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Why Do Our Minds Race?

With the recent shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling still looming in our consciousness like humid air, making it hard to breathe, I find myself walking deliberately and forthrightly into the same wall with several peers who still refuse to believe that we have a problem.

“Just obey the cops and they won’t beat you up, it’s that simple.”

“So we should just ignore that he had a criminal record?”

Or better yet, the camera became dislodged so there’s no way to really know what happened.”

Each time I hear these objections I get this tightness in my chest, a mixture of revulsion, grief, and a growing sense of ominousness. Because when injustices get reduced to soundbites, humanity and irreverence become increasingly synonymous.

It’s easy to internalize that empathy is dying, camaraderie is inconvenient, and support is reckless. But the worst part is that the vilifying is so utterly misdirected. We are beleaguering ourselves with this carnage over crumbs as the system haughtily saunters away with the loaf of bread we could have shared.

Even though millions of us are exhausted by the binary rhetoric; it continues to infiltrate everything until the populism begets such division, we no longer remember the feeling of whole shoulders. We look on as Silence and Inaction continue to push Better Judgment aside, allowing Hate and Prejudice to commandeer the mic. And yet, despite my frustration with so many people who share my pigment, I’m still abundantly hopeful.

Earlier this year I listened to activist and writer Saun King speak at the University of Rochester’s Diversity Conference. He spoke about how, “the quality of our humanity, instead of looking like a steady growth chart, looks more like a roller coaster. Sometimes we, as a people, treat one another in beautiful ways. We address our core problems, we avoid war, and act like generally civilized creatures. At other points in human history, we appear to abandon all principle, and devolve into something altogether ugly. These periods, like the one we’re experiencing, are called dips.”

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If you have never attended a social justice rally I suggest you find the closest one to you and sign up immediately. But sign up for something that you think has nothing to do with you:

-If you’re straight, stand for the LGBTQ community

-If you’re white, stand against racial inequality

-If you’re a citizen, fight for the rights of immigrants

The reason I say that is because rallies are rife with opportunity to connect to those with whom you might not normally interact. There’s a unique atmosphere, not unlike the unabashed friendliness of drunk strangers at parties.

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Yesterday I walked in solidarity with Wilmington community members to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Everyone, (black/white/brown) was bolstered at the sight of so many unfamiliar faces lining up to link arms down the street in support of the same cause.

Too often we’re made to believe that hate and fear hold more power than empathy and unity. But that’s only because we’ve devoted too much time practicing the former and not honing the latter.

Rising from this dip begins with advocacy, and it’s sustained through exposure and education. Ignorance is not an excuse to be hateful, but it is still a symptom of a much larger issue that needs to be addressed. If you don’t think you’re brave enough just yet to physically stand for something, there are other ways you can help:

-If you hear a racist joke, don’t laugh along, call the person out.

-If someone hands you a petition, just sign it. I guarantee whatever they’re fighting for doesn’t cost you a thing to support.

-Make people question values that only serve to restrict others.

-Ask questions that encourage empathetic thinking.

-Share knowledge broadly and intently until exposure blankets any opportunity for misunderstanding.

 

Most importantly, be flexible in your approach, but unapologetic in your conviction. We may be in a dip, but it doesn’t have to be a plateau.

 

 

Walk Through the World As Windows

Martin Luther King Jr. said that “people hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other. They do not know each other because they are separated from  each other.”

I want to explore this concept- fearing what we do not know. Because I think often, we only fear that which contradicts the things we think we know. “Truths” that we think provide us with security and assurance, but actually inhibit us from connecting with one another in a deeper and more profound way.

With that in mind, what scares you? Or perhaps, more specifically, who scares you?

Who are the people you avert your eyes from on the street? What experiences have taught you this? Have you ever confronted it? Would you ever confront them?

I want to share the story of a man who so many Americans would fear if they saw him at an airport, or heard his name said aloud.  A man whose reputation in America is obstructed by exclusionary rhetoric and the espousal of fear.

I am going to wait to give you his name.

I first spoke with him through the crackling static of my cell phone. I placed one hand over my other ear to try and diffuse the noise and interpret his accent. “Allo? Allo? Ms. Thomas? I am…in the…at the corner of…are you here?”

“What? I’m sorry, I can’t..hello? I’m in a red scarf and a tan coat. Did you get that?” I enunciated into my screen. A car horn blared closeby which made me jump.

Then an older black car pulled up to the curb in front of me, the source of the horn. I waited cautiously, phone still at my ear, to see if this was who I was supposed to meet. The driver side door opened, a foot was placed gingerly on the ground. A pair of comfy looking Clarks protruded from underneath his khakis.

He looked to be about my dad’s age, his skin a mixture of olive and caramel. After pressing his hands together apologetically he reached out to shake mine, warmth spreading across his features as he smiled. “Hello, Ms. Thomas, good morning.”

“Hello,” I said sheepishly, breaking eye contact and looking at the ground as he transferred his hand to my bag and placed it in the trunk. I subconsciously blamed my standoffish response on the obscene time of day (if you can call 6:45am day time), but I knew there was something else that had hindered me from showing as much immediate kindness.

He opened the door to the back seat and I slid in, graciously welcoming the chance to mingle with just my coffee. Once he pulled onto the highway, we sat in silence for a while. Just two strangers, sharing any other mundane commute. Until I sneezed.

“Bless you” he said immediately.

“Thanks,” I replied. He grinned from ear to ear, looking inordinately pleased with himself. He must have caught the quizzical look I was giving him because his eyes found mine in the rear view mirror.

“I wasn’t sure if I said it right,” he said. A small invitation into his insecurities which lowered my guard.

“You did,” I laughed. “So, where are you from, uh, originally?” muffling the end of my sentence into my thermos to mask the awkward segue.

“Syria. I have been here in Colombus, in the US, for 10 months now…And you are from here?” he asked trying to continue the pleasantries.

“No I’m from Philadelphia.”

“Ah, the weather there, there are tornadoes and earthquakes and monsoons?” The innocence of the question struck me. Suddenly I found myself giving a geography lesson about the northeast.

“I would love to see New York City,” he mentioned as it came up in passing. “My children have always wanted to see it.”

“Yeah you should go with them at Christmas time! It’s magical.” But I wanted to take it back as soon as I saw a forlorn expression grow on his face.

“…Are they not here?”

“No. They are in Syria, with their mother, waiting.”

We’d reached a pivotal moment in this little black car.

With some effort, I changed the topic. “What did you do for work, before you came here?” Something told me there was more to this man than a career of chauffeuring.

“Computer programming. I studied at the University of Jordan. My company sent me all over the world: Paris, Dubai, London. But I was laid off. Not so easy to find the same job here…so I live with my brother in law now. This is his car service.”

“This must be very frustrating for you,” I said sympathetically, but worrying it came off as condescension.

He sat quietly for a moment. “It’s not so bad. I meet new people every day. I hear their stories. I see that many of our frustrations are the same. Lots of big dreams wasting away at small desks. At least I am surrounded by windows.”

We talked about London for a while. Turns out we had lived blocks from each other while I was working at the House of Commons and he at a large software firm. And here we were now, crossing each other again, at a much less exciting intersection of life.

We didn’t talk about war. We didn’t discuss politics or religion. Instead, we reveled in each other’s unfamiliar pasts, traversing with ease through a simple conversation some are too afraid to even begin.

As he dropped me off, I thought, here is a man who can speak four languages, several more if you include those in computer programming. A man who strives to persist in this world, only to be denied, uprooted, demoted by it. A man who cannot see his family. And yet there he sat, smiling into the early morning glare, wishing me a good day, the same way I imagine he would to his own children.

But what if all I had said to you in the beginning was that I had gotten into a car with a man named Assad?

So I’ll ask you again: Who are the people you avert your eyes from on the street? What experiences have taught you this? Have you ever confronted it? Would you ever confront them?

We cannot afford to fear what we do not know. Alternatively, we cannot be afraid of revealing ourselves to others. We all share the commonality of being human. We all have big dreams, and we can all choose to walk through the world as windows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Me

Gabrielle. It sounds…chewy. Like trying to speak with Werther’s in your mouth.

I share these posts with you to encourage self-reflection, to cultivate empathy, and to highlight the everyday moments of sonder that serve to enrich the plot line of our lives, albeit unknowingly. Travel, coffee mugs, bookstores, lutalica. Humanity, hiking, photography, the weight of words.

Sometimes it’s advice about areas I actually have some insight on, mainly it’s musings.

Because I know less with every moment I learn more. Because I fear that everything has already been done. Because we’re all just gabbing, in the end.

Level One: Beginner

I admire the people who are able to finish what they start. The people who can bridge the gap between vision and realization. The “Finishers” of the world who look at something they want and somehow seem to always get it.

Because I sit here time and again, sifting through all of these unfinished drafts, plans, and dreams crammed into a folder on my screen. I flinch as they stare at me like bitter teammates constantly relegated to the sidelines, huddling together for validation.

I envy these people. Because my thought process is a string of Untitled Documents, to-do’s and haphazard notes scribbled on the backs of business cards dug up from the depths of my Mary Poppins purse. Cards given to me by people who actually have their shit together. I too have cards. They’re nestled nicely in their box, commiserating with the folders piled high on my desk.

If only I could credit their success to experience and age acquired wisdom. But people are out there changing the world and winning Nobel prizes at 17.

Do you know what I was doing at 17?

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…It must be about priorities. The Finishers must wake up with a purpose each day, envisioning every moment sprawling out in front of them, forecasting how everything will eventually fall into place. They’re the kind of people with agendas who stick to their initial deadlines. The goal setters and the time managers, who always seem to see the bigger  picture and know the right people. Seriously, find me these connections because I don’t think I’m doing it right.

Finishers, lend me your collective mind for a day, because I imagine it to be a kind of sophisticated machinery that my brain just can’t rival. Mine is too busy failing at installing upgrades because any storage space I had is saturated with useless data.

Lend me your mind, because I feel like no matter how many steps I take in any direction, no matter how many obstacles I blunder through or changes I implement, I never level up.

I am a cemented Beginner.

It’s like I need those little magic pills from Limitless to kickstart all of the ideas floating around up here: the business plans, the goals of running for office and reforming education, the ability to navigate the realm of real estate, hell, even the notion I once seriously entertained about becoming an early riser.

In the meantime, I dabble. I peruse. I fixate. I imagine.

Maybe, for us Beginners, getting what we want just isn’t good enough. We are never content, always restless, never “finished.” We are fervently swept up into new adventures until something more intriguing comes along. We want to indulge in every passion and opportunity but find ourselves tempered by responsibility and choice.

Heart vs. Brain

Beginning is convenient. We haven’t failed yet. We are hungry but not yet constrained. We abate routine before it feels like settling.

We want to believe that our futures are limitless but ooze frustration when a solid path evades us. I appreciate those who finish what they start because, from an outsider’s perspective at least, they seem to have an outline of their life story already written, ready to draft. They know when it’s time to end a rich, plot thickening chapter and turn the page.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe circumstance befalls us all and chapters close whether we like them to or not. Either way, I challenge us to astound ourselves. To follow through with our commitments and observe the ripples. To write it all down. Take stock. Keep moving.

Finish each chapter, but only once it’s done contributing to your greater adventure.