It isn’t everyday that something important sinks in. A little kid realizes that stones don’t float. They will never float, no matter how small they are or how light them seem. They will sink to the bottom of the lake every time.
On my way to a meeting today, I got on the elevator and a slender man in a white dress shirt and khakis got in behind me. I stood on one side of the elevator, looking to make sure that I’d pushed the right button, noticing where he was, to my left and behind me, I could see him over my shoulder. I could see that he was going to 5. I was getting off at 2. A short ride.
What if, I thought to myself, what if this man attacked me? What if he actually put his hands on me? What if he robbed me? Or stopped the elevator and raped me? If that happened to someone, I thought, how could they ever get on an elevator again? How could they even set foot into that little box of a place and watch the doors close? Jesus. Fuck. I thought. How does anyone ever recover from being attacked like that?
How do they survive? I felt like a foolish six-year old in my wonderment. Of course they survive. You know survivors, Jan. What did you think they were talking about? The post traumatic stress, the hyper-vigilance, the permanent change in how they see the world. Why are you such a little Shirley Temple?
Last week I sat in a meeting with several people discussing a public response to a recent police shooting of an African American man who was later determined to have mental health issues. Our group was working on recommendations or demands, actually, to be made to the local police department in terms of better training for officers. I have been very intense about this issue, adamant that a strong position be taken.
And then one of the people in the group, an African American woman who is a well-known leader in mental health and who, herself, has a son with serious mental illness, looked at me and said, “Black men have been dying in police custody forever. This isn’t something new. Just because it was a Black man getting shot in a white neighborhood doesn’t change anything. This has been going on forever.”
“I know,” I nodded, as if I did. I didn’t. I don’t.
But I am thinking now as I write this that the path to righteousness isn’t knowing everything. Maybe it’s in the missteps and delayed understanding, finally realizing that the stone will always sink after throwing thousands in the water.
And appreciating the patience of others. That’s it. Appreciating the patience of others as I figure out what they already know.