“Love is not just tolerance. It’s not just distant appreciation. It’s a warm sense of, ‘I am enjoying the fact that you are you.’” ~ N. T. Wright.
Have you ever been asked, or asked yourself, ‘What is your purpose? Why are you here?’ I guess most of us, at some point, try to get answers to some of the deeper mysteries of life. Why and how did humans evolve, or were they indeed dropped into a forest where they then created the family of man? What is beyond the stars? Is there life after death, or is that just a comforting fairy-tale told to sooth fearful children? Why are we the only planet in this whole universe that supports life? Or are we? And before too long we realize that we may never get satisfactory answers to any of these questions, and so we go back to our daily grind, or our faith, or whatever gets us through the night.
Though we may give up on trying to find the greater meaning of life, it is still fascinating to take that down to a personal level. Why am I here? I have been privileged to belong to an organization that is dedicated to spreading the stories of ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ (People Profile). That gives me a front row seat, an opportunity to listen and observe people who take an event in their life and make it their life’s purpose. It becomes a calling, a quest, a desire to bring about change in the world, or improve the lives of others. I am particularly inspired when that drive is born out of tragedy such as when the violent loss of a loved one becomes a foundation to educate or protect or change society. We can think of the parents of Trayvon Martin, or those Parkland students. But why does it have to take a tragic personal loss to help you to find your purpose?
We very often do not see our own life as unique or different, until we tell our story to another. If you were raised as I was, that you should not ‘puff up yourself’ or give yourself airs, or think you are better than anyone else, you may have cultivated a lifetime of self-depreciation – missing the fact that you are in fact special (just like everyone else!). I was blessed to have been transplanted, at an early age, from a city in Northern England, to a town in rural Jamaica. This has given me the opportunity to cloak myself with a coat of many colors, an ability to blend into my surroundings wherever I find myself. Having been immersed in the Jamaican culture and language, I can identify with a group of Caribbean people wherever that may be. But externally I remain white, being able to disappear into a white crowd without comment.
It seems to me that I need to acknowledge this super power that I have, and use it judiciously, to sow seeds of diversity. We find ourselves at a very crucial crossroads, a time in society when the forces for evil have succeeded in creating clear lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’. People in power have recognized that fear is a great divider, that unity is strength and to be destroyed in ways both subtle and overt. We are being given a mission (should we choose to accept) to change perceptions, to demonstrate that we all have more in common than we think. But there are lifetimes of misperception, ignorance and bigotry that must be overcome.
It is hard to escape the daily outpouring of examples of mankind at his worst. Sometimes we have to turn away from the new video of police brutality, another family having to deal with sudden loss. Our brains and minds cannot cope with the latest example of a society which has been rigged against people of color for centuries now, even after the worst of indignities has supposedly been legislated out of existence. But apart from retraining and educating police forces, the (white) society as a whole needs to acknowledge and confront the implicit bias it demonstrates every day.
I read a provocative piece about the experience in the classroom, where children of color are disproportionately punished for ebullient outbursts which are deemed inappropriate or threatening to a white teacher. I watched a video which very simply demonstrated (using a game similar to Monopoly) how discriminatory lending and housing practices contributed to the continued social and economic imbalances which persist today. The American dream declares that anyone can become a success in this great land, and ignores the wide awake nightmare that is spelled out in the statistics for people of color: life expectancy; infant mortality; rates of incarceration; median income.
When life and the human race seem unbearably harsh, the best medicine is a trip to Mother Nature, a visit with the quiet trees, the ruffled waters, the spaces between us. This week while off from work I took a drive to Lake Okeechobee and communed awhile with a world which exists despite the bad practices of a greedy consumer driven society. I read that trees communicate with each other. They send nutrients from one tree to another, if that other tree seems to be depleted. They give off chemical messages to warn of pests. Yes, the trees care for each other more than humans do! And they also give us oxygen, beauty, messages of resilience and flexibility, reminders that if we learn to bend under adversity, we can bounce back stronger.
This Friday morning I give thanks for being on this planet, for sharing it with some amazing people (of all colors and stripes), for being given a view of many worlds. May we all rise above the divisive chatter to join hands in an act of restorative unity, to chase away those forces that threaten our common humanity. Have a great weekend, Family!