Thursday, June 25, 2015
Our new place has a pretty great view. It's a lovely house, modest in size and classic in it's mid-century appeal. There's a big fireplace. But I kept coming back to it in the listings last summer because of the magical phrase "views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains." Living in a place where I can see the water and mountains without leaving the house has been really important for me this year.
Andrew and I have always been basement dwellers. Our first apartment was in the basement of a house, and then we lived with my father-in-law, in his basement, and finally we bought our little condo which was also a basement unit. We have always found comfort in cave-like dwelling places, used to limited sightlines and secure in the knowledge that while we might be able to hear our neighbors stomping about above us, noise doesn't travel up quite as well. When I needed a view I could find one just a short walk from our building, in almost any direction.
A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist told me, while we were house-hunting, that there is something therapeutic about living in a place where you can see for long distances. "Something in your hypothalamus relaxes," he said. "Because your brain can see that there are no survival threats coming." That made sense to me. And after living for nine years in basements, and five years as a parent, I was ready for my hypothalamus to chill out.
I wonder what it is like to live in a world where there are literal, real, fight-or-flight, survival threats all around? Charleston feels like that, to me, and just regular everyday life feels like that, for most black people living in this country. A woman took her eleven year old granddaughter to Bible study and left covered in the blood of her friends after playing dead to avoid getting shot. The human being who did this hate crime is a product of the culture that I live in (and benefit from), and the culture my children live in (and I cannot protect them from it.) This is over sixty years after a bomb in a Birmingham church killed four precious children. It's been going on that long. Really, it's been going on much, much longer.
I could go on with how scary it is for me, but maybe I won't. I don't want anyone to feel bad for me, or try to make it better. I want it to be scary, it is terrifying. Not just for me, a woman whose hope and promise for the future is irrevocably tied to the well being of the black community. It should be terrifying and scary for everyone. How can us white folk get up high enough to see that this is true? How can we see far enough to invest ourselves in a future where no one feels unsafe in church, at home, with law enforcement, in school, or simply just by being around other people?
I posted on Facebook in the days after Charleston, about how more than anything I feel terror at this world my girls are growing into. A white friend wrote back to my post, expressing her own sense of frustration and helplessness at the magnitude of the issue. But then she said "You can count on me, to be part of the tribe that continues to do the important work needed to create a world where your children are safe. I feel your mother bear pain.." I hadn't realized, until I read her words, that I had felt not just trapped, but alone.
I never minded living in basements, because I was never alone there.
Individualism and isolation are pillars of white dominant culture in our country.
I love our new home, and the view does my soul a world of good. I find it easier to be alone with myself, here, which is necessary for a priest, and no easy task for an extrovert. I talk to my girls about the view, and I watch them learn to notice where the sun is in relationship to the mountains. They are starting to identify all the different birds. They have a tribe, they have each other. They aren't alone.