In just over a month, I will reach the end of the first half-century of my life. It is a funny thing to reach a milestone birthday. How do you reflect on an entire lifetime of memories when you can barely reflect on the last year? How do you face the good, and the bad, and all the places in between, in the moments that make a life? Fifty years did not happen in one place or all alone. Our lives include a connection and a glimpse into other lives and seeing in them a reflection of moments in our own.
Every time the teeter totter rises, you know it will come down again. This year has brought challenges, but it also marks the return of hope that we can create a better world. I am moving toward becoming – whatever that might be. It is a time to give thanks for the gifts that brought me here, but also thankful for the harder times on that same path because without both I would not be me. Here are a handful of observations – all may show up in longer writing in the future.
1. We need communal Narcotics Anonymous intervention to confront our addiction to social media. I watched a father in a line at Walt Disney World recently. The mother and young teen or preteen son with him spent 45 minutes joking, talking, and enjoying the experience. Dad spent the time taking random snapshots and putting them up on social media. We all like social media. That is not the question. We must start asking if social media, especially Facebook is worth the continuing erosion of our interpersonal ability to be human in community. We have trusted far too much of our lives, our families, and our nation to too few key-holders.
2. We spend too much time creating excuses for not listening to one another. We speak of love and forgiveness, but mostly try to find our own backdoor policies to let us not live them as truth. Conversely, we fail to trust each other and mistakenly believe that when someone tells us a relationship is problematic and must end, we can talk them out of it. We also rely too much on others’ interpretations or opinions about other people or events. We need to trust more and to do that, we need to listen more.
3. It is only recently that people have rewarded a need to live life as an island. Throughout history, survival of humanity has required a tribe or a clan. The belief in AN inventor or A writer or AN artist is misguided. Even those most personal of occupations include periods of study or consideration on the work of others. It is even less true to think that any successful businessperson did it by themselves – they started somewhere even if they inherited money. The accumulation of that wealth, outside of lottery winnings, comes through the labor or partnership of others. This aligns with a similar solo vision of salvation and heaven embedded in United States Protestantism.
4. Long-term heterosexual couples who split have a tremendous amount to learn from their queer siblings. Breakups happen, but a viciousness comes out in hetero relationships more commonly than in queer ones. It seems like co-parenting and new family structures are easier to accept in a community with a long history of created family. We understand that even when romantic love ends, unless there is abuse or another serious concern, love and family can go on. This is something I wished I had known earlier in my life.
5. We need nature and animals and must do all that is necessary to save our earth. We need to start listening more to wisdom speakers like Winona LaDuke. I have traveled almost 4000 miles, back and forth, from North Carolina all the way to the lowest point of the mainland United States in Key West. It is incredible and beautiful. I have been bitten by chiggers and swam in an ocean that was as warm as bathwater. I have walked through the places where Spain (and all Europeans) first encountered the United States. Each step and moment was transformative.
6. We must stop nationalism – everywhere and in all places. The beauty of this United States lies in the diversity of the people who already lived here, were enslaved here, or immigrated here. From Higgs Beach and the African refugee cemetery (shown directly above) to the canopied streets in Coral Gables, Florida (image at top of page), and up past Mar a Lago we see different parts of our history - and this is just observations from one state. We are a nation of 329 million stories and each of them matters.
7. Finally, I think of three pieces of wisdom which have guided this trip and the research I am doing while on it. From Malcolm X. The only way we'll get freedom for ourselves is to identify ourselves with every oppressed people in the world. We are blood [siblings] to the people of Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba -- yes Cuba too.
Jodi Picoult writes; History isn't about dates and places and wars. It's about the people who fill the spaces between them.
To that, James Baldwin adds; People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.
We have hidden our shared history away, left it forgotten in the corner. We have a chance to face it and work to make communal amends, or we can let it continue to grow unchecked, until like all monsters – it attacks.
I do not have all the answers to these questions,
but I have hope that we will step up and start looking.