The Shared Experience of Struggle Creates Equity, and perhaps Empathy

Oh my – the hair

Hello from my kitchen on an early Monday morning,

It is about 5:40 a.m. and I have decided it is time to get back to a productive schedule. I had actually set my alarm for 6:45, but I woke up about 5:00 and decided to get up. I am cooking oatmeal and decided to do something productive while it simmers. It is not instant oatmeal and takes some time. This morning I have a multitude of feelings: the Packers lost 😞 and that makes me sad because they simply got outplayed. The missing of a couple of players and some just plain tough football by the Bucs’ defense kicked them out of yet another Super Bowl game. I am hoping to not fall victim to the post holiday doldrums and that is part and parcel to my decision to rise, and at least try to shine, and early start to a day. I am hoping the peppermint hot chocolate might help the shining aspect of the day. I have already put a load of laundry in the dryer and one in the washer, so caught up there too. The list of tasks on the to-do list is substantial and they are also involved and laborious, so it will be a long day. That is fine as long as I make progress on a number of fronts.

Over the weekend, I worked diligently to put into practice the words and call for reaching across the aisle I have espoused in some of my latest posts. In one instance, I have some history with the person, though not necessarily with the couple people with whom I had some posting interaction. In the other case, I certainly know the person upon whose page I responded, but again no specific knowledge with whom I had an extensive give and take. What did happen was after some initial sort of disregard or discounting, the people had to step back and reconsider that perhaps it was possible that someone who thought differently or claimed a different political bent than they might actually listen to them. This is not to say I am not passionate about my positions or beliefs, but as I have noted we need to begin to reach out on an individual level if we are going to make a change in our currently national dialogue. There were two things that stood out in our discussion. There was the idea that one should not waste their breath on the other. If we choose to hold our breath and not use it, it might be argued we will wither and die. The second point was about changing the other person’s mind. This buys into the idea that the only goal of an argument or debate is to win. Again, as I have noted in the past, this is not true. The goal of an argument is to come to consensus. If I am to debate thoughtfully with another, I have to understand their concerns and their fears. Eleanor Roosevelt once said this concerning fear. “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Fear is incredibly powerful, but more importantly, fear creates anger. Think about this for a moment. If someone jumps out and frightens you, after that momentary fear, we almost always follow up with a sense of anger. Damn it! You scared me! And we might refer to them with some disparaging moniker.

When I graduated from Dana, I went to St. Paul and the seminary to enroll in a summer intensive Greek program. This was because I felt incapable of managing Delvin Hutton’s Greek class at Dana. It was an really laborious summer, but I loved it and I thrived in that situation. And yet, looking back, I know how difficult it was. I did not feel that at the time, but what I know to this day that the colleagues, classmates, I endured the summer with became some of my dearest friends and colleagues beyond. The struggle of that summer class was an incredible equalizer. All of us where thrown into the same process and we needed each other to survive it. Our study sessions, our 10:00 p.m. trips to Poppin’ Fresh pie shop, which would lated be called Baker’s Square, or our post-exam evening to El Torito’s where we would consumer incredibly large margaritas because there was no assignment for the next morning’s class are rather legendary among that group. We did not worry about grades as much as we believed it was our duty to hold each other up and make sure no one was left behind. That summer was an interesting one for me because I was told by someone I was not academically or intellectually smart enough to manage the rigor of that course. That only served to motivate me, and motivate me it did. I would eventually teach that very class a few years later.

It is now later in the week, and as my blogs indicated, my plans got way-laid by my health issues, but I have managed to make progress. The expensive eyedrops are doing some very helpful things for my vision and my ability to focus. It is now Saturday, and earlier today I got my first Covid vaccination. It is about 10 hours later and there is some very slight discomfort at the injection site, but otherwise, no issues. Earlier this evening I spoke with a long-time friend, one questioning the efficacy versus the fear of getting vaccinated. I spent some time explaining why I was willing, even with, and particularly because of, the various maladies. While I want to protect myself, for me it is as much about being safer for others. One of the things, at least in my view, about being vaccinated is we are in this viral morass together and we will only get out of it together. I try to think about the logic of it all. None of these companies want to do something on a global scale that will come back and bite them. They will lose their company. I do believe it is that profound. And again, I do not mean this as a political statement, which we are prone to take everything as, but I do believe the things I have listened to this past week from either the more well-known Dr. Anthony Fauci, or the new head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who served as Chief of Infectious Diseases as Mass General and a Medical Professor at Harvard, as well as a degree in Public Health, I have learned more about what the vaccine does than I did in numerous briefings in the past year. Again, this is not meant to be a slam against anyone, but it is that I have listened throughout. I did not ignore the briefings in the previous administration because I wanted to understand.

I am hopeful that we are at the bottom of the inverted bell curve, although the variant issues concern me. I do believe that issue was explained this past Friday that vaccination is the best way to minimize variants. All of this made sense to me as it was explained. It would be easy to focus on just my little corner of the world (that being PA at the moment), but I believe that is short-sighted. This is a global health crisis and I do believe unless we figure out a way to get as much of the global population vaccinated in as timely a manner as possible, we will be doing the proverbial one-step-forward, and two-steps-back, but the consequence of that will be more than a struggle. It will be catastrophic. Death is an incredible equalizer. That has been often said, and I believe it is one of the more profound truths we must face as humans. Social class, gender, age, economic status, none of it matters, and the reality is this virus cares nothing for any of that nor is it confined by space, geography, or time. We are in this together, regardless language, single or with a partner, small town or urban dweller. What is evident is countries with money has much more access to the vaccine than poorer countries, but when there is an outbreak in places who have not had an opportunity to purchase the vaccine in levels of millions of doses, that outbreak will not remain there. It is a long ways from South Africa to South Carolina, but the variant got there. The Atlantic is wide, but 29 states have that variant as of earlier today. This is where we need to be more than empathetic we need to be fair and thoughtful. In our own country, it has been well documented that poorer communities are significantly more likely than some other places to have exponentially more cases within their population.

I remember preaching the week after Princess Diana was tragically killed. The entire world stopped and mourned for the week after her passing, and I am not lamenting that outpouring of grief and care. There were hundreds of others who passed away that week we never heard of, but their loss was as profoundly felt by their own families as much as the highly publicized passing of the People’s Princess. I remember noting that in my sermon that next Sunday. Death cares not about what you have, who you have touched, or what you have done. It is final, at least in what happens to your physical body and how your loved ones will understand your actual presence in their lives. As of this moment as I write this, 435,151 people have died in 12 months from this virus. As a sort of measurement, that would be about 75% of the population of the entire state of Wyoming. If want to look at it in terms of infections, 26,000,000 is almost the entire state of Texas. Again, these are simplistic connections and I know what some will say, the death rather is minimal, but those who have long-term consequences and what all those consequences are is so beyond what we know at the moment.

The point of all of this is we need to realize the equity (and the inequity) of this crisis. I see it among my students and how moving to remote learning affects them differently. I see it in how the culture of some and their options make them more vulnerable. I see how our distrust of so many things from people to information has made us suspicious of almost everything. We cannot live and thrive as a country when we fail to see a common purpose. Again, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt (I think it would have been an incredible thing to meet her or listen to her speak), she asked, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” Illness is also an equalizer, but this time it has too often been suffered in isolation. It is time for us to allow our consciences to be tender, to be forgiving, to be unselfish. The struggles we are facing are not merely our own, they are our world’s and it is time we reach out our hand to make the world a better place. This is not a socialistic endeavor, it is a human endeavor. Caring for the other is a faithful thing, regardless the faith you call your own. Every major religion addresses the idea of caring for those less fortunate than one’s self. It is in that reaching out that equity and empathy occur. I was fortunate enough because I am an American, over 65, with health issues, and a job that falls into an important category that today I could be vaccinated. There are many of my friends from both here and abroad that have not been so fortunate. I think about each of them and I pray for their safety. This past week has been a rollercoaster and the next week will be a blur from beginning to end. That is my individual reality, but I am constantly reminded that our world reality has paramount ramifications for me, even though I am in a little town tucked away in North Central Pennsylvania. To the literally hundreds of people who reached out this week, thank you. I am doing better. I am blessed in many ways and as such I am called be a blessing back. Thanks for reading this. I am reminded of a time when a number of influential musicians got together in the 1980s and reminded us of our human global community. Perhaps it is time to remember that and see our equity and use our empathy in this time. Take about a who’s who of musicians. And if you will take the time, the video that follows is a reprise of it with another group at the time of Haiti. Perhaps we need to do it again.

Thank you as always for reading. Bless you in this time.

Michael

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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