Although January isn’t quite over, the winter break is. The spring semester of interpreting, teaching, and writing begins tomorrow. How have my bones handled the gift of reflection? Evil Kachina suggested the following theme:
REMEMBERING & TELLING ONES PERSONAL STORY
These are my gifts for January, take them and do as you will with them.
If you have ANY questions please feel free to contact me.
With much love, honor and respect as we walk toward this Sacred thing (our lives).”
I remember my story not as my own, but as a member of a family. Three families, actually, the biological one in which my brother and I basically raised ourselves, a chosen one which I lost, and the encompassing ‘family’ of humanity. The weaving of these three seemingly separate tales shifts from loose to tight, compacted to disbursed, distinct to conflated.
When I was working on my Master’s degree (Social Justice Education) in the mid-90s, a professor challenged me once about how far accessibility and inclusion could go. Would the scope of my own action be reduced each time I met someone with a kind of disability that I had not encountered before? I struggled with the vast expanse of non-disabled privileges that I took so much for granted: should I give them up in solidarity? Must I plan events with strict restrictions on the non-disabled, thus enabling conditions of welcome for people with disabilities?
Focusing on the physical is crucial (we are talking basic needs), but an exclusive focus on the material is limited. As siblings growing up in a ‘wannabe’ upper-middle class household, my brother and I were well tended; as consciously-living (thinking and feeling) beings we both needed more nurture than we received. That absence, those gaps, have re-appeared in strange forms over the four decades of our existence, manifesting most profoundly in our intimate relations and core sense of self. The contemporary philosophy of mutual constitution, of the pervasive and constant interplay of “self” and “environment” (relational and material), of the social/linguistic (see online) co-construction of reality, teaches that there is no linear cause-effect relationship between “who I am” and the context of what, where, when, with whom, under which conditions…there is no ‘story of me’ that makes any sense outside of the places and people populating the experience.
How does one become when the conditions for becoming are not ideal?
My current strategy, developed over years of trial-and-error (and some days it definitely feels like mostly error!), is to keep stretching my perception of the context. I think of it as a matter of adjusting the degree of focus &emdash; at what level of awareness, which range of conditions, can I find an environment that supports me being the kind of person I seek to be? Sometimes the lens must be narrow, small, even pinpoint: ”In this stressful moment, what can I say/not say that allows the conversation to continue?” Other times, the lens must be broad and encompassing: ”How much credibility do I allow mass media accounts of politics and everyday life in the Middle East before I travel there?”
The continuum of adjusting focus applies to family life, too. The immediate intimacy of present relationships (actual and felt) constitutes the closest focus: who can I be when interacting with lovers, ex-lovers, children, the extended members of their families and all of our closest friends? A few degrees removed, the biological family is that ‘container’ where I spent the early (some say formative) years of being human. When I can make connections between present behaviors/emotions/reactions/interpretations and patterns from my vaguely dim past, then I believe I gain more capacity to free myself from habits and instincts that no longer serve. I expand the range of choice concerning what it means to be a person, to be a self, to have ‘a story’ that is uniquely my own.
Extending the lens of my awareness to humanity, to the species of homo sapiens, the phrase that leaps to mind today, is ‘the human race’. This label strikes me as more meaningful than ‘the human species’ because all of our large-scale social (corporate, political, educational, religious) institutions are premised upon notions of competition, scarcity, and hierarchy. We have inherited a social world built by our forebears as a race. The global system of interconnected technologies and money flows is running as fast as it can: we (as a species) are in such a hurry to get … somewhere. I recognize this as a social metonymy for my own life. My parents were moving up, seeking to advance their socioeconomic status. The effort and thrill of (apparent) success distracted them from some of the tasks of childrearing. I inherited the need to rush. “Here” was never sufficient; “there” was going to be better. My chosen family suffered my impatience.
It has taken years to interrupt the pell-mell, hellbent race to elsewhere and elsewhen, to find the people and places that call me to an other self, to build the structures, conditions, and skill at shifting focus to the most conducive level for becoming other than who I was originally constrained to be. Now, instead of telling the story of an existence, I can begin to tell a story of life.