteen minutes. She was astonished.
She went across the hallway to another Teacher’s room and whispered to her. She showed her my completed workbook. She then asked that Teacher to watch her class as she went to the Principal’s office. When she returned, she told me to go see Mrs. Wilson. (I started crying.) My little child discernment was that I was in trouble, because I was going to the Principal’s office. In Catholic school that was never good. So I walked slowly down the corridor not knowing my fate.
I reached the Principal’s office with teary eyes and my note from my Teacher. I sat there crying and her secretary game me some tissues. Mrs. Wilson came out of her office and saw my distress. Her voice was calm and she asked; Why are you crying Michelle? I told her I thought I was in trouble because I had to come to her office. She told me I was not in trouble and to go clean up my face in the restroom. I washed my face and smiled. This situation was going to be better than I thought.
I returned to Mrs. Wilson’s office and her secretary told me to go inside. Then, she started asking me questions. First question; what school did I attend before WE Elementary. I answered St. Joseph’s Catholic School. She gave me the look of; this tells me some of the story. Second question; Where is your Cumulative Folder from St. Joseph’s? I lied to her and told her I didn’t know. I knew but, in my discernment, this answer was grown folks business. I responded that she would have to ask my Mummy. Even though I knew my records were being held for non-payment of my final tuition bill. My Family was working poor and struggling financially. (I knew not to speak about our struggles, especially to outsiders.) This was that unwritten rule of our Family, that facade so we would look good to the outside world.
Mrs. Wilson explained that I had been placed in the incorrect class. She informed me that the workbook I had completed would take the children in that class an entire half year and some the entire school year to complete. She said, because those children had learning disabilities and learned at a slower pace. I listened intently and did not say a word. Then she asked me directly, you are very smart, aren’t you? I just smiled. She then asked me, why I didn’t like to talk. My eyes got misty and I told her that I didn’t like being made fun of because of my voice. She gave me a hug and wiped my eyes.
She gave me a note to give to my Mummy. She told me to let my Mummy know that she needed to meet with her and my Daddy if possible. Then she told me, that I needed to be tested to see what learning level I was on. I was puzzled by this, because at St. Joseph’s everyone learned on the same level. We had one class for everyone. We were all taught to be smart. She told me to go to back to class and retrieve my things. I spent most of the day in her office. The next day I was going to be testing all day.
I reported to her office the next day and they set up my testing in a vacant classroom. This was the standard California Achievement Test given every year to measure aptitude in the different subjects. I was in my element; it was that one trait I knew I had. I was smart. I smiled and the Teacher that was testing came in the room with all the forms. All the tests were timed. I tested all the way through lunch. (Literally, they forgot to feed me lunch.) I inquired to the Teacher, if I would be able to eat lunch. She was mortified that they forgot to feed me. Lunch was over already and I was starving. They contacted the Lunch room Supervisor and they made me some Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches with Milk and two fruits. For a Kid that was a power lunch and special. After lunch I returned to Mrs. Wilson’s office.
She read the test reports and her eyes got really big. I was beginning the fourth grade and reading on an eighth-grade level. My comprehension was even higher. She remarked that, St. Joseph’s had taught me very well. I was beaming with pride. It was official, I was smart and there is proof. I held my head up high that day. My Mummy came to school after work to meet Mrs. Wilson. I was there with them for about thirty minutes and they let me go home with the rest of the children.
When Mummy came home from my school, she was very excited. Her eyes danced with joy. She gave me a big hug and kissed my forehead. She told my Daddy the great news, and he said, we know this child is smart. She has been smart this whole time. He hugged me and we went on with our Daddy and daughter routine. (My Daddy reared me primarily, because of me being the last child born.) My Daddy was a U.S. Navy Man and served over twenty years of military service. When we moved from Massachusetts to Mississippi, I was nine months old. Upon our arrival at the base, my Mummy gave me to my Daddy and said; this one is yours to raise, I am done. Yes, I am a true Daddy’s girl. If Daddy was performing a task, I was there with him.
I went to my new classroom the next day. My Teacher was really nice to me and said she read my report and that I was very smart. I just smiled. She introduced me to the class. I went and sat down at my assigned desk. Mrs. Bell was my Homeroom Teacher. She also taught us Reading and Social Studies. I performed very well in her class on paper. I still would not participate and answer questions aloud. She was concerned by this and we had to go and meet with Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Bell told her I was doing well except that I did speak or answer questions in class.
Mrs. Wilson prodded me to explain to Mrs. Bell, why I would not speak. I informed her (with my eyes tearing up) that I didn’t like to speak, because I didn’t like being made fun of by the other children. I told her if I was quiet and good, I would not get in any trouble. (My discernment, I wouldn’t have to fight the children that were teasing me.) Then she exclaimed that she would have to lower my grade if I didn’t participate in the classroom question and answer sessions. I was willing to accept this, but Mrs. Wilson was not having it. I had to report to her office every morning to help build my self-esteem.
First exercise, I had to say the Pledge of Allegiance over the loudspeaker every morning. She said to me before I started that, no one could see me. Mrs. Wilson said, remember Michelle, no one laughs during the Pledge, it’s a sign of respect as an American citizen. Then in an effort to get me to engage more with other students, I had to go around to every class selling pencils and erasers. Once all the other Children heard my voice they knew, I was the one reciting the Pledge. Some of them laughed because I was a girl. The Teachers stopped this behavior. (My discernment, work is important and it’s to be respected.) After a few months the sound of my voice became normal and I was answering questions and engaging verbally in class.
How does the gift of discernment work in my life today? I am honest about the traumas in my life. As a person that grew up as a people pleaser, with an underlayment of kindness. I am a doormat waiting to be stepped on. Not so fast, the gift of discernment has let me know that so called love, can be used like a sharp knife. A sharp knife is great as a tool in the kitchen and deadly as a murder weapon in the hands of an enemy. I have discerned that I will live my life as a person that is kind and loving. Does that leave me to be taken advantage of? In a cruel or evil person’s mind yes. In my mind, it means I give freely and know the signs of people that are duplicitous in their hearts. My Gift of Discernment leads me away from these people without hate or malice. (I don’t engage with mean and evil people.) If you cross me, I just drop you out of my life, because you are not a friend. You can’t love me, if you don’t love yourself. I just pray for these people and hope that GOD heals their hearts and souls. If you have the trauma of hate, cruelty or duplicitousness in your heart, read the gift Jesus gave us in The Beatitudes; in his Sermon on the Mount. If not watch The Help with Viola Davis. (You is kind, You is smart, You is important) This way you don’t become a Hilly Holbrook.