“We must find a way to look after each other, as if we were one single tribe.”
— T’ Challa, Black Panther
I was privy this week to a couple of situations that left me speechless (temporarily anyway) in their blatant selfishness.
And yea, y’all, I know, selfish is human nature, and I’ve got my fair share of it to own. But these two things were different–painfully jarring in how obvious it was that not a single thought had been given to another human being’s mental or emotional or physical well-being. Not a single breath had been spared to pause and ask, “Wait, what might the repercussions of this be?” Not a single action was calculated for anything other than personal desire.
A person needs to make a selfish decision now and then (again, we’ve all got it in us, and I’ve got no issue with taking care of yourself as truly needed), but in both these situations other people got hurt. Put at risk. Sidelined as unimportant to the grand scheme of things.
I’ve been noodling it all around in my head and heart for days–and tonight, while watching Black Panther (I know, I know…Marvel again…stop rolling your eyes), finally put my finger on something that has been increasingly troubling to me since about mid-March.
A dear friend says there are no new stories–it’s just that some of us are living them for the first time. Racial tension is not new. Hate is not new. Global pandemic is not new. Political turmoil is not new. Economic despair is not new. But we are, right now, in the United States, living it all at the same time, and with the completely underestimated complication that we have–by and large–been practicing physical distance from one another (with good, sound reason) for some months now.
We’ve moved into actually living our lives digitally–at work, at school, with family and friends. I suspect that this physical separation is giving things like anger and pain and hate and greed even more room to riot–because no one has to engage in real, face-to-face, authentic conversation. It was already easy to hide behind a keyboard and issue our social and political and ideological hot takes–now we’ve actually been told to stay behind the keyboard, to connect through screens. And it just might be destroying what little regard we had left for one another; what tiny sense of grace in human interaction we might have had left; what glimmer of hope might be found in the redemptive power of relationship.
We’ve been given permission to wall ourselves off, retreat to our own tribes, bully up our own imagined certainties without having to be in-person accountable to someone about it, and the result is a disconnect from one another that is slowly but surely eating at our humanity.
Look, there’s always going to be selfish people. Narcissism is a thing and even the Ancient Greeks knew it. We deal, right? But something about this particular climate we find ourselves in is, it seems to me, making it far easier to lean towards that shadow side of our souls where fear of other and self-interest dwell.
We claim your side and my side. We draw false dichotomies and set up straw men with ridiculous precision. We fight over masks or no masks. We take a set of facts and allow it to be interpreted myriad ways, in support of whatever agenda we’re pushing. We refuse to listen to or acknowledge history, lived experience, glaring holes in the narrative we tell ourselves about freedom and justice and equality. And we demonize anyone who does not see it exactly as we do–quickly, efficiently, and most generally with a meme designed to make us feel better about ourselves.
Y’all. We have got to stop.
We have Got. To. Stop. Because it is not, after all, about you. Or me. It’s about the absolute necessity of learning to care for each other. Because (and omigod I’m going to sound like a broken record here) this is what we were made for.
This is what we were made for. Relationship. Community. Connection. We are quite literally designed for it–and yet we act like its an option to love our neighbor or not, never mind the fact that your well-being actually depends on the well-being of everyone around you.
Our nation is so broken, y’all. And it will not be fixed, at least not wholly, until we are able to get over ourselves and our godforsaken individual desires long enough to look one another in the eye and ask, “Where does it hurt for you?” And then listen, with hearts wide open and spirits willing to engage, as a fellow human being says, “This is where it hurts.”
Where does it hurt right now for you?
You know what? Me, too.
Full disclosure/real talk: I feel like utter shit today. I had a third round of chemotherapy this week, and if you have done chemo yourself, or know someone who has, you know that this often essential treatment can sometimes feel worse than the disease it is combating. It can wreak such havoc on a body that there’s a whole cocktail of drugs administered with it to mitigate its effects. So far, my own side effects have thankfully been pretty mild, but still, coming off that cocktail is like coming off a night out with your girlfriends except no one had a perfect Manhattan or flirted with the bartender or laughed until they cried. All the hangover. Zero the fun.
On the other side of it, is, one trusts, good things. Respite from the illness itself. Life to be treasured and memories to be made. Hope to be found.
Which is to say–there is on the other side of hell, a sort of healing to be found that cannot be fully known without the awfulness first. As Glennon Doyle says, “First the pain. Then the rising.”
Good Lord, how I am hoping for a rising of this beloved country I call home–a soaring into everything we were meant to be. How I pray for healing beyond the madness; for hope beyond the despair; for truth to be made known and love to be made real. Because right now, it, too, feels like utter shit.
“We must find a way to look after each other as if we were one single tribe….”
It’s not about you. Or me.
On the other side of hell….
Meet me there?