Searching For A Cause
On Tuesday afternoon I took the L train downtown to go to a Practicum workshop at my school. I got information about possibly working with grieving families, homeless children, and Native American Families. The room, Namaste Hall, where we usually explored the depths of our souls in various drama therapy class, was crammed with a U of conference tables, well meaning people and excited students. I had hoped to find a good place to work with the aging population, but the closest I could find was helping their families deal with their grief after the said aging people had died.
After leaving fairly disappointed I skimmed the books at the goodwill and, feeling 0 for 2, went down to take the L home. The train was spacious enough for me to sit by myself and lean against the wall near the window. While listening to my ipod shuffle around my music library, I noticed an older man come in with something under his arm sit down. Maybe I noticed him because of his adidas sneakers, which should have been on the feet of someone younger. Then again, it is becoming more common to see older people wearing sneakers with their slacks, dress shirts, and sweater vests. He sat down ten feet away and opened up the white package under his arm. It appeared to be wrapped in white tissue paper. He only unwrapped it enough to gaze at what was inside. His face didn’t change as he leaned forward slightly. He adjusted the package a little, as if taking in the item from all angles. Again, I must note that his faced showed no emotion beyond an intense focus on what he was looking at. For minutes upon minutes, stop after stop, he gazed into the unwrapped flower of paper, sometimes adjusting his weight, or tilting his head to the side, but never looking away. I finally changed seats to see what he was looking at. I sat a little closer when my angle was better, but I could still barely make out his treasure. It appeared to be circular. A plate? A clock? Yes, it as a clock, white with black hands and small pictures instead of numbers. I squinted my eyes. Birds? Chickens? This old man enamored with a chicken clock? His lips parted, rubbing his chin absentmindedly as if he were looking at a difficult math equation? As the train pulled into Castro station he quickly rewrapped the clock, stood up and left.
Later that day as I was walking home I took a street with narrow sidewalks because they were lined with hedges. I was almost upon them before I realized there were two people sitting on the ground, near the hedges, wrapped up in such an embrace that I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. They seemed to be sitting next to each other, but facing opposite directions, leaning into each other, arms wrapped around each other’s backs, head’s on each other’s shoulders, similar dark clothes and hats, the hair of one over the back of the other. In the falling dark it could have been two lovers, one comforting the other, a mother and child, or even none person wrapped in layers against the cold, clutching themselves. I wondered what had occurred to form this apparition before me. Assuming it was two people, what tragedy, or what ache, had brought them to such a still embrace?
Recently I was watching a film or reading a book that had a character going to church. I noticed myself having a feeling I often felt, which was annoyance at how many things I come in contact with have Christian people or characters. It wasn’t about them being bad or anything like that, it was just the sheer numbers, the inundation of seeing people experience this as if it were the norm, but it had nothing to do with my life. I knew I had had these feeling for a long time, maybe my whole life, but had never really examined them. I didn’t want to be a jerk and say “I’m annoyed with all these Christians!” cause how could I explain it and not sound like a jerk? I would be lumped together with those who are annoyed with everything religious people do and I didn’t want to be seen that way. Did I? Then it hit me.
In many of my classes we have looked closely at the privileges in our society. If one is to be a therapist one must be aware of their preconceived notions. For example: if I am spurned by a brown-haired lover, and feel anger towards brunettes, I better know this before I get a client with brown lox. If I don’t my thoughts and actions will be controlled by a resentment that has nothing to do with my client. By looking at our privileges we back the lens up to view society as a whole. How is my life affected by things I don’t realize? Apparently, a lot. More than the things I DO realize. The ways we are privileged we can miss. It’s the ways we are oppressed that we notice. The main privileges we have discussed for Americans are; being white, male, straight, able bodied, neurologically typical, between about 20-50, accepted body type, native born, native English speaker, middle and upper class, and Christian. If I am white, male and straight, I don’t often think of these are defining characteristics. They are “normal.” If I am a woman, or black, gay, in a wheelchair, or poor, these definitely form how I view myself, how I make my identity. How could they not, when this is how society views me BEFORE it sees me as a person?
I came up on the privileged end of all of these, except the Christian one. Okay, I have a lot of privileges, and because I’m privileged, others must be oppressed, and I’m benefiting form the oppression of others. Hmm, something to think about. How can I be more aware of my place in the world. These are great things to be thinking about. What I didn’t think of much was the one place I’m not part of the privileged group, the Christian group. Until recently, as noted above. And then it hit me.
This feeling I have, this exhaustion with being inundated with people unlike me…is this how people of color feel? Women? Immigrants? People with cerebral palsy? As academic as my understanding of oppressed groups had been, here was a tiny lens into what it actually FELT like. So much of our arguments use the same words, but they mean different things to different people, because they FEEL different.
We seem to think in analogies. One thing is LIKE another. Since every moment is different, everything is different, nothing is really the same or comparable, we must be thinking in analogies. For example, if I hold up a ball and say I’m going to drop it, what will happen? How do you know? Have I stood before you, in this time, in this place, with this ball and dropped it before? No, but similar examples have occurred. We base what we think will happen on what has happened before. The ball will fall to the floor. If it doesn’t we are surprised. We do this with how we view people as well. The problem is, often we aren’t aware of it. The next time we have a strong reaction to someone, whether in person or famous, try to race the feeling. Don’t fear where it goes so much that you lie to yourself. Be brave, see what it happens.