Tuesday, March 12, 2013

We Learned to Love

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

“There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.”
Fred Rogers aka Mr. Rogers

It’s been said there are no accidents in life, there are only divine coincidences. Is it a coincidence that I was asked to speak during this Lenten season about In My Family we…? Lent, a time for reflection, prayer, penance, and doing good things.

We grew up approximately 9 miles from Cambridge in the town of Arlington. In my family (3 brothers and one sister and parents) we went to church together, ate dinner together, were taught that it’s better to give than receive, and that there is always someone worse off than we are. We lived and learned a modest life, with no discussions of college for any of us. My mother made the girls clothes which were often matching, although we aren’t twins, and hand-me-downs were acceptable wear. I attended parochial school and spent some of my “formative” years there. I was taught by nuns and these women led a life of devotion to God, but what was their real reason for becoming a nun?

In my family we were told about the many people who had less, who were starving, and often were told during a meal that we didn’t like, “there are children starving in Biafra”.  As children we didn’t know where Biafra was but would have been happy to send an unwanted meal there!

I moved out when I was 21, thinking I knew what was best. This was a time of discovery for me. I never felt that I belonged, I felt different. I didn’t know what it was about me, but knew I was different. I was taunted in high school with “are you a boy, or a girl?”  I knew I wasn’t interested in men, but didn’t know there was any choice in life, so thought I’d become a nun. In my family we didn’t talk about people having choices in life style, or who you married. In my family we don’t handle communications well, we don’t argue, we just don’t talk about a lot of things.

It was somewhere around 1973 that I realized that I was gay and that it was ok to be different. I discovered who I am, although it was a huge learning curve, and it certainly wasn’t an acceptable lifestyle, it was/is who I am. In my family we didn’t talk about it.

I began my career at MIT in October of 1984. One day I was crossing Mass. Ave. I was joined by a woman who held a position of authority here, who said to me “Cheryl, there are some people here who have a hard time with you being so openly gay.” I was not only taken-aback but responded with “and these same people probably have a hard time with you being black but they can’t say anything”.  She too was shocked but it opened a friendship and respect for our differences. I was created this way, it’s not a choice. As the saying goes: I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living life.

In my family we were taught core family values of respect, giving, helpfulness, and looking after others. My siblings were raising families and I am “single” in their eyes. I felt it was important for me to move back to Arlington to be close to my aging parents. I felt it was the responsible thing to do, as the eldest daughter and the only sibling with no children. It has been a good thing in my life.

I seldome go to the Catholic church any more. I believe it is much more important to be true to yourself every day. To practice random acts of kindness that little acts of kindness can add up to a lifetime of happiness.

In my family we learned to love.

Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer,  MIT Police

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success."  
                         ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson