Reality appears terrifying. The confluence of a global pandemic with economic strife now amplified by racial protests has touched me and every one of us in profound ways. I doubt we would have arrived at such deeply shared experiences without the shocking and pervasive disruptions to daily life. COVID-19 forced a screeching halt to “normal” times of school, work, recreation…and I — like you — had to pay attention.
With the world turned upside down, I began to see my life and society through an altered lens. Each day carried new revelations of death tolls, epidemiology, virus spread, financial disaster…and then came the videotaped murder of a black man by police which fell upon an already impacted, tense and isolated population. A perfect storm.
Out of overwhelming adversity, we’ve stumbled onto a transformational point of questioning our very existence and our fundamental values. I feel more compelled to think; expand perspectives; evaluate right and wrong. Yet like most viewpoints mine are formed in my mind, through perceptions and personal experiences, reactions through layers of the past.
For me, the pandemic hit a chord of recognition deep within. In my formative years, I suffered a mysterious illness that kept me bedridden for months. I missed most of 2nd grade. The doctors never discovered the cause of the “fever of unidentified origin.” Then, finally one day it vanished but left me forever feeling susceptible to illness.
The race question entered my awareness also as a child. I grew up in a middle-class home where we were privileged to have a “maid,” Mary Hinton, a black woman who bussed to our home to clean and cook for our family five days a week. Mary became a surrogate mother to me, and I loved her intensely. She guided me through many growing pains from the death of a pet to first menstruation to silly crushes on local boys. She worked for us for an entire decade starting when I was 7. During those impressionable years, I watched the discriminatory, heart-breaking treatments Mary endured. Little gestures seemed so inappropriate from comments to behaviors. A well-meaning neighbor would package scraps of food that should’ve been dumped in the trash. As requested, Mary would stop by her house to pick up this dubious “gift.” I once asked Mary why she didn’t refuse. Her simple answer: “Why should I hurt Mrs. C’s feelings?” I’d watch as Mary casually tossed the package in our garbage can on her way to catch the bus. I even remember conversations we had about being called Negro or Colored or Black. It troubled her that there was no single descriptive word that covered all shades of African Americans. I ached for the way this quiet, caring woman was being hurt and realized what a uniquely different life I had been born into. I was devastated when she confided one day that she would not be returning to our home on the next Monday. My parents neglected to increase her hourly pay so rather than confront them in any way, she chose to quietly disappear into a factory job. I was the only one who knew she would not be back. I grieved and never saw her again.
At an incredibly early age, I also absorbed the idea that German people were evil and untrustworthy. Raised as a Jew, I eventually uncovered the source of this inherited attitude when I studied World War II. I realized the fuel for this prejudice came from undeniably horrific circumstances, especially in later years when meeting my sister-in-law’s father who was a survivor of the Holocaust. Subsequently, I also faced anti-Semitism which led me instinctively to conceal my Jewish heritage in numerous situations.
In my early 20s, I worked in New York City mostly in male dominated industries. As a young woman, I experienced repeated and blatant sexism. I could not hide my femaleness, just as today’s black and brown people cannot hide their skin color.
I’m not sure anyone eludes bias in one form or another during a lifetime. Clearly, I was taught belief systems instilled for my protection against perceived threats. So, I learned to fear people of other cultures who adhered to different sets of beliefs that I had little reference for understanding. I learned to navigate my own realities in perverse ways.
Minds respond instantaneously to physical impressions even though, as surgeon Dr Bernie Siegel once pointed out: “Inside we are all the same.” Brains are wired for survival, to recognize danger. After all, someone outside our “tribe” could pose a risk. We are conditioned and programmed on unconscious levels.
All these dogmas evolved for human safety passed on through generations. They mostly emerged from real experiences. At the simplest level, a child quickly learns that putting a hand on a hot stove top is harmful and knows never to do that again. Other principles are not so obvious as they evolve from religious and cultural teachings. In today’s global community, these ideas now intensify conflicts, turmoil and add to personal anxieties and worries.
When you and I accept our humanness and our vulnerabilities, we transcend the uncertainties. We share commonalities, a powerful desire to feel good — be healthy, productive, happy, significant, and peaceful. We strive to enjoy family, friends, associates, lifestyles. More importantly, we avoid both physical and emotional pain, which cause discomfort and trigger primal responses that detach us from reason or good judgment. We resist what is unpleasant and agonizing. But sometimes in that very resistance, we get stuck in a damaging mindset; a status quo that no longer works. At the end of the day, we want to be loved for who we are, but we no longer know ourselves. Our unspoken foundations have crumbled. Who are we?
Our civilization is at a turning point as the world is frantically changing before us. I’m facing my personal truths in the process of sorting it all out. I’m accountable for my thoughts and actions. I can carve a path of compassion and understanding by listening and truly hearing the voices of others. As a Personal Development Coach trained in both eastern and western traditions, I practice — and teach — the fine art of forgiveness.
We have arrived in 2020 with eyes pierced open to see a clearer vision of ourselves. Yet trapped in the middle of chaos, we only see chaos. Biologist and Author Dr. Bruce Lipton asserts: “Chaos is not random. There’s a plan, an order.” He suggests that when we pause to step back, we can observe the emergence of coherence. We can experience a consciousness evolution in how we think and live and how we treat one another.
To me, this 2020 collapse is like a raging forest fire, out of control, destructive, burning everything to the ground. In the charred remains of the aftermath, I can witness new, stronger growth. I can re-program my mind to a higher level of acceptance and positive action. I intend to be the change that nurtures the rebirth; to cultivate an expanding connection to the source within, the infiniteness of love.
Imagine if each of us let go of fear and welcomed the light allowing our heart to resonate love. Only then will we be empowered to touch the divinity of wisdom so that life may unfold more harmoniously for all of us! Ah, visualize what we might manifest together. My mind spins with optimism.