What Is All This For?
Last Tuesday, I was holding my new niece, a pudgy pink bean just 14 days old, when my mom called to say my youngest brother had been in an accident. I've had a slew of these moments this year. The kind like a swift club to the knees, knocking the balance out of you. Disbelief comes most easily. Is she sure? How does she know? Irrelevant questions that give the moment an illusion of order.
She knew because my baby brother works for their next-door neighbor. His daughter had come knocking to say my brother had been taken by ambulance to a hospital. No, no one had talked to him yet.
But let me back up.
Just days before that I stepped off a plane and into the arms of my chosen family. We drove to a Chili's on the way home and pecked out games on the tablets they leave on tables for helpless parents. On the TVs overhead, a soundless crowd fled as a car mowed down a human body over and over again.
No disbelief this time. Just the unmoored feeling of a ship separated from its anchor, careening toward inevitable collision. With each new police shooting, white power march, and mass acts of violence, I feel more and more like we're headed toward some unknowable but horrendous moment. Another Hiroshima. Oklahoma City. Philando Castile. Because we are.
Wait. Let me back up more.
The week before that I had been in Boston, a city rich in architecture and brusque social interaction. I was there for a conference on higher education and attended a session about making graduate study more accessible. In a sub-industry of slick numbers and market reach, this lone presenter was lit up for what access to education provides. The dude had me converted.
Graduate school on a whole prides itself for exclusivity, its very existence predicated on an elite - those who can get in. There's a joke in St. Louis about people knowing exactly who you are based on what high school you went to. Grad schools are a lot like that.
Back to my brother
I raced to the hospital, numb with crisis, as most of my family is, and just happened to get off at the exit where my brother had been hit less than an hour before. Like a massive, felled animal, the work trucklay on its side, the entire driver's side crushed inward. I went cold, the kind that makes me people talk about ice in their veins or their heart stopping dead. I was still the kind of calm we'd all been trained to be in these kinds of situations, but I couldn't imagine a scenario in which my brother walked out of that.
This is what we're training for. The meditation, yoga, constant inward inquiry, all the woo and spirit and what can sometimes feel like total bullshit. I walked myself back from hysterics. I played it forward. I had no actual idea if my brother was okay or not in that moment, so losing my shit wasn't going to help anything.
Don't worry. He's actually okay.
Somehow, he walked out of that accident. Crawled, actually. A few fractured vertebrae, a mealy lump on his head, but the rest of him basically fine.
And again, for what feels like the thousandth time this year, I found myself able to give in extraordinary amounts. I also discovered I step aside and let other people take over. My middle brother, always the kid popping the heads of my dolls and hitting me with wiffle ball bats, had grown while I've been away into a man who could be strong for both of us.
As the over-responsible, bossy know-it-all of our family, it was a major gift to see what blossoms when I get out of other people's way.
The Battle Rages On
The list of things I need to accomplish daily so I don't wind up screeching at traffic on the neutral ground keeps getting longer and longer.
- Morning yoga
- Nightly journaling
- Constant texts to stay connected to people I love
- Recovery work
- Dog walking
- Not to mention a job I love that demands a lot
It's like I'm training for a marathon or a battle, and in a way I am.
We're training so we have the energy to respond to atrocities like Charlottesville, police abuses of power and murder, mass shootings, fundamentalist ideologies that fuel the us vs. them at the core of all violence. We're training so I have the presence of mind to reach out to that man at the conference and ask how I can better serve people for whom access to grad education would improve their lives.
A friend walked me around Boston Commons recently and put it to me like this: life is hard, shit happens, and we have to go to war, or the grocery store, so we have to be battle ready at all times. Training happens every day all year round.