In the past month I have had two quite debilitating episodes with lower back pain, the kind where I walk as if my tail is tucked between my legs. Once the critical stage is over, I can function in short bouts, for an hour or so at a time, before needing to lie down. I have been able to catch up on a few worthless TV shows, plus finished a book about Martin Luther King Jr’s last year of his life (Death of a King by Tavis Smiley). I finally visited a local, well-respected physical therapist yesterday. I thought he was going to say something like, “Running is damaging to the body, you need to find other forms of exercise.” Or something else that would threaten my love for pounding out my problems on the road. Nope. He inquired about my couches and didn’t need to ask any more..I immediately understood. My down-filled couches are deep, fluffy, cozy and horrible for my posture. Who knew one could develop a bulging disc from being too comfortable?
What other crucial parts of my life are damaged or injured because of my comfort? My relationships? My spiritual life? My learning? Friendships? My ability to honestly see myself?
What am I afraid of?
Over the past month, since the Ferguson grand jury reported they would not seek an indictment in Michael Brown’s death, I have been Twitter-crazed, scouring constantly for information about what it must be like to live as an oppressed individual in this nation of ours. We stand by while people in power are not held accountable in hundreds of deaths each year. And maybe this power, for any and all of us, needs to be held with great fear and trembling.
The question remains, what damage is my comfort as a white suburban, Christian causing to the very fabric of my home, my community, my nation? And, the greater question: what power do I have to shine a light on the oppressed and misunderstood folks in my own backyard? How do my choices and actions (or lack thereof) contribute to a deeper attempt to understand another?
I have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man in America.
I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless.
I have no idea what it’s like to be elderly.
I have no idea what it’s like to be transgender.
I have no idea what it’s like to be depressed or have serious mental illness.
I have no idea what it’s like to be obese.
I have no idea what it’s like to be chronically ill or have a chronically ill family member.
I have no idea what it’s like to be hungry.
I have no idea what it’s like to to suffer grave injustices in a foreign land and come to America, only to be cast aside and told to go home.
I have no idea what it’s like to be gay.
We each have a serious responsibility. To learn. To ask questions. To place ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment, a day, a year, a lifetime. I have been on the receiving end of someone else’s stereotype. It feels wrong and frankly, kinda creepy to have assumptions made about me by someone who doesn’t know me. Imagine what it must be to have your entire existence scrutinized. This imagining? It’s called empathy. Empathy then breeds compassion, and compassion, love. True love…that thing we are called to above all else is our work. Those of us fortunate enough to only experience a shadow of living oppressed or misunderstood, let us take our comfort and challenge it a bit each day. Let us recognize the gifts we’ve been given and that not all are gifted the same. Let us use our individual and collective power to stand for those who have little, if any.
I am moving towards discomfort, towards not having answers, towards learning and remaining quiet..unless I want to ask a question. I am moving towards freedom from fear, where I can humbly approach another person, genuinely inquiring about what it must be like to be them. I want to not have to know everything, from my privileged perch…but to sink down and rely upon the perspective and beauty of another who must fight each and every day to be considered fully human.
Let us not rest in our comfort…for too long, anyway.