One of the assignments we were given in Emery’s Master’s in Public Health program was to do an analysis of survivors by societal class when the Titanic sank. In spite of the intuitive realization that likely more people with wealth survived, the sheer numbers were staggering. Some of it can certainly be explained: lower classes had quarters lower in the ship that were subject to the earliest flooding. The wealthy were closest to lifeboats. But beyond those instances, it is also clear that there was a systematic preference and commitment to saving the wealthy. 62% of first class passengers survived versus 25% of third class. There was basic inequality on that ship that was rarely discussed after the Titanic went down. After all, it was a great tragedy. Why make the pain even greater?
We are living in a time that is already flooded with pain. The pain of losing more than 108,000 souls in our country to this awful disease. The clear inequities ingrained in its outbreak with people of color disproportionately sickened and dying. Perhaps we will find that there are reasons for that other than lack of access to medical care, lack of testing, lack of resources, lack of food, high ratios of black and brown people in high risk jobs. Yet, it is obvious that all of these factors are at play as well, and are playing starring roles.
We are in a time of economic crisis, the worst since the Great Depression. While some of us need to cut corners, make tough decisions, others of us are living in sheer desperation. How can I feed my kids? How can I keep us from losing our home?
Now, the scab on a wound too deep to measure has been ripped off with George Floyd’s horrific death. Inside me, I admit, there lurks an emotional coward. We are already in pain; how much more can we as a nation and as individuals absorb?
I have to actually hearken back to my approach to becoming healthy to thrust myself out of that emotional cowardice. I became healthy by taking a holistic approach to weight loss and fitness. I realized that I could not find my way solidly on that path until I addressed the physical, emotional and spiritual toll my extreme weight had taken on me. Merely losing weight would have made my dress size smaller, but would have done little else for my arthritis, for my weakness and shortness of breath. Ripping the scab off of my lifelong emotions of insecurity, inferiority and shame took courage, just as getting on the elliptical for the first time did. It was that holistic approach that healed me–body, mind, spirit.
We could have the greatest economic recovery ever seen, we could potentially have a vaccine as soon as this Fall, and it would not be enough. The chasms are deep, the pain deeper, the inequities a huge breach between all of us.
So, I think we need to listen. Really listen, and absorb more of that pain. Acknowledge it and feel it. Open the scab and start to clean the wounds, side by side. This isn’t a black issue, it is a societal issue, a fissure we have to discover and understand, and work to slowly close.
I am trying to listen. I heard a young man talk about participating in the peaceful protests, about seeing police officers look at their crowd of black and white, young and old, and smile as they turned off their body cams. I didn’t want to listen, but I did. I felt and heard his horror that they were tear-gassed, including those young kids, before the curfew had even fallen.
I am praying, for all of us. For those who have faced a lifetime reality of inequality and brutality that many of us can’t begin to understand. For those police officers who do a phenomenal job every day in building community trust and relationships, in protecting us. For those brave enough to protest and to decry the violence that has seemed to leech its way in to a just cause. For our leaders, the ones who are admitting that it is way past time; that it isn’t enough to just say, “what a shame;” it isn’t enough to arrest one man. For those who will help us come together, in each community, for acknowledgement, for sharing, for working towards concrete solutions.
Let us all try to hear and see each other as fully human, as children of God. As individuals, as communities, as a nation, let us find ways to carry and uphold one another and find our path towards emotional, spiritual and physical healing. It is past time.