There’s been a weariness, a heaviness in my heart and soul this week that I haven’t been able to accurately name until this morning. Events of yesterday helped to call it to life. Steve and I spoke to a friend yesterday evening whose father died last weekend. His father had been in declining health. He was a year younger than my mother who died last October right before her 94th birthday The realization that his family had not been able to surround him as death neared and now hearing his son talk about sitting Shiva without being able to carry out traditional rituals with family and friends brought back a high level of greif and sadness for me. It’s also Father’s Day weekend which, even though my father died forty-five years ago, always brings tears. Then there are the realities of our struggle with inequality and justice. For weeks I’ve been urgentlly feeling the need to come up with concrete steps for what I am to do in this time and space.
I try very hard to never say something is God’s plan. My “deep” theological understanding is that God works in mysterious ways and in God’s time! For me some of that mystery most often seems to be revealed in the middle of the night. So as I turned on the compter at 2:30 AM, what do I encounter first: today’s Google Doodle recognizing the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. The voice of LeVar Burton. I vividly remember sitting in my father’s recliner and watching every moment of Roots in 1977, the life and story of young Kunta Kinte making a major impact on the 16 year old watching it at the time. The words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” I have sung the song all my life, led it before many a congregation, but never knew the words came from a poem by James Weldon Johnson created for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. And the art of Loveis Wise. I just want her name! None of this is what I expected to find and be moved by in these early morning hours.
I can use a multitude of descriptions of myself that would not give much indication of the privilege I live under, but my privilege is always present. I feel it more and more every day. I am the:
- Granddaugher of tenant farmers in the Appalachia region of Virginia who survived the Great Depression with 9 children
- Daughter of factory workers who struggled to make ends meet and took out short-term loans for every family vacation
- Chubby child who has always struggled with her weight
- Teenager raised by a single mother
- College and university student who made tuition payments with Social Security and Veterans Affairs death benefits and loans that took 10 years to pay off
- Young adult who cashed in gifted Savings Bonds to make mortgage payments on her first house
- Thirty-something, newly married who because of life circumstances made a decision with my spouse to not have children of our own
- Adult child of an aging parent without savings who entered HUD-sponsored housing and later a Medicaid long-term care community
- And now, the elder orphan with an older spouse beginning to wonder what will happen in my own aging.
Following the Called UMC General Conference in St. Louis last year, I described myself in a blog post as a “cisgendered woman married to a previously married man.” That description along with others I used were an attempt to make the point that depending upon how we interpret verses of the Bible, none of us – least of all me – may be truly “worthy” to be part of the Body of Christ. A person I have worked with in a variety of positions within the church replied to me by email. A part of the individual’s questioning was why I felt that I had to use the word “cisgendered” since we are all “supposed to be that way.” I responded to that statement with these words:
Let me start with why I used the term “cisgendered.” I did not use it in any way as a term of ridicule or contempt. Remember, I’m a social worker by education. Labeling myself as “cisgenered” reminds me of the privilege I have and how that affects my understanding, or lack thereof, of people who are treated differently in society because of categories and labels. I would never use the term to describe someone else. I can never fully understand what it is like to be LGBTQ+ just as I can never fully understand what it means to be of a different race or ethnicity, non-Christian faith tradition, generation or anything else other than a white, Christian, middle income, straight, Boomer generation woman. I can listen. I can seek to understand, but I need to be reminded, even if it’s by a word like “cisgendered” that I am privileged in today’s society.
Oh, so many labels – none of which clearly denotes privilege by its description but all of which add to the fact that I have had opportunities that so many others have not experienced. From an abundance of food and safe, warm housing to a graduate level education and consistent employment with good benefits, I am privileged. The question today is what do I do with it to make the world a better place for all people.
There’s a line from the movie, My Dog Skip, released in 2000, that I wrote down when I first saw the movie and have kept with me since. It was spoken by the character, Jack Morris, the father of the main character, a young boy named Willie. The movie addresses racism, war, bullying, loneliness and much more – and how a loving, social little dog can help to overcome it all. At one point in the movie, Jack Morris states, “Give a man a label, and you never really need to get to know him.”
The descriptions I apply to myself help me see how much I have in common with others. Somewhere our stories must have a connection, and upon that similarity a relationship can be built. Place a label on me and the opportunity may disappear.
Leave it to a Google Doodle to point my heart in a better direction this day.