Re-post from July of 2015 at Incline Village, Nevada
Yesterday I was confronted by a stranger and required to establish whether or not I had a right to be where he thought I oughtn’t. I didn’t like it one bit. We have lived in what amounts to a gated community for several years now. We’re here full-time, unlike the majority of our neighbors who apparently live elsewhere and only visit their fabulous condos on the north shore of Lake Tahoe occasionally. This means these owners don’t know us and one of them thought he was in charge of keeping out the riff-raff, hence his icy challenge: “Can I help you?” as I ascended the stairs adjacent to his unit on my way back from our community’s pier. Now, there are forty-five of these stairs … Each previous year we’ve been here, before my two total hip replacements last summer, I could not even get to the water’s edge and had to stay content on the balcony outside our living room. This is admittedly not a hardship by any means, but you can’t take a swim from there! I’m pretty proud to be going up and down these stairs, even though it’s still really hard at this weight. Coming back up, when I was accosted by my “neighbor” I had scarcely any breath left and could not respond with my usual ease and loquaciousness! It was obvious he wasn’t offering any assistance in my ascent, unlike the construction workers who’ve been here for months renovating the unit next to his. They, on the other hand, have been genuinely concerned for my well-being as I shouldered my beach chair and bag, adding another thirty pounds or so to my load. I answered: “What with?”, and he repeated his query. I repeated mine. Then he got to the point. “This is private property. Where are you going?” “Home: number 32!” I said, which was all I could gasp out while struggling to catch my breath. “Oh. Okay. Have a nice day.” he replied, but it felt like a dismissal. You know, “I’m done with you. You can leave now!” And then he disappeared back into his domain. I do not even know his name, but I have been rehearsing rejoinders I will never use ever since.
Following a week where my gay and lesbian friends and family members finally won the right to love and marry whomsoever they choose, and my president sang “Amazing Grace” during a heartbreakingly beautiful memorial for my black brothers and sisters, who, along with their pastor, were senselessly slaughtered, and the hard-won medical coverage I now enjoy was reaffirmed as law of the land, this seemingly minor event in my own life assumed enormous
proportions. I was born white and have never endured the slights and oppressions that those of color know all too well. I happen to be a woman who has loved a man for forty years, so I did not have to fight for, nor “earn” the right to marry the love of my life. I have always known that I have been blessed, but I do get it that I have also been privileged! So, when I was confronted by a stranger and required to establish my right to even “be” where I was at the moment, it occurred to me that that feeling of surprise, then indignation, then fear, then outrage, which are so foreign to me, are the constant experience of those who, for whatever reason, do not “qualify” for the privileges that I have been given, but never earned.
Last weekend my husband and partner-in-ministry Gil and I conducted a Celebration of Life service for a friend and fellow trumpet player who had just passed away. It was held in a gazebo which was reserved for our group at the local community park. During the reception following the service a woman with a small child and a dog on a leash walked right into our reserved gazebo! The deceased’s daughter and I were talking together and we both stopped to observe the stranger in our midst, who, after a momentary hesitation approached the widow and was warmly received. The daughter and I looked at each other and she said what was on my mind too: “I’m really glad I didn’t say what I was thinking which was ‘This is a private party!’ It’s obvious now that she belongs here, but what would it have hurt if she didn’t even know my Dad and just joined us and ate a sandwich?” We both gave thanks for our newly found wisdom to take a breath, pause for a full beat, and think before speaking the words that shun, expel or embarrass another.
“He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout!
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in…!
Gil’s and my initiation with Ken Wilber was his book No Boundaries. (We’d tried Sex, Ecology, Spirituality earlier but couldn’t get with it. Turns out it wasn’t about what we’d expected!) In this comprehensive introduction to his own Theory of Everything, Wilber explains the many different, yet nesting ways human beings determine for themselves what is “me” and what is “not me.” Two noteworthy (in my opinion) conclusions emerge: one, wherever one draws the line, there will be a conflict of some sort; and two, the larger one’s definition of “Self” the healthier and more highly evolved is that being. Bigger circles. More heart.
Our granddaughters and I came back to the pier today, past our neighbor’s door again. I knocked and hoped to introduce myself a bit less out of breath. No one answered, but I left my card. Our address is printed on it. And I am sitting here on the pier, looking out at “our” lake, thinking of him, writing this and drawing a circle big enough for him too.