I am just now making my way back from a very emotional and psychologically painful week. One that plunged me into the darkest recesses of my own past, along with that of our collective past. It all began innocently enough while I was doing my weekly shop at the Co-Op I belong to. The story goes like this.
As I was shopping, an employee approached me from behind, brusquely saying “Your mask isn’t covering your nose.” Caught off guard, I turned around to face him, pausing for a moment to catch up with what was happening. At which point he said “Are you going to do something about it?” Pause. Pause. Pause. “Sure,” was my reply.
As he walked away, saying loud enough for all in the general area to hear, he declared, “Someone’s gotta do it.” And then went on to rip into me with a fellow employee, the likes of which I did not stay to listen to. But as I walked away, like a bolt from beyond, the word “vigilantism,” dropped into my mind, and I began to get what I will call overlays of past times. I saw lynchings of black men. I saw women being raped. I saw Jews being driven out of their homes and annihilated. Through it all I could feel the righteous indignation of those bringing the harm as they justified to themselves and to the world, “These people deserve it.”
Now, I recognize that this is very, very far out there. But is it? For modern science is finally catching up to what people have always known. That being, we carry the traumas of our past encoded directly into our DNA. As a matter of fact, recent research is saying we carry the trauma of our ancestors for fourteen generations. Fourteen generations. This means we all carry a past of harm. And, this means we all have access to learning and healing from our collective histories.
Why am I telling you all of this? Partly because I am trying to be with the undercurrent that is building. A kind of undertow that carries with it atrocities large and small if we do not intervene. I am trying to understand my role in all of this. And partly I am telling you this because I want to start a conversation based on respect and the inclusion of differing view points. This is how that conversation would go.
Should my mask have been up over my nose? According to the current mandates, yes. But not according to the wiser and deeper part of me that says I need to breathe freely in order to remain healthy, and that my health is the greatest contribution I will ever make to the common good. Was that man within his jurisdiction as an employee of the Co-Op to say something to me? Sure. But his thinly veiled hostility and dangerous self-righteousness smacks of past atrocities. Ones where we were so very certain that we had the fix on the truth, and that because of that, any and all words or actions were therefore, justified.
I keep wondering how history will judge this time period. My bet is that it will not be favorable. My bet is that people will shake their heads at how we have allowed fear to drive us, dehumanize us, and separate us. So whether you believe I “deserved” it or not, how much are you willing to sacrifice of our shared humanity? How much dignity are you willing to strip from another? How many edicts will you agree to in the name of this?