History from the safety of arm’s length is lofty reflection. Last week I wrote “we are shaped by and dragging the bounty and burdens of 5000 years.” About the onset of patriarchy and how slavery emerged in its wake. In another post I wove slavery to genocide as cornerstone to the bloody history of this continent. Lofty reflection is a worthy intellectual endeavor—and it’s no surprise it dumped me into much more down-to-earth trenches. History’s connection to the current cultural conversation feels at once incredibly personal. These massive concepts, shocking behaviors and gut-wrenching events live right inside me with DNA roots ripe to acknowledge and explore.
Why? Well first this. Ever been in the midst of devouring a book to find reflected the very issues you’re grappling with, wondering how in the world this book made a synchronistical appearance? In The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake, a 500 page novel that explores three generations that delivered us to this continental moment, the Jewish character Len Levy speaks:
“And nothing taught me more than this: when I was ten years old, I knew there were boys my age being killed like cats. And it could have been me. Or my uncle, or my aunt, or my father. You grow up knowing that and you see it’s always a struggle between who you are and what you do.”
Earlier, his friend black friend Reg Pauling considers:
“”He’d gotten it back there. He’d gotten it down in film—whatever it was, that moment inside these worker’s heads when they saw him. He’d gotten the look. He’d caught the shift in the one man’s eyes when he’d seen Reg and seen Negro and put him away, closed the box and pushed it back in its line, the handler inside his head coming forward.”
Through this fictional friendship, Blake weaves genocide and slavery. Not the genocide of indigenous people who lived here, rather the Jewish people killed like cats this past century. And what is slavery but a living genocide, a wiping out of a culture by means other than death. Genocide. I turned toward it again. Two years ago I returned to my root-land, where my Jewish family had lived for 900 years. I wept by graves in cities my four grandparents had emigrated from. I bore witness to mass graves of genocide.
I grew up in the 1950s, a Jewish girl in a culture that did not reference Judaism. Except for reminding me that Jews killed Jesus. It was years before I learned that Jesus was a Jew. I felt my different-ness, my other-ness. I felt how inconceivable it was to my friends that we did not celebrate Christmas. I’d “gotten the look, the shift in the eyes.” It was only my white skin suit that separated me from Reg Pauling, the character above. And it was only the courage of my grandparents, scared youngsters who left their world and their parents behind, that delivered me here today.
I am not holding up this personal history in a “what about me?” way. I am not complaining about how the current conversation ignores the inequality and injustice I have experienced. Rather I am grasping that the quality of empathy I can bring to bear on this current conversation is directly related to the empathy I have for my own suffering. As I move through the historical intertwine of class and racism, genocide and religious intolerance on this continent, a slow dawning happens deep inside me. A sense that another layer of personal work is to be done in order to be part of the solution. Which truly surprised me for one whole day. How many times have I made this internal comment? “But I’ve already done this work. I thought I was complete with this work.” Hah!
I sense we each have another layer of the onion to peel. Each with our own unique history, distinct details that differ but an onion nonetheless. The question of the moment is “are we willing?”
“It takes discipline to be a free spirit.” Gabrielle Roth
We’ve travelled to every point of the compass in class offerings this month. By the time we joined feminine north left body and masculine south right body, we were primed to feel the ancestors trailing out back body west. And future generations pouring out front body east. This embodied exploration has emerged from and provoked the personal. As it always does. I was dancing yesterday and for the first time grasped that my parents never knew their grandparents. That my grandparents raised their children with no parents to lean into. I let this new awareness wash through me. This next layer.
Heightened sensitivity to physical clues help us peel the onion. Sensation is a tipoff to focus our attention. I’m a nervous car passenger—one too many accidents. This week I deeply attuned to my body’s response in the close call moments that pepper every driving experience. There it is: shallow breath, psoas clutch, pelvic floor clench. This stress response is track-able as evoked images and memories arise un-censored, as I move full throttle on the dance floor or make quiet shapes on my mat or walk barefoot through grass or sand. There is so much to feel in my breath, my belly, my heart. As I let it in, I build empathy for my own suffering. This build allows me to more skillfully engage in and contribute to our current cultural conversation.
There is one more Essentials and one more Wednesday Waves before I take a break in July to walk barefoot through grass and sand. Sunday Sweats continue through July. Stay tuned about August.
Let’s keep peeling onions together. Love, Bella