I write today filled with sadness at the state of my country. I had in no way planned to write on this topic (albeit, I did plan to write on the Chronic Voice Linkup prompts of Searching, Hoping, Traumatising, Honouring, and Responding this week). But there’s nothing else in my mind and heart at the moment. I ask that you don’t stop reading because it’s not a post focused on chronic illness. I really believe it is. It’s a post about the chronic illness of a country. And just like the warning signs which my body has given me that something is awry at the core of my being and has to be addressed before it fully takes me over, so too are the glaring ominous events of this past week signs that our country is rotting from the inside out.
As people with chronic illnesses, our surroundings greatly affect us whether it be the weather, the physical structures’ amenities or lack thereof, or the emotional atmosphere. I know that emotional stress is my biggest symptom contributor to physical overexertion a close second. Reading and viewing the events of these last couple of weeks puts my system on high alert status. As a mom, grandma, and retired teacher, my heart aches for the loss of a young dad, father, brother, and a son. As a middle-class white woman, I feel shame that I am a part of the ongoing problem, anger at the utter heinousness of the crime committed by those sworn to protect our citizens-all of them, and despair that this is still such a deep-seated issue in my country that touts its inclusiveness.
Anyone with a chronic illness is searching: for a cure, for relief, for a way to have a purpose, for meaning. A big part of my search has been to find ways to accept my life as is pain and all. When I went through a 10-week pain therapy boot camp last summer (see post), I went through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy counseling. My counselor recommended a few books: Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat Zinn (see post), The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, and The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams written about the week of discussion he had with the Dali Lama and Desmonde Tuti.
I picked it up, finally, after purchasing it last year. I’ve struggled to read print in a book and have been mostly listening to books via Audible or Libby. I’m really enjoying the book, but these past few days the words are speaking to me in a different way. The weight of the murder of George Floyd on May 25th and the recent protests has come to bear on everything I’m doing and thinking.
While lunching with the Dalai Lama, Tutu begins to talk about the basest human longing, to be happy. He says, “Everyone wants a happy life-and our individual happy life depends on a happy humanity. So we have to think about humanity, discover a sense of oneness of all seven billion human beings.”
Again and again, the question I wrestle with is why do we draw these lines of hurtful division? What can one individual do against a systemic racism and prejudice that the great minds of our times and history have not been able to dismantle?
I have to have hope; the alternative is too unthinkable. However, the fatigue of discouragement comes from knowing this narrative hasn’t changed and since just before the presidential election of 2016, has become more jagged and divisive than ever with the encouragement of our current governmental administration. It is palpable, like weights pulling me down. And while I feel like this, I also feel guilty for this because who am I to feel down? I am not having to worry about my son returning home in a coffin after a simple trip to the store.
One of my friends posted this about white privilege: “You may have had a very difficult life story, but white privilege is when those difficulties are not because of your skin color.” I would go on to add that the color of my skin has actually pulled me out of many of my difficult circumstances (see related post) allowing me to have a life that, yes, I have worked for, but my work was celebrated and strengthened because of my race.
The hope I have is found is in the heart I see in my own children and my granddaughter. Listening to President Obama talk yesterday along with other intelligent, young, black activists who have already been working towards bringing about change, he says, “…I see what is happening with young people across the country. With talent, voice, and sophistication that they are displaying. It makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.”
By now most US citizens, if not the world, have seen the traumatizing video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer while other officers looked on without intervening. As for me, I couldn’t bear to watch it. What impacted me was the public talk by his brother and then another by his wife with his six-year-old daughter lovingly caressing her mom’s long hair as his she spoke through her tears.
This little girl, so so innocent, had to be told that her daddy died because he “couldn’t breathe”. I can’t imagine this mama having to tell her daughter this. I can’t imagine this little one’s life going forward as she becomes more and more aware of what actually happened.
This past winter, I visited a health facility in Chicago (my daughter was attending a conference there), so I was allowed a guest pass to hang out for the day. Besides walking the track and swimming, I wanted to use my time to write. I went into the “senior” room because it had a place I could sit and had electrical outlets for my laptop. Besides not being one-of-the-gang that obviously had been gathering there daily, I was the only white person in the room. I sat at an empty table and plugged in to begin writing. I noticed some quite talking and glances my way. I realized later that I had taken a table that a certain group of women used after their Zumba class.
I couldn’t connect to the WiFi, so I approached one of the women talking at the next table who had her laptop up and working, leaving my things taking up a chair and spot at the Zumba group’s table. I asked the tech-savvy, older black woman if she could help me log on. As she, proceeded to welcome me and then helped me to find out the problem I was having, she indicated that the women were wanting their usual table. I could tell she wasn’t a part of the group and that she thought their predicament was a bit funny. Immediately, turning a bit red, I went and gathered my things and headed towards the door. But this tech-savvy woman invited me to sit with her and her friend. Soon into our conversation, we discovered that we were both retired teachers and spent the next hour or so talking. We had so much in common! And the little group of Zumba friends, checking with me that I didn’t still claim the table, went on to have their daily talk over coffee and bottles of water.
Later that night, I began to think about the uncomfortable feeling I had had in a place where the only thing that was different about me was the color of my skin. I also thought about how that “fish out of water” feeling left me as I totally connected with a kindred spirit despite our difference of melatonin.
To honor that special meeting, I decided to write the poem below. I understand that staying to those who are similar to us is comforting. It’s part of our biology that we do so. While it’s needed when we’re infants (to attach us to our protective parents), it is not as we grow older. Yet, this segregation that we choose continues. This seclusion leads us then to develop fear. If that fear is not checked, it will lead to anger and hate.
While stepping out to connect with those who are different from what we see in the mirror is a bit scary and uncomfortable, it brings about an understanding that will heal our society. And if we do this, we will be blessed with a richness and vitality that only that type of connection can give. We lose so much by staying in our own ponds.
So, what can I do from my little dot on the global map? There have been many wonderful resources posted this past week, so I will only include a few. But I encourage anyone who has read this all the way through, to really do a self-check to see, as one friend wrote, “where you are in your anti-racism work” and then, go forth and do something to heal this nation.
- Inform Yourself: Anti-Racism Resources
- Take Action: 11 Ways to Support Black Lives If You Can’t Go to a Protest
- Connect on a Human Level: Listen to Van Jones Explain How
The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice link-up. This month, the topics were searching, hoping, traumatizing, honoring, and responding. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at June 2020 Linkup (scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).