As the project stands, I’m thinking that I’ll print 50 cards of a simple image, with a simple message that will inevitably be layered with meaning. I’ll give these cards out that will have this blog address and a short note like ‘wondering why you got this and what it means?’. Huh?!? you say? Alright, I’ll use my recent holiday card as an example.
Why Did You Get It?
If you received this card from me, it is because you are either a member of my large extended family, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a long time friend. If you’ve sent me a card or gift, then you’ve received one of these cards, etc. etc. I started sending out my own Christmas cards in high school (with Bible quotes and everything!) and except for a few college and post college years have continued to do so. Honestly, it just seemed like a nice thing to do and now its so rare to get anything in the mail that I like to think it’s a bit of a surprise gift.
What Does It Mean?
Most of the people who got this card were either Americans or people living in the US. The climate here has become increasingly polarized in the past few years, especially around racial dynamics. The US is still largely segregated, not only physically but economically, and educationally. This reality, this legacy of our society being built on the backs of slaves and indentured servants and poor immigrants erupted in a big way last August with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. And while there were conflicting eye witness accounts about what happened it became undeniable that more American citizens are killed by police officers per year, by far, than in any other ‘first-world’ country. What is also undeniable is that a disproportionate percentage, by far, of the Americans in these cases are African-American men.
There has been a lot of anger and violence and judgement but what i mostly saw was pain and sadness and overwhelming hopelessness. I am a White person who lives in an African-American part of one of the most racially divided cities in the US, Chicago. When I get pulled over because I’m driving out of my alley at night and I’m White (suburban people coming to the city to buy drugs is a big issue), I get a lecture about how I need to move, how I shouldn’t be living with ‘these people’, how I need to get a gun for protection. Honestly, I don’t trust that these same officers treat my Black neighbors with respect or that the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ view applies. On the other hand, I have two cousins who are police officers, and friends who are police officers and they are good people who put their lives in danger all the time. They spend a good deal of their workday on the defensive, ready in case trouble erupts. The biggest danger in my job is burning myself because I’m going too fast and not being mindful. I can’t imagine the pressure.
It was with all this in mind that I sat down to think about how to address this in a card. I had been watching a lot of the series Cosmos and was reminded of the fact that each one of us is made up of atoms and trillions of living organisms and space, mostly empty space between the atoms and the bacteria (I’m simplifying, I know). We exchange atoms. When you take the bus, you exchange part of yourself with the other people who are on the bus. Or at work, or in the line at the cafe as you wait to get coffee. Something that was part of ‘you’ becomes part of someone else and vice versa. Despite this commonality, the fact that we are collections of bits of exploded stars that fluidly transfer back and forth like we are all part of one giant organism, we appear and act so differently. Nobody is going to mistake me for my six year old neighbor.
Most of our life is spent focusing on the differences but there are a few times when we really all come together. That first warm day after a long Chicago winter, when everyone goes outside and you see your neighbors and everyone is listening to music and happy, we are all the same. As I was thinking this, the Roy Ayers song ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine‘ popped into my head. It is such a good summer tune, a soul classic and it starts out with the line ‘my life, my life, my life, my life, in the sunshine.’ It just spoke so much to my belief that our fear separates us, but when we all leave the house and step into the sunshine, hope returns.
If you have gotten this card from me, please feel free to leave a comment. And yes, I realize I got the words wrong. What can I say? The screen was already made.