by Lisa Lillibridge to treat or consider (a person or a group of people) as alien to oneself Merriam Webster I want to blame I need to blame someone else something else anywhere else for my inner tornado alienate vilify repeat easy breezy automatic, unconscious our world’s challenges far too complex and exhausting to metabolize entirely on my own quell my fears confirm my programming please just tell me who, what, and where I should other today my team’s constant drumbeat deliberate, unyeielding laboring 24/7 to justify their clouding of my inner knowing click, forward, like, share, and tweet fair and balanced the daily diary of the American dream all the news that’s fit to print immutable and distracting like a howling airplane baby poor mum damn baby damn mum poor baby othering seductive like an ice cold beer hot, salty french fries or another slice of chocolate cake how did I other today? those people are not my people that problem is not my problem that place is not my place alienate vilify repeat conformity is obedient and compliant far easier than looking in the mirror and down into my own heart I know I should not utter a word until I’ve walked at least ten steps in someone else’s work-boots sneakers high heels wing tips flip flops or bare feet but I do we all do and it’s destroying us
In my dream, I wake up in a city of unknown origin, I think New York. However, it could’ve been any big American city. It was busy, loud and there were tons of people on the street. At first I was disoriented, then I keep saying to myself, Life is Kind. A mantra of sorts, to keep me from being afraid of anyone or anything.
I start walking, it’s midmorning and the first person I encounter is a homeless man. He seems quite drunk, but his eyes are kind and clear and a bright very unique shade between between blue and green. He looks at me, smiles and says, “For a beer, I’ll tell you a story”.
Well, there are few things I enjoy more than a cold beer and a good story.
In my dream, I even thought, “Well, it’s midday, there are lots of people around, it will be OK…Life is Kind”. He stood up, took my hand and led me around the corner and down just a few stairs. The outside looked pretty dirty, scary actually and I hesitated, pulling back from his hold. He calmly said, “It will be OK”.
He opened the door and it was surprisingly a cool, sun-filled space that looked more like a diner than a dingy bar. People were talking and laughing, kids playing and there was a lively piano player. The bartender welcomed us warmly. We sat at the end of the bar where it was a little quieter. The old man ordered us two beers, looked me in the eye and smiled.
With no transition, or any recollection of the old man’s story I’m now back out on the street. I’m suddenly surrounded by young, tall, black men. They are talking and laughing, goofing off, they notice that I’m uncomfortable, but I stay right in the middle of their group. I walk a few blocks with them and then to get out of the pod, I have to excuse myself and duck around them, awkwardly bumping into and nearly tripping a few of the guys. They’re all jumping up to touch things, like light fixtures and the tops of signs.
They start giving me crap about being afraid of them because they’re black. I turned to them, said, “I’m not afraid of you because you’re black. I’m afraid of you because of your youth and there’s so many of you and you’re all so big. It’s intimidating to me today.”
“Oh, Ok, yeah, I sort of get that, my grandma said something like that too”, one of the boys offered. He thumped his chest to me and smiled. They all said goodbye in mumbles and waves and off they went jumping down the street into the afternoon light.
I turn the corner and bump, literally bump into this a woman and knock a bunch of papers and books onto the ground. She’s dressed in a well-tailored grey, plaid suit with a skirt and jacket, high end, high heels and a pink, silky blouse with a bow at the neck. Her slightly grey hair was fixed in a stiff, old lady hairstyle like my grandmother had done every Friday morning. Teased, smoothed and fastened with pins, a satin pillowcase required to keep it all tidy until her next appointment.
I apologize for knocking things out of her hands. She’s rushed and while we’re gathering everything back together, she says, “We can have lunch at two. I have a very busy day. I’ll see you at (I don’t remember the name). I can’t wait to catch up.”
Well, we all know how dreams go. So, even though I have no idea who this person is, I can’t wait to catch up either…waiting until two o’clock seemed like an eternity.
I kept walking around until the appointed time. I was very excited about my lunch and all of the catching up we’re going to do. I arrived at the place and everything is odd, the scale of everything really strange and disorienting. The stairs have a very difficult to maneuver tall rise between steps. The tables were all different heights. The lights were bright on some tables and really dark on others.
I suddenly hear someone a little out of breath in my ear. I get a quick hug from behind and a peck on the cheek. Then I see my lunch date. Who appeared was an older gentleman in a pink shirt, a bow tie, a grey striped suit and beautiful shoes. “Huh” was all I thought to myself. He launched into news and notes about his day and his life. He talked about his children, his work and relayed a story about recently missing a flight. He asked me about my projects and if I had seen someone we allegedly had in common recently.
All of this was so very ordinary. I didn’t question that who I thought I was meeting for lunch was an older woman. I just went with along with it and enjoyed his company. Apparently that missed flight story was a hoot.
He paid for lunch and said that he needed to head back to the office. He asked if I minded heights. I said that I sort of did, but that it depended on the situation. “Ok, follow me”, he said and we headed toward the back of the restaurant. He was walking quickly. I kept up. We got to an unusual door, walked out into an alley and went about seven steps to what seemed like nowhere. It was strange, but he was confident and I went along.
“Can you climb?” he asked me. I said that I could. “Jump?” I told him that I could, but that I didn’t really want to. He climbed up the wall, got to the top, swing his legs around, sat a minute and jumped down, now out of my sight. I climbed up. Swung my legs around and looked down. It was about ten feet. I then said, “I don’t want to jump this far, I’m training for the senior olympics. I don’t want to hurt my ankles or knees.”
“It will be fine, dear. I’ll catch you.” I jumped. I landed in the arms of my lunch date. An older woman in a plaid, grey suit, wearing a pink blouse and high heels. She caught me, shifted me upright, gave me a hug and said, “Let’s do this again soon”.
Then, I woke up.
I love this dream so much.
I’m going to put this dream in the category of:
WATCH YOUR JUDGEMENT & ASSUMPTIONS, LISA.
I think our civilization clearly depends upon finding some middle ground. I know my own family isn’t talking as much because of the polarized political climate. We may be reaching a tipping point of sorts, at least that’s what it feels like to me. I’m hopeful that we can shift course. I believe in the goodness of our shared humanity.
MIDDLE GROUND; a standpoint or area midway between extreme or opposing positions, options, or objectives (Merriam Webster)
We are living in unprecedented times. A time of chaotic polarity in our civic lives. The lack of middle ground is causing stress to the many systems we all operate in; family, community, government and work. My husband and I are trying to hold some middle ground and manage the stress and anxiety in our home. We’re listening to our children and trying to offer counterpoints to the dizzying array of sound bites & headlines out there fighting for our attention every minute of every day.
I don’t think I’ve hidden my politics from anyone, however, my moderation might be surprising. Labels are easier for all of us than asking questions or being curious about the WHY of someone’s beliefs. We’re ALL guilty of not asking questions and making too many assumptions about others.
We can’t really be heard if we aren’t willing to listen too.
My politics were left leaning before I left conservative Sioux Falls College (now the University of Sioux Falls) in 1988. For my family it was easier to blame my democratic husband who hailed from Massachusetts than to believe I was an outlier. My first experience out of college was to move to New Zealand and work at a non-denominational Christian Radio Station (Radio Rhema) http://www.rhema.co.nz/. My friends were from all over the world and it was fascinating. I actually met the King of Tonga. I heard stories from so many unique perspectives and experiences. This time in my life greatly shaped my personal beliefs. Travel made the world seem quite small in some ways, completely accessible and ready for exploration.
I consider myself proudly American AND a global citizen. My early travel opportunites had a big affect on my choices. It eventually led me to Burlington, Vermont, where I’ve lived since New Year’s Day 1990. Our community is rich with diversity and I feel it’s been quite an education for myself and my family.
My daughters have friends from all over the world (including Muslim children, many who spent time in refuge camps). They’ve heard interesting stories since early elementary school from their classmates. This is simply our family’s circumstance of living in Burlington, Vermont. I acknowledge that not having contact with people of various nationalities, who dress, speak, and worship differently can make people more fearful. I do understand this from growing up in rural South Dakota AND I don’t pretend to understand what other people feel about this issue. I’m only speaking from my own experience.
When I wrote and asked about the opposite of FEAR last week there were so many thoughtful responses; acceptance, curiosity, love, hope, community and Mark P. wrote; “ACTIONABLE FAITH is the opposite of fear.” I love the idea of actionable faith and that sounds a lot like curiosity to me.
Right now in American life, it’s seems convenient to align ourselves with our political teams and operate in MOB MENTALITY. Reciting talking points from the side we’ve taken without listening isn’t real dialogue and won’t ever promote deeper understanding.
The significantly more challenging and intellectually exhausting space is to take a breath, listen to your own thought and those of others and try to find some middle ground. It’s really uncomfortable to differentiate ourselves and our views when it puts us at odds with our team or the people we care about. Uncomfortable, but really necessary.
America, our democracy is calling.
Let’s get curious about each other.