August 18, 2019 § 1 Comment
Give and take only works when there is some of each on both sides. As acts of kindness and material help flow back and forth, we come to know each other, invest in each other, care about each other. When the flow is all one way there is no connection, producing moments that look like this:
Most of the important things in life happen by chance, not choice. We are far too small and impotent to dictate what comes next.
We label people, then feel we know and understand them, but often all we see is the obvious. I bring food to an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman. That is the label I pasted on her in my mind, a label I learned was inadequate when she told me she used to be an international detective. A cleaning woman I worked with at the Baltimore Zoo revealed that back in the day, she was a blues singer who performed with Billie Holiday. We sum the person in front of us up with a snapshot taken at one moment in a long, complex life. Our quick assessments are far too simple; you never know who you are talking to.
Our words are influenced by what we think the listener wants to hear and the self we wish to project. Each of us has a secret self only scantily visible to others.
Most people are good individually. It is humanity in the aggregate that screws up.
The body has its own form of consciousness that operates independently. We become aware of it at times of danger when a gut reaction stops us in our tracks, but that unconscious thinking is always there. Maybe the conscious mind is just the mouthpiece for the mute body, where a deeper, more primal form of thinking is always in progress. Our most important decisions are made below the level of conscious awareness. It is in the act of justifying and explaining, that the mind takes ownership. As the mind translates the unconscious decision into words, it becomes convinced it is the originator of the idea.
August 10, 2019 § 1 Comment
I watched The Notorious RBG for the second time and was struck again by the behind-the-scenes support provided by Justice Ginsburg’s marriage. Marty was a supportive and loving man who never seemed threatened as she advanced in her career. He anchored her life, encouraged her, and cheered her on when women’s chances for outside-the-home accomplishments were slim.
Marty has been dead since 2010 and I am sure Ruth still misses him every day. Her happy marriage was the coat she wore against the cold when she was young and uncertain, not yet notorious, not yet known by three upper case initials. He was the one she came home to after a day of contentious crusading.
Still, without Marty she goes on, a woman on a mission.
It is rarely as obvious as it is with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, that life can have a greater mission, hers to be a legal titan, his to provide ballast, but each of us has the capacity to accomplish something beyond the day-to-day walk of a respectable life.
The personal (the love story, the family) are what we do for ourselves. We live most of our lives enveloped in that reality. It has moments of friction, sure, but that friction is human-scaled, and we can handle it.
But there are larger missions that change the trajectory of something far greater than a single life or the life of a family, missions that create ripples that spread until a community, a nation, or the human race has been changed.
I am convinced that missions seek us out. What we offer is receptivity, a willingness to take a chance, to roll up our sleeves. What the mission offers is a need we can fill, an opportunity to be larger than our individual lives whether we are the crusader for the mission or the one who fixes dinner and offers encouragement.
Life is much easier if the mission never comes calling, and a practical person would pray to be passed over. Even Christ said, “Let this cup pass from me.” But a life without a mission is also smaller, the view more narrow.
If we turn away, our hope is that the mission will move on, find another advocate. But if we are honest we have to admit that it may die of neglect. It is often that second possibility that causes us to say yes.
A mission seems to find the person who will fight for it, and, in a sense, the person becomes the property of that mission. Those afflicted and set aflame by a cause are perceived as saints, martyrs, or madmen.
It helps to have the company of believers and supporters, others to help lift the load—this is hard and lonely work.
RBG was loved by a great, supportive man; that belongs to her, that joy comes from the smaller story that is her life.
What she has done in her public life belongs to all of us and all the generations that will follow.
Note: I think about this as I do the work of running a food bank, sorting squishy produce, making pickups, doing distributions. This is not a world-altering mission, but its ripples have practical results in the real world. Food on tables. A community of volunteers. Friendships. The assurance that no one is alone in their need. We can’t all be the notorious RBG, but we can all say yes to something greater than ourselves.
August 3, 2019 § 4 Comments
I’m glad I grew up when I did, when connectivity was restricted to a phone with a curly cord that hung in my family’s TV room–such a public space.
And so, in my one private place, my room, all I could do was yearn and dream and imagine. I spent hours inventing conversations with boys who in real life had said little to me and thought about me even less, putting words in their mouths as we fell for each other.
Those relationships, and even the boys themselves were products of my heated imagination.
Alone in my room I yearned, serially, for each of those boys, imagining hand-holding, slow dances. We could not communicate with each other in that sanctuary. I could only communicate with myself, thrilled as I imagined something I had yet to experience.
The phone was the connection between me and other yearning girls—again public–although I could stretch the cord into the laundry room and close the door on it creating the illusion of privacy, “Do you think he likes me?” But my parents knew right where I was and, come bedtime, made me hang up.
Once in a while the call was from an actual boy–which was awkward with a sister, brother, grandfather, and two parents on a nearby couch watching Ed Sullivan. The conversations were awkward too, never as fluent or romantic as those I had imagined.