Once upon a time, I had a substitute middle school teacher. I vaguely remember his body type, outfit choices, and if I close my eyes well enough, I feel like I can almost remember a familiarity in his voice. But I don’t remember much outside of that. But despite these very real memory gaps, I can say I intensely remember his words. Without a doubt, he taught me one of the most important facts I know.
He was subbing us in Spanish. But the reality is I don’t think he taught us any Spanish at all— honestly, I don’t think he even knew Spanish. (He didn’t last long at the school, to say the least). But the reality is that I didn’t mind not learning Spanish in school– I learned Spanish at home– well I could understand it all anyway. I’ve always been a functioning Spanish-English dictionary, but the problem was (and still is) a bit of a tongue-tie. I have problems pronouncing most words– in Spanish and any language really. Anyway, not learning Spanish was fine with me. In fact, I probably would have bailed out of school completely to focus on reading and art had that ever been an option. And it’s safe to say that my entire life I have questioned every authoritative system in place. I like learning. No, that’s wrong– I LOVE learning. But most structures and authoritative figures are questionable to me. So the fact that I took any lesson home from this faceless, nameless guy really says something to me.
One day Mr. Whateverhisfacewas drew two words on the chalkboard: “can’t” and “won’t”. He then crossed out the word “cant”. He told us that there is no such thing as “can’t” in the world. There is only “won’t.” And that if we truly wanted to do something– anything– then we could. He told us that if we simply replaced the word “can’t” with the word “won’t” in our lives then we could see if we were choosing our actions or not. He told us that there was never anything stopping us from achieving our goals except our very own attitudes.
And even two decades later those words have stuck by me.
Somedays I believe this fact between “can’t” and “won’t” more than others. It feels like every day I’m teetering on this fine line between “I can change and save this planet!” and “I give up. We’re all totally fucked.” with very little middle ground in between. I’m not a fan of the downside of myself. The side that says we can’t change– because a very big part of me knows that we all can do anything, the power is out there, it’s just that we won’t. On the days I am exhausted trying to overcome my own “can’t” feelings I remind myself that anything is truly possible. There is no can’t– only won’t.
I can heal. I can grow. I can learn. I can evolve. I can be both my true self and exist in this world at the same time. I can make a difference in my own life, in other peoples lives, and on this planet. And so can you. You have the power to grow and change (if you want to).
I don’t know why I was compelled to share this story this week. I know some of my posts have been all over the place in ideas. My life has been all over the place in ideas– always, but especially lately. But I’m just going to embrace everything around me. Because I can 😉
photos by: Celia d. luna.