April 2018

Monday, December 9, 2013


Yesterday morning, I grumbled as I got out of bed earlier than I wanted to. Ann and I were going to the adult education discussion on race and spirituality, so we had to get to church earlier than usual. I wanted to go to the discussion: I just didn't want to emerge from my cozy cocoon. 

It turns out that emerging from my cozy cocoon was a good metaphor for a discussion about the way that privilege works in informal ways to further the privileges of those in society who are already lucky. We read an NPR interview about the effects of privilege on the kind of healthcare a woman who went to an emergency room in Boston received.

When she told the emergency room doctor that she was worried about the injury to her hand because she was a quilter, the doctor reassured her that he would stitch her up just fine. When, in casual conversation, he learned that she was a Harvard professor, he called in hand specialists. This was no hospital policy.  She simply got better treatment because the doctor thought that saving a Harvard professor’s hand-functionality was more important than saving a quilter’s hand-functionality.

The point was that we treat people differently depending on how we view their importance and on how important they are to us. We discussed the ways that people who are in our familial and social circles receive the benefits of our privilege while those persons who are not in privileged circles don’t get as much support in hard times, though they may have more hard times.

The facilitator, Sue, told us about a woman who understood this unintended consequence of her privilege and began dividing her donation to her alma mater so that half went to her college and half went to the United Negro College Fund.

The discussion made us think about expanding our circles of friendship, something that by luck has been happening in Ann’s and my lives over the last decade.

Ann and I have both visited our church’s sister community in Guarjila, El Salvador and visitors from that community have stayed with us in Seattle. In this exchange, our circle of friendship has widened. When we see news about mining in El Salvador or the new Pan American highway, which runs through Guarjila, we know that people we love are affected.

Our connections there inspired me to move from working in suburban schools that were mainly middle-class whites to working in schools with children of lots of different colors, many of whom were poor and many of whom were immigrants to this country. I loved these students and the richness of experiences they shared with me.

My tumors and their resultant disabilities required me to leave teaching but have also widened my circles in new ways. I now connect with people in public places like parks and the city bus, people that I didn’t even notice I wasn’t connecting with before: especially African-Americans (who have been especially kind to me, though we don’t necessarily know each other), people with disabilities, and older people. Perhaps now they see me in a way they didn’t see me before—as a person who has struggled. Perhaps I also see my connection to them in a way that I did not see them before. Perhaps we just see one another now.

As the discussion in adult education deepened, our friend Doug, who is an Economics professor at the University of Washington when he’s working, shared the ideas about slow thinking and fast thinking from Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman said that about 80% of our thinking is “fast thinking,” impulsive, non-reflective, unconscious thinking. This is necessary, for evolution and for modern society, or else we’d spend a lot of our time telling our thumbs how to close around a doorknob or determining the safety of each step we take, each person we meet. In this fast thinking, however, we make judgments that we’re not even aware of. We judge by race, age, ability, and so forth.

We need to think slowly in order to arrive at new awarenesses of ourselves and the world around us. If we are to challenge our assumptions and our prejudices, we need to move our ideas into our consciousness. This takes time.

It was time for church, so our group disbanded and moved to the sanctuary. I was still thinking about the discussion. Throughout the church service, I continued thinking about the ways that slow thinking could change me and could change the world. (One of the gifts of my tumors to both Ann and me has been the gift of slowing down.)

When the scripture reader read from the beginning of Isaiah 11, I thought about the scripture’s connection to my society and my life:

You will delight in obeying YHWH [God],
And you won’t judge by appearances,
Or make decisions by hearsay.
You will treat poor people with fairness
And will uphold the rights of the land’s downtrodden….
Then the wolf will dwell with the lamb….

In the spirit of the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and in the spirit of making the impossible seem possible, our pastor Karla began her sermon with the story of a youtube video where a dog and an elk, who began their meeting confrontationally, began playing chase together.

I thought, “Maybe it is possible…” and my thoughts drifted to all of the ways that the world could become more peaceful. I confess that I did not hear the rest of the sermon. I was unaware of time passing, and before I knew it Karla was stepping from the podium.

So this Sunday that began with me not wanting to stir from my cocoon metamorphosed into a day when I was grateful to be stirred.

After a tasty lunch of yam burritos while Ann, Cute Cousin Michael and I watched the beginning of the Seahawks game against the 49ers (the Seahawks would lose the later quarters, but this was the hopeful quarter), I pulled into another cocoon in front of our fire for my daily nap.

Having learned the lesson of the loveliness of the cocoon and the loveliness of emerging, I emerged again to meet our friends Pam and Allyson for dinner before going to the Seattle Men’s Chorus’s concert.

The four of us have been going to these concerts together since Cute Cousin Michael started singing in the chorus a few years ago. This was my favorite concert: it was sweet and sacred and funny. My favorite songs were “Silent Night,” when the whole chorus first sang and then signed the words in silence, and “Finally Here,” a lovely song by church musician Eric Helmeth honoring men loving men. Two men who had married this year introduced the song, sung in gratitude to the audience that had helped pass marriage equality in Washington State.

I know I’ve used “lovely” three times, but that’s just how the day was: Lovely.

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