I have been thinking about what my contribution to the discussion of Michael Brown & Ferguson can be. Particularly being a white woman, how can I understand this experience? The closest analogous experience I have had takes me back twenty-two years to Long Beach and the LA Riots.
As the Sublime song says, it was April 29th, 1992. There were riots on the streets, where were you? Well, I was a 17 year old kid who, because of the declared curfew, wasn’t going to her evening job at a sandwich shop, and so sat at home watching the city burn around me- and not just on the television. From the roof of my modest condo building, I could see burning fires in all directions and I watched as the liquor store across the street was looted and vandalized. I saw a neighbor of mine stand in the middle of road, firing his gun down the street at someone beyond my line of sight.
At the time- I had mixed feelings about the violence, the cause of it, and what my role in it all should be. I wish I could tell you I was filled with moral outrage and that I participated in the events for all the right reasons, but mostly I was focused on going to a “riot party” down the street hosted by a college guy (!) who had invited me. I’d also like to say it was the first time I’d had a gun pulled on me, but it wasn’t that either- my neighborhood being what it was.
I had friends and acquaintances – white, black, hispanic, filipino, who participated in the riots- some out of frustration, some for the thrill of it. The Rodney King case was about race and prejudice, much as Michael Brown’s case is today. Those riots may have been sparked by the acquittal, but they were fueled by injustice, inequality, and systemic discrimination. Seems like the wheel of history is rolling down the same sad road and not enough has changed.
What I believe about the people who participated in the LA riots is that most of them were good people. The guy who stood in the road and fired a gun down the street? I remember he doted on his mom and his treasured Chevy El Camino, and that he used to give me rides to school. I also know he was a drug dealer, who went to jail for a brief period during the Gulf War for assaulting “Arabs”. Those things- not so good. There was a deep, deep contradiction present in my neighbor- a contradiction that can be summoned within all of us.
Power vs. powerlessness quickly becomes abuse of power vs. fighting for power. If only it was as simple as good vs. evil.
Given my white skin and (at the time anyway) blonde hair, I have not experienced racism. So, although I was not economically far removed from many of my friends and neighbors, the tension between power vs. powerlessness didn’t affect me the same way. But violence doesn’t come only from those fighting for power.
Rolling Stone’s devastating article about the brutal gang rape at UVA reveals a more frightening kind of behavior than what is happening in Ferguson. Knowing that the men who perpetrated that crime will be sitting down at lavish Thanksgiving tables- smiling, laughing, doting on younger sisters and grandmothers, makes my blood run far colder than anything done on the streets in the name of Michael Brown. The protesters in Ferguson and the rapists at UVA aren’t even in the same league- and yet we are watching the agonizing inequality inherent in these stories unfold before our very eyes.
Humans are flawed. It’s fair to say that we are the meanest, cruelest, most vile creatures to have ever walked on the face of this planet. And yet, we have created beauty, shown kindness that has moved us to tears, generosity that has humbled us, sacrifice that has taken our breath away, selflessness that has caused us to exclaim that “our faith in humanity has been restored.” How can we hold these opposing truths within ourselves?
We know the answers aren’t in the 24-hour news cycle. We know that there are criminals and victims who never receive justice. We know that by definition, when a society is more equal the tension between those with power and the powerless is reduced. That seems like a great place to start. By acknowledging our shared responsibility, demanding transparency, and pushing for greater equality as a society, we can make progress.
I don’t know how to fix all the messes and hurt that I see in the world, but I know that I am dedicated to being part of the solution. Black lives matter. Women’s lives matter. Those without power need to be heard and we must amplify their voices. Ferguson is speaking.
Are we listening?
The last four months have been an education, as if I have been conducting and taking my own master’s class in Life. It has been a journey punishing, joy-filled, and above all, eye-opening. One of the greatest lessons I have learned may sound like a cliche but bear with me. Life is not about the “time” we have but what we DO with it.
When you are working, you believe that “not working” will give you a tremendous amount of time, but that oasis turns out to be a shimmering mirage. Similar to the adage about how people always spend what they earn, likewise, none of the time you have turns out to be “extra”. Entire days have gone by and I haven’t found time to respond to email. I get to the end of the day and feel as exhausted as I did putting in a full day’s “work”. Aristotle was right- Nature abhors a vacuum.
I want to share an idea that may especially resonate with parents but holds true for all. Everyone has an equation that looks something like this:
Parenting + spouse + work – crazy (from the previous 3 things) + self care/ TIME – (bills * laundry * school lunches * gym * sleep) = _______?
What’s the answer? Balance, Happiness, Perfection? Sorry- you think String Theory is hard? It has nothing on solving the equation of Your Life.
What variable can we tweak to get it right? The stark truth is, you’ll never solve it completely. EVER. Hate to break it to you, but go ahead and write this down in pen. The problem is, you will not get all the time you want. If you had no kids, no spouse, no job, no obligations- you’d still find your time card punched, even if it was watching utterly worthless reality television all day. You’d still be worn out at the end of each day (and perhaps suicidal, given THAT much Real Housewives or Honey Boo-Boo).
As I prepare to “graduate” from this self-imposed master’s class and look ahead to my next work challenge, I am faced with an array of choices- contract work, part-time work, full-time work, big company, startup, low pay, high pay, mentally-stimulating, dull but easy, sure thing, high risk- you name it. Regardless of the choice I make, I will trade-off or sacrifice something. Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every choice, there is a consequence.
When I wrote about giving up my superpower, it was the beginning of understanding that trying to “do it all” is a fool’s errand- there is no such thing as “ALL”. You finally figured out how to manage work, kids, and your spouse… Great, how about adding a puppy? Or working out? Or healthy meals? You don’t want to add anything? Guess what- you’ve lost your job. You are getting a divorce. Your kid was expelled. Whatever. The variables go on forever. You will never reach “the end” until THE END.
Life is so immense and beautiful because of the endless possibilities, and yet, it those endless possibilities that make it brutally sadistic. Ha, ha, ha, the joke is on us!
I clearly remember in my teens, realizing that I would *never* be able to read all the best books in the world- not all books, even reading just the best ones would be beyond my reach. It felt like something died within me. I was defeated by the ABC’s- something I thought I had mastered at five.
Our time on this magical blue-green rock is limited, whether you think your life is cut from a cosmic cloth of fixed length or that you control your destiny. There is a point at which the fabric no longer stretches but snaps and that will be the end of it. Even if you believe in an afterlife, you are only getting one turn on THIS ride, with THESE people you love, and these FINITE minutes to spend.
So the question comes back to what we choose to do with our time. Not an easy question to answer. I’d like to humbly suggest a few ways to make the most of it:
1. Know what MATTERS to you. Is it family, friends, success, invention, creation, inner peace, exploration, leaving a legacy? Take the time to understand what you care about. This one is hard… put some effort into it. Write it down and check your actions against your list.
2. Laugh. Often. Loud. At yourself. With your friends. With your kids. From the gut. Use your whole body. Laugh ’til you cry.
3. Strive. If you are one of the lucky few given the chance to reflect upon your life at the end of many long years, there will be a moment when you account for your time, when you measure what you’ve done against what you have been given. Don’t let the tally of your effort come up short.
4. Forgive easily and forget quickly. Whatever baggage you carry, it isn’t helping. You have been through it, gnashed your teeth at it, survived it, triumphed over it- let it go. All it’s doing now, is weighing you DOWN. Travel light.
5. Hold your own hand. Treat yourself as you would your own child. Remember that we all screw up. We learn as we go. We will let ourselves and others down- A LOT. Give that kid inside you a break. Give yourself a bear hug. Babies and Yogis know the magic of holding yourself- you will be surprised how good it feels. <Now, would be a good time to try it- even just a little squeeze of your hands. C’mon, no one is looking.>
6. Flow. The river of life is no tame kiddie pool. There are rapids, eddies, whirlpools, stretches as smooth as glass, and cruel white waters that threaten to pull you into the river’s black depths- you have to flow through it all. Float or swim, cling to the river bank or strike out for the middle- whatever you choose, close your eyes and feel the flow.
That’s all I have. But I’d appreciate YOUR thoughts and feedback! If this helped you, made you smile, or made you think- I’d sure appreciate you sharing! Tweet! Post! Discuss! Blog!