“They Are Not That Smart”

The other day, Pearl seemed proud and a bit surprised after he said, “There is no try, Mama…” and I completed the sentence, “…there is only do.” Yes, even moms know about Yoda.

The sun is shining and even though it’s quite cold, the cold isn’t bothering me today. In fact, I just pulled up all of our bedroom shades, something I used to always do first thing in the morning but now we rarely do in our room, since we don’t really spend any time in there during the day, plus there is not a lot of privacy with the shades open from neighbors on both sides of the house. But I love the light and I love that sound of the shade springing up.

On any given day and at any given hour in our household, a load of laundry is going. Today, it’s the dog’s beds and our sheets are up next. I’m excited to make the bed later with clean sheets and blankets. This is one of my very favorite things in life, one of the small things that makes all the difference. Earlier, I swept the kitchen and while the house is far from spotless, that felt good, too. I have plenty of work to do but sometimes a little bit of housework is a good way in, a good way to get the energy moving.

There are just two weeks of this fall’s Jewels on the Path session, which began 14 weeks ago in September. The weeks and months fly by, cliche as it may seem. Life is not infinite. I had one of those moments, call it morbid, in the car earlier. I had just dropped Aviva off at school, and I put on “La Vie Boheme” from the “Rent” soundtrack. What a great fucking song that is. The whole soundtrack is brilliant, actually. (If you don’t know “Musical Apology,” go listen. It will make you laugh.)

Driving on 91 south back towards Amherst from Greenfield, I thought, what if I got into a grizzly accident right now? Would they be able to see what the last song I’d been listening to was?

Why do we have thoughts like this? I think it’s natural to imagine one’s own death. And I wonder if the more interesting question is: Can one imagine one’s own life, while living it? Isn’t that what we are here for? To not only imagine ourselves into being, but to be? How many days, weeks, months, years, and entire lives pass without imagination, without really being here? What does that even mean?

We make the mistake of aligning this — living with imagination — with money. If you have money, in our culture, we are taught that anything is possible. And yet we hear about the poverty of the spirit constantly, how eroded our values are, how damaged our collective sense of connection and compassion, how hollow the communal psyche.

It’s important not to romanticize actual poverty here — money, a degree of economic stability, does make possible at least some opportunity to consider meaning. If we are not sure where our children’s next meal is coming from, or our own, if we are so bone tired from working low-wage jobs with no guarantee that they will still be there if we have to call in sick, if our home has some kind of infestation but the landlord will not take care of it — there are a million scenarios that make things like “imagining our lives” laughable.

But on the other hand, staying connected to one’s own inherent dignity and worth is critical to meeting a world that may tell you you’re dispensable, disposable, unimportant. We equate wealth with importance, education with intelligence, social standing with true contribution. Who gets overlooked? Who remains invisible?

I have a friend who has been in several of my writing groups. Even though we both grew up here, that’s actually how we met, though the Dive Into Poetry groups. She is a wonderful poet, as well as a single mom. Her kids are the same age as my kids. She has her own business cleaning houses. The other day, we went for a walk. She told me she’d recently raised her rate by $15, and one of her long-time clients read her the riot act. I was so glad when my friend told me she stood up to this this entitled woman, but I also felt disgusted by the woman’s need to make sure my friend “knew her place.”

You might not even realize you’re treating someone differently based on your perception of their station in life, but we all do it.

One thing Michelle Obama said in her recent interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie really struck me:

I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.

We do so much othering of ourselves, and often we end up with short end of some imaginary stick. This is not imaginative; this is internalized oppression. Let’s invest more time, money, energy, and risk in stepping forward and claiming ourselves to be smart enough, worthy, and deserving. Having class privilege is not a pass to feel superior to those who are struggling economically; it’s a responsibility that means you can afford to rock the boat without the stakes being as high.

We need to keep stepping up, challenging systems, and speaking as individuals to other individuals about justice and equity and human value.

And with that, I’ll wrap this up and go put those sheets in the washing machine.

* * * 

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