I realize more and more as I age, and especially during these trying political times, how much we are each a product of our individual life experiences. The simple things, like the neighborhoods we grew up in, the schools we attended, the cities we’ve inhabited or traveled to, and the religious beliefs we have been exposed to, surely must have a lasting effect on our personal values.
Opportunity has affected each of us as well, whether benefiting by sheer luck, circumstance, hard work, or, more than likely, a blend of each.
And then there are those more complex life events that are not of our doing. Whether we’ve experienced food insecurity. Whether we’ve been victimized by bullies. Whether we’ve lost a friend or family member to gun violence, a drunk driver, suicide, or medical malpractice. Whether we manage chronic health issues or disability. Whether we have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. Whether we have endured infidelity in our marriage, or been abused, neglected, or abandoned.
Or whether we have experienced unexpected and random acts of kindness. Whether we have benefited from unconditional love or a committed relationship. Whether we have lived in a loving home with compassionate parents. Or whether we have been blessed with good health.
It’s as if shiny pieces of gold are passing in and out of a coin purse called “life,” making each of us feel “rich” or “poor.” Angry or content. Compassionate or malevolent. Emotional or dispassionate. Integrated or isolated. Included or excluded. Generous or stingy. Empathetic or indifferent.
In our time of social media, we are offered an often unsettling peek behind the curtain, a bit like a train wreck: unpleasant to look at but oddly difficult to turn away from. Seeing friends and strangers, in a sense, naked. Overtly uncaring, biting, intolerant, racist, name calling. Casually throwing around generalizations and stereotypes that can cut another like a knife.
For some, the experience can be nauseating, anxiety provoking, and enormously depressing.
But for others, fanning the flames appears invigorating, a life force, “justified.”
For me personally, it is unsettling, potentially revealing a disturbing synthesis of life experiences.
Or is it that the life experiences of others have, through no fault of their own, been “lacking?”
It causes me to reflect on periods of my own life as a victim of discrimination, segregation, and abuse of power. And I wonder how much that has shaped me. I wonder whether others have been touched by these same things, or whether they are living in an alternate reality of sorts, a safe bubble, unable to understand the disturbing sense of vulnerability experienced by others.
I wish I knew.
But I have had many life-changing experiences that have deeply affected me. A more civilized form of jungle warfare, it has no doubt altered my thinking and undermined my trust of others, and of protections afforded some by our society.
I have a vague recollection of how I felt a few decades ago, before so many disturbing events landed in my life. I recall feeling calmer, safer, more self-assured.
But my child’s civil rights, and therefore mine, have been threatened on multiple occasions, over decades. It has changed me.
Your child’s civil rights have likely never been at risk.
Your child has likely never been told they cannot attend their neighborhood school two streets from home. Rather, they needed to be bussed to a different school miles away. Mine has.
You have likely never been concerned about your child’s access to something as simple as a public school playground, a medical building, a restroom, or the opportunity to participate in a school holiday program. I have.
You have likely never been subpoenaed, multiple times, while trying to stop segregation and discrimination, or health-harming practices, for your child and others in a public school district. I have.
You have likely never had altered documents used by your child’s public school to deny them an education. I have.
You have likely never had to “afford” tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend the rights that others take for granted. I have.
You have likely never been the prevailing party in a court case appealed to a state’s supreme court in an effort by your public school district to wear down, intimidate, and empty your pockets. I have.
You have likely never had an agency of the government suggest institutionalizing your child. I have.
Maybe you have never seen this level of deceit and corruption? Malevolence? Disregard for the life of another? I have.
“You are an alchemist; make gold of that.”
I have. But it has been at a price.
I am white. I am an American citizen.
So is my child.
But my child is disabled. My life experiences tell me that shouldn’t matter. Nor does skin color, nor age, nor religious affiliation, nor sexual orientation.
It must be that alternate reality that some live in. I have no other explanation.
“I am not what I am,” some would proclaim. Or are you?
We all need to frequently peer into our life’s purse to be sure it is gold that we have mined, rather than fool’s gold, an essentially worthless mineral.
“Foul cankering rust the hidden treasure frets, but gold that’s put to use more gold begets.”
Beware of “shiny objects.” Appearances can be deceiving.
“All that glitters is not gold.”