“What it all comes down to, Is that everything’s going to be fine, fine, fine, ‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket, And the other one is giving a high five.” -Alanis Morissette
She’s the sort of person who would hop on board immediately after even just a short description of what it is I wanted to do with this project I’m working on—where my goal is to interview 100 people and ask them virtually the same things about their lives. The questions are open-ended and point to the true answer I’m seeking: tell me who you are and tell me why you’re here. And, reader, I’ve thought through what this project should be called and have thought up a couple different themes or titles but in my gut I know this project isn’t something I’m naming, but rather it is constantly being named and renamed by the people who are brave enough to let me into their worlds. So this project is called, simply: The Anonymous
It’s an hour and a half until her grad-level stats course and I find her in the middle of a Starbucks with her head bent over her work. I approach the table and she looks up, a smile on her face, and suddenly the attention has shifted from work. I extend the greeting and take my end at the opposite end of the table, asking her if she’d like to grab a table outside where there’s less noise. She agrees and grabs her book-bag, following me to a table under some war-torn umbrellas.
I explain the process, confirm the anonymity of this interview, snap a photo of her hands, promise we can take some more pictures at the end of the interview after we both frown at the results, and press the record button. Prior to the interview, I’d asked for her favorite lyrics but she hadn’t been able to make up her mind. “Okay,” I say easily, “What did you listen to last?” And the song was an older one, sung by Alanis Morissette, called Hand In My Pocket. She tells me she loves the first verse because it represents how your physical state doesn’t have to affect your emotional state, that you can still hold out your hand even when you’re going through tough times. As the interview unravels, she shows her full self to be someone who is both creative and curious, both intelligent and kind, while holding a determination to leave a mark on this world she’s proud of.
Her childhood was split into three parts, she explains. She was born in Kentucky and then moved with her family to Illinois, finally landing in Missouri where she lived until her early teenage years. With those childhood days, she equates freedom and a lack of expectations–something she believes is difficult to bring into adult life. “When you’re an adult, everyone expects you to be something,” she says, “When you’re a child, other kids just expect you to be you and so when you meet up with another little kid to go play they’re just like, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ and after that everything is accepted. You know, as an adult everyone expects something of everyone else. You come in with preconceptions, you know, they’ve already locked you in a box before you even started talking. ” Expectations, she says, are something that’s difficult to not deal with as an adult, oftentimes feeling the pressure to achieve.
These days she lives in Greenville, South Carolina with her husband and cats–three of her personal favorites. She works as a registered behavior technician, working with children on the autism spectrum to help improve their quality of life. On top of maintaining a work life and a home life, she spends her evenings taking courses for her masters degree in Psychology with a concentration on applied behavioral analysis, which she intends on completing in early 2020. Outside of school and work, some of her favorite things are spending time with her husband, when the fall weather becomes cool enough for her to bring out her sweaters, and grabbing coffee with friends. But her favorite place to be is with her own thoughts, holding a deep love of music and expanding her knowledge as much as she can. Being alone and processing her own thoughts, she explains, is how she recharges so she can be present with her loved ones and give them her full attention.
We get through the basics, with her explaining her work and me jotting down notes and writing in numbers from the recording to go back to and direct quote. I ask her what she’s here, on this planet, to do.
“What am I on this planet to do?” she repeats the question to me, allowing a brief second to think. “Help people.”
“In what ways?” I ask, looking up from my notes. She looks off towards the parking lot when she answers questions, like she’s searching for the words to articulate exactly what she believes.
She expands, “Help people to heal, [be] loved, and cared for and when I come in a room I want people to feel like it’s good to be there with me. And I want to help improve quality of life. Like if I were to just disappear off the planet I would like people to think that their lives were better because I touched them in some way.”
But the road to being someone who helps others isn’t an easy one. Working 8-10 hour days in the presence of extreme emotion can be emotionally draining at times, she says, explaining what it’s like to need to be the calm during those moments when emotions and behaviors can become extreme. “When someone’s in crisis mode, the tiniest bit of extra chaos is going to send them to a whole other level of chaos. So you have to make sure that you are the antithesis of chaos –you are placid, you are a calm lake to their storm because the minute you bring that calm it’s going to deescalate the behavior immediately.”
And what is one thing she wishes she didn’t have to deal with? I ask the question, leafing over my notes and glancing up carefully. She tells me that she wishes she didn’t have to deal with the ignorance of others, either personally or professionally. For an example, she tells me a story of a man who approached her and a client at McDonald’s. “What’s that kid’s problem?” the man had asked, leaving her unsure of what to say so she just walked away. “That level of ignorance about people and how they’re different and how even if they’re different they can mean something in this world, really gets to me and personally, when people don’t understand the differences of others–we all look different, we all sound different, we all act different and when people don’t understand that and expect everyone to fit in a box it bothers me.”
Despite the frustration, she is still on a mission to leave this world better than she found it. Education, she believes, is the way to a kinder, more understanding world. One of the things she’d love to do with her time on earth is to help educate people on the variance of other people around them. “I feel like if people were more educated on diversity, I feel like everyone would be a little more kind to one another. There would be more understanding. And kindness and love are the two biggest things, I feel like, for someone to have,” she explains, emphasizing the importance of kindness in a world full of diversity. She believes judging other people based off of perspectives can’t be done because every person comes from such different cultural, neurological backgrounds.
I ask her what kindness would look like, how it would affect the world we live in.
“Kindness, I view as kind of a form of love,” she explains, “Kindness is loving someone no matter how they’re acting and responding in a way that even if you don’t understand them completely, you’re putting forth your best effort to understand.”
We chat a bit more about her ideas and the importance of a kind world, but with my final question I ask her what she would have as her epitaph, if she could choose it, and she thinks for a minute, looking back out towards the road like she’s accumulating all the thoughts she’s ever had into a simple sentence. It’s a hard question to answer, asking someone to summarize everything they want out of this life, but she comes up with her answer fairly quickly.
Her answer is simple, but profound:
“She cared,” she says, pausing briefly. “She cared and she loved.”