I am a stubborn man. I usually soften that description by saying I’m committed. I’m a thinker. Those two things are true but they take form in my stubbornness. They are expressions of stubbornness. At least, for me.
Now, most stubborn people can spot other stubborn folk. We recognize each other even if we don’t speak to each other. We notice the characteristics, the gestures, and the acts which are native to members of our tribe. These are acts I need not write. I don’t want to do all your work for you, and I don’t want to completely out my people!
What I do want to say is that stubborn people, aside from being the best kind of people, have a fault line. At a point, we stop listening. At a point, we stop attending. At a point, we stop.
The stubborn person doesn’t move after arriving at a place because that place is right for them. That arrival, that posture, and that position is psychologically recognizable. So, why move? Why keep going?
We reason within that, having already arrived at ourselves and our points and our beliefs, listening is no longer needed. Now, this fault line can be, and often is, smudged. After all, stubborn people can listen and attend. It’s possible. But it takes a lot to re-engage our ears because we have to hear something compelling and something familiar enough to ourselves, our points, and our beliefs for listening to be credible.
Here’s the other point: all people are stubborn people about something. Everyone makes a commitment to something, some posture, some belief. The question is, what are you stubborn about? When you know that, you begin to be aware of what you’re willing to move from and what you’re stuck on. You can consciously engage with your listening potential.
The other day I left home very early because I woke up very early. I left feeling grateful that I would miss traffic, even while I had a nagging exhaustion from the last couple days. I had slept which was good but I woke up sensing that all the night my mind had been occupied. My mind was in more places than my feet.
Well, it was a long day, for many reasons. In a way, it was a very different, hard, grueling day. I ended work, went to the neighborhood where my dojo is, and took an hour-long walk before an hour-long class at Thousand Waves. Then, spent and sweaty, I stopped by the grocery store so I would have something for breakfast and lunch. I hadn’t shopped since the week prior when I did my errands for the week with my sons.
I got home 15 hours after I left to find my door swinging open. I cussed myself and anybody who could hear and then I put my items in the fridge and freezer.
After that, I walked through my home, opening all the doors and looking everywhere somebody’s feet could be, and then doing it again. I wanted to make sure no one was there, that nothing was missing. I knew I had locked my door. Or had I? After a while, I laughed at myself.
I have never been accused of being a morning person. I dislike morning people secretly. But I go slow in the morning because I know I have to. I double-check when I turn off my tea kettle. I wash the dishes after I use them because it helps me wake up. I make sure to go as slow as a wake time allows. How did I leave open my door?
I was already flying with the psychological significance of the matter. I was carrying a lot that day, more than usual. And these days have been full, really full. The fact that I get on people about safety and locking doors made me laugh at my own preoccupation, at my presumption that I did what I always do, and it gave me the humor I needed to slowly reflect on how vulnerable I am to missing details, to making mistakes, and to unexpected kindness.
When you carry a lot or when you carry more than you usually do, what you’re carrying will exhaust you. It’s normal. Even when your little defenses form mechanisms to insulate you, there are openings, there are vulnerabilities, and there are breaks.
Those openings can bring laughter but they can bring a certain amount of judgment too. When you get on without seeing your breaks and your vulnerabilities, you actually need those openings. They give you something and not only humor. They give you vision for reality. They help you see the unseen.
I am migrating through a terrain that I’ve never walked. A murky, sometimes soul-bending, walk that with all my good planning I could not plan. I’ve struggled and I’ve laughed. I’ve prayed and I’ve gone to sparring.
It’s occurred to me a few times that much of this path is about grief–and not my own. There are many names for it. Attachment pain is a related one. Mourning. Stagnancy. Sorrow. These are synonyms for grief.
It makes sense and it’s unsurprising that the griever will pay their costs. But it’s terribly unsettling that grief has a way of charging everybody around. When you accompany a person through grief, even from a distance, it will cost you.
It doesn’t require your all but the unworked workings of others draws upon you. The grief of others who you’re in relationship to, even when that relationship has converted to the perfunctory, will cost you. You will pay emotionally and in other ways.
I’ve known of grief and its costs. You pay for the affection that seeps and spends and is, at some good point, finally absent. You pay for the moments of reckoning when you see little anniversaries come without the presence of the departed. You pay for not hearing your name in that person’s tone of voice again. You pay for a memory that grasps but doesn’t always capture. You pay for returning to the same old sacred spaces feeling new emptiness.
It’s like an expense that you can’t place perfectly on a budget, like a charge with its own deep subtraction but no place to categorize. You expect to be charged through the unwieldy experiences of anguish. Saying goodbye to someone. Feeling the rip that accompanies a transition.
The surprise to me is that these are not payments that are subject only the one who grieves but also to those that person is around. People I know will pay because of my pain. People I know will spend because of my sorrow. People I’m around will be taxed by my posture in relation to what’s gone.
There are costs to losses and not all of them are known. Some of the costs are unseen. Some of the costs are there but not yet known. So, it’s a surprise that’s dawning on me, an unknowing that I’m beginning to know better.
And I’m still frugal. I’m still upset to have to pay. I’m still struggling with this expensive terrain. Even as I look up and ahead to see the ending of a rocked path with sprouts of green and slices of yellow and all kinds of possible brightness.
This makes me think of my sons, of my brothers and their children, and of my father whose memory is blessed.
I’m thinking about Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician who recently died after battling for her own quality medical care and against Covid 19. And I’m thinking about a mother named Mary from a long time ago who was unmarried and who spoke sonnets about her experience of getting impregnated and carrying a baby whose existence was misunderstood from mystical beginnings.
Trauma, a word coming out of an early surgical model for discussing injury, has come to encompass a full set of pains. Trauma is an injury, a bewildering injury or set of injuries.
A trauma can occur to a person or a people. A lot of people from many disciplines are talking about trauma these days, how it happens, what it means to be trauma-informed, etc. From anthropologists to neuro-scientists, chaplains and therapists, and social workers and teachers, lots of folk are discussing and working to respond to traumas in people.
There is language in these discourses about how a trauma is a discrete event in many cases. It happens; it ends. There is a healthy discussion on when and if that’s always true. Some traumas do end. Some are protracted and are, in a real sense, unending. I won’t get so much into that but I want to write a little about the way trauma can return.
After occurring and “ending,” it/they can revisit persons in seen and unseen ways, through known and recognized forms, as well as through insidious and unacknowledged means. Sometimes we see the re-visitation coming. We anticipate it. When we do, we can prepare and draw upon resources to help through the revisited pains. When we don’t see them coming, we are likely more reactive, doing anything in response to the unexpected-but-somehow-still-known.
Disparities in healthcare and medical treatment can be a means of trauma recurrence. Unfairness and mistreatment become a mechanism whereby trauma returns. Now, you’d have to accept a cultural transmission of trauma to appreciate this reality where earlier experiences are translated and handed over to subsequent persons related to those who have experienced trauma. In other words, what happened in prior times affects these times. There is another post somewhere in this direction that combines cultural trauma (at least that type of trauma) with attachment theory to explain this transmission and the patterns and connections making this possible.
Still, interacting with a disparity in the emotional neighborhood of a prior trauma is an uneasy psychological experience. I’m thinking about healthcare but this is true in other places. Whenever a person meets the reminders of prior pain, the body recalls and sends all its resources to preserve life. Emotional life. Spiritual life. Physical life. You don’t want to be hurt. You never do. So if you’ve been hurt, if your people have been hurt, you consciously or unconsciously respond to the disparity, the trauma, at least because of deep memory.
This is evidence of what, in The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman called a “strange quality of renewal.” The response to the disparity is to, in some way, resist it as a means of death. Resistance is a sign, a strange one perhaps, of life. Thurman says, “this is the way of life.” When you’ve experienced traumas and bruising pains, and when those are revisited among you, your reactions are little signs that life is present.
The exercise of distrust by Black people, then, is a needed one. It is needed because that distrust is evidentiary of a different trust, a trust in life. I call it everlasting life. Black distrust of the traumatic opens the world to the actual agitating presence of the God of life, the Source of life. Distrust of one system illuminates abiding trust in another. Distrust of medical science or research practices, say, points toward the life bonds elsewhere. Isn’t the question, “how do I find the life here?” Or “What does trust look like then?”
Take it from there. Look for the next sign of life. But name that life force. Relish the presence of Spirit. Moving against the brokenness and the flagrant disregard of life is a spiritual resistance that itself is being visited in the world through your own act of resistance.
Listen to the Spirit. Act with the Spirit to preserve life, to vanquish non-life. Do what will counter the forces of death and what will make right – or righter – what was wrong the first place.
Illinois law requires drivers to stop at pedestrian crossings, sometimes hardly noticed lines in the street that are designated as safe places to cross. These crossings aren’t marked by stop signs. There is no stop light. There’s only a set of lines. In more resourced neighborhoods, those lines are accompanied by stand out posts with a kind of stick figure. Words are printed that tell you something about the law, words that are, if you’re unfamiliar with them, a distraction or an annoyance.
The truth is, these crossings aren’t always safe places. For drivers or pedestrians. It takes patience for a pedestrian – perhaps one on the phone – who is standing near a crossing to wait. It takes effort to gesture that you’re waiting to cross and not being ambiguous about your intent. These crossings are sometimes located near actual stops or lights, and since pedestrians may not be ready to cross, interpretation takes work. Designated places can be dangerous places.
Pedestrians dart out or jog out or walk in dark clothing at night, expecting drivers to yield. Drivers are distracted, have slower reaction time, or under the best circumstances, sometimes fail to notice and stop. The crossings themselves aren’t always clear since lines can be hard to see, covered in sand or snow. They can be so neglected by municipal services that they are invisible from wear, from walking, from untending.
These crossings are there. They invite us, or require us, to slow down, a whole related issue. Why walk or drive in a manner that you can’t slow down to stop? What are we doing that we can’t notice the speed of the other? Why are we so unempathic? What makes us assume that the other will pace for us when we won’t pace for them?
These crossings are there and they bring questions, queries for the head, heart, and hands. One of my theologian teachers, Nancy Bedford, said once that people drive for themselves, that they don’t drive for others. She said this in a way that she’s said much of her theological brilliance, when speaking about embodied matters. It was an “offhand” comment, inasmuch as Dr. Bedford makes those. She wasn’t talking about Christology (necessarily) but she was. She is, in a way, always talking Christologically.
Those crossings are there, worth seeing, worth responding to, worth thinking about. The pedestrians and drivers are there. All things worth noticing.