Friday, January 19, 2018

"there are ties between us..."

"let us recognize
that there are ties between us,
ties of hope and love,
sister and brotherhood..." 

This morning, Facebook provided a perfect storm.  James Taylor's performance of "Shed a Little Light" with Low Country Voices, another friend's posting of Jane Elliott's social experiment on discrimination with her third grade class in the 1960s, and a FB reminder - from last year - of my posting of this Marcus Aurelius quote: 

"Never forget that the universe
is a single living organism
possessed of one Substance and one Soul,
holding all things suspended in
a single consciousness and creating
all things with a single purpose
that they might work together,
spinning, and weaving, and knotting
whatever comes to pass."

It was what I needed.  If you can watch the Jane Elliott video clip without feeling a tension in your chest -- you are a stronger person than I am.

Discrimination comes in many forms.  Men and women of color don't have the luxury of deciding whether to let their differences be known.  But some of us can live with the things that make us feel small, while keeping them hidden. We think they are harmless there in the closet of secrecy.  But hidden in the dark, they fester -- becoming a hot pain of humiliation and shame.  

For me, that hidden "difference" was poverty.  My fear of being seen as poor was debilitating.  

When I was in grade school we learned that there was once a period - in the history of this country - when only those who owned property were allowed to vote.  At the same time we were learning about the extraordinary privilege and societal value of voting.  

Earlier that year, my parents had fallen into dire financial circumstances after two hospitalizations.  As the oldest child in a family of six children, I was privy to more information about our finances than I was prepared to process.  When we lost our home and had to move into a rental that was subsidized by a local philanthropy -- I was terrified.  

My skin color may have been as Irish-pale as a Kennedy, but I was a "renter," and this frightened me more than I could say for decades.  

After my dad's sudden passing, and our family's deep dive into survival mode, I stepped back from indulging in any dreams.  I didn't have the luxury of regretting our housing status. At that point, it was simply a miracle that anyone was willing to rent to a widow, her almost adult daughter, and their seven younger dependents.  

But it was never very far from my heart.  I felt that, as long as I was a renter, I was somehow less.  It made me feel small and vulnerable.  As a wife and mother -- my confidence ebbed and flowed based on home ownership.  I would say that it didn't matter -- but it always did.  How often do you think people have the nerve to ask if you own or rent your home?  Well, as someone who is very sensitive to this question, I can tell you -- a lot.

For me, renting meant "poor," and poor translated into all kinds of negative self-speak.  "You have failed.  You have failed to "demonstrate" supply, provide a secure sense of home for your children, overcome your childhood, take back all the potential that you had before your dad was killed. Without property ownership you really have no voice, no right to a vote."

In my head, it didn't matter that I had been a faithful daughter, a hard-working wife and mother, a professional who was available to her clients 24/7 - 365 days a year.  If I didn't own my own home - I was less.  Whenever my husband and I were able to  own our home, I felt better. When we rented, I felt as if I had failed to rise out of the poverty of my childhood.  There was always an unreasonable fear, niggling in the back of my mind, that if legislators ever decided to return to the policies of the past -- I might lose my right to vote.

One afternoon I was caught off guard.  We were leasing a small house in an upscale suburb.  Our landlord's son was our contact, and he was respectful and kind.  But he was out of town, and his mother's husband came by to check on a fallen tree after a storm.

I went out to offer him a glass of something cold to drink and we got to talking.  He asked me why such a smart woman would be renting.  He said, "I just don't have any respect for losers who don't work hard enough to get themselves out of this situation."  And yes, he did say this to my face.  With a smirk.

I didn't try to defend my current situation, but I explained to him how, as a young woman, my dad had been killed and that my mom and I had had to find housing for 9 people - over, and over again.  I told him how grateful we were for every landlord who had entrusted us with their property -- property that we had always tried to improve and make beautiful through our collective hardwork and creativity.

His response was "that doesn't change anything, those who don't own property, should have no vote in how our country is run, or how our tax money is spent."  I was stunned.  I was hurt.  I was humiliated.  I had been in the public practice of spiritual healing for over 25 years at that time.  I knew how to detect rank hatred and impersonalize it.  I knew how to pray to diffuse its false sting.  But all I wanted to do was run in the house and weep.

The truth of my hidden shame had been exposed.  I felt so small and discriminated against.  It was clear that nothing could have convinced that man that I was worthy of his respect -- or had any worth as a fellow citizen.  I had to claim it for myself.

Later that day, I was sitting in my office when the line: "can't get no light from a dollar bill" - from James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light" whispered itself into my heart.  I started to heal.  Light was what I wanted to be in the world.  And light didn't seek to own the object of its illuminating.  It was a beginning.  And I have prayed with this sense of illuminating every space I am in vs. owing my own space -- ever since.

Not long ago, I was at a meeting where it had long been assumed, by my neighbors, that I was invested in solving an important issue, because I was a fellow homeowner.  But I was not a fellow homeowner.  I was a renter who loved her neighbors and her neighborhood.  I had participated in the discussions and worked tirelessly towards finding a solution for over three years. It was an issue that had reached a tipping point, and needed resolution. I had been best suited to navigate the terrain of  working with state and local agencies to find answers that would have the least impact on the homeowners.

At the meeting there came a moment when an important vote was being called for, and I had to recuse myself from weighing in because I was not a "legitimate property owner."  I did so without shame.  That was a step.  When one of the more self-sure owners made a disparaging remark - under his breath, I navigated the moment with grace -- and without tears.  That was a leap.  Writing this post -- this is quantum mechanics.

Discrimination is not just about skin color or eye color.  It is an ugly practice that is not limited to the measuring of another's value or worth - based what are obvious differences.  Sometimes it is based on educational achievement or job title; home ownership or rental status; religious acceptability justified by geography and symbology, or marginalization of those who wear a hijab and carry a prayer rug; the kind of car you drive, or the texture of your hair.  Whether Spanish is your first language, or the cool language you are fluent in for the purpose of international travel and business.  And discrimination is not just about the way others see and treat us.  It is about the way we see and treat ourselves.  I was my worst discriminator.  

It was perplexing, because I had been a fierce opponent of discrimination when it came to others.  But I had been taught to accept a false paradigm about my own worth, and I hadn't been brave enough to challenge its premise or conclusion in my own life.

We are all "enough" just the way we are.  I don't care who you are, you are enough for me. You are beautiful.  Your life is a triumph of hope -- every day. Your desire to make the lives of others - even just a little less sad, difficult, humiliating, scary, small -- is noble, and decent, and deserving of honor.

The world of the ego -- individually and collectively -- has an obsessive need to feel that it is higher on the scale of being than someone else.  Persons, organizations, schools, neighborhoods, nations - none are immune.  I call it the "best dentist" theory.  Try it.  Call someone and ask them if they would recommend their dentist.  Most people will say that they have "the best dentist" in the whole town or city.

It makes perfect sense in a world defined by hierarchies of separation, ambition, and comparison.  Who wants to think that they have a mediocre dentist?  But for me, the more important question is, why would anyone ever want to think that someone else had a mediocre dentist? That is a line of thinking that makes no spiritual sense.  Only the ego would defend that kind of thinking.

This egoic need to be better than someone else -- to have more than someone else -- well, that's just what egos do.  But we aren't egos, we are spiritual ideas.  And as Aurelius suggests (above) we are one single living organism.  We are not separate trees on a hillside.  We are one tree with a billion branches that we call individual trees, only because we cannot fathom the connection. When in fact, we are all connected -- beneath the surface -- by one, invisible root system.

I had a teacher once who would never let us forget that when we point a finger at someone else, there are three more pointing back at us.  Our discriminatory practices only point out our own smallness of heart and narrowness of view about our place in the vast oneness of spiritual being.

Just think -- what if tomorrow, the measure of our worth becomes the size of our feet or the tiny-ness of our house -- instead of its massive footprint.  What if the person who lovingly cares for the most animals is seen as the most important member in a community?  Or the person who lives with the least "stuff" is the richest?   Then who would we be.  In that social construct, how would the cards fall in assigning wisdom, value, worth.

I have discovered that I have to be the first one to tell me that my worth is not defined by having my name on a deed.  I have to be the one to remember that I am defined by my heart's commitment to seeing and calling attention to the good in others.  When I am doing this most consistently, I am able to fiercely defend the value of others more effectively.  I am standing up for the merit of our individual and collective humanity in the broader global community.

As James Taylor sings, "let us recognize that there are ties between us, ties of hope and love; sister and brotherhood. Jesus said that "the kingdom of God is within you." Within us all. And this kingdom of God within us, is not religious, cultural, or national -- it is the Love that Mary Baker Eddy assures us is, "impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals." 

Racial, gender, religious, economic, political, or color blindness is not something that someone else can give us.  It is something we hold within ourselves.  For me, the lesson in all this has been that home is not a place to be owned -- it is something that I carry within me. And it is something that I now realize I have brought to every house I have lived in -- whether we owned that house or not.

We are bound together -- we are bound and we are bound.  The imperative is upon us to actually live this oneness. To treat one another as we would wish to be treated. To refuse to sort each other into wealthy and poor, persons of color and what-- no color? Right and left, right and wrong.  We are bound together.  We are not separate. My abundance shall supply your want -- for we are of one body.  Without your want, I have no place to give my abundance of love, of joy, of silence when you need to be heard.  There are ties, not fences, between us.  

offered in oneness - and with humble love,


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