I went for a walk today
On my favorite dirt road
Following the mountain stream
As it made its way down
From here to there
Eventually to the ocean.
I walked under a canopy of yellow and gold.
Showing off their fall colors.
Every once in a while the wind would blow
And the leaves I had been admiring above me a moment before
Would suddenly be dancing around me
Bringing their beauty close enough to touch.
I am deeply aware
Of what a privilege it is
To walk in peace
And to be surrounded by unspeakable beauty.
I miss being able to just “run out” to the grocery store.
I miss being able to think about and to plan for taking a trip to someplace new.
I miss passing someone on the sidewalk and saying hello without crossing to the other side of the street.
I miss the impromptu visit with friends.
I miss playing make believe with my grandson.
I miss going for a walk with my granddaughter.
I miss seeing our kids.
I miss not having to think if I have everything when I do go out.
To say nothing of keys and wallet and list.
I miss not having to worry about who has what and who has been where.
And, if they are “safe.”
While my missing is real, I also realize it is a privilege.
It is a privilege to just run to the grocery store.
It is a privilege to get in our car and take a trip.
It is a privilege to have a car!
It is a privilege to not worry about the person I pass on the street.
It is a privilege to have a grocery store to go to.
All those things I miss, most people in the world have never known.
Most people in the world have never imagined.
Including some not to far from where I live.
A conversation I had this week with a friend reminded me of the experiences I had in Nicaragua living in rural communities and working with families and a team of masons to build much needed homes. Even there, with latrines and bucket showers and rice and beans with every meal, we were privileged. But what I remembered from the phone conversation this week was the time when, at the end of the week, I asked the group who was with me to turn and look at the bus with its air conditioning and all our luggage piled on top and to think about the homes to which we would be returning, and then to turn and to look at the community we were leaving. Scrap wood homes with dirt floors. Latrines surrounded by black plastic. Overcrowded school classrooms with students standing because there were not enough desks. A few 16’x16’ cement block homes with a tile floor and roof that didn’t leak which we had helped to build. Looking at the community where we had lived, I reminded them that 80% of the world looked like what they saw and only a small percentage ever got to get on an air conditioned bus with all the luggage. To say nothing of the homes to which we were returning.
We forget our privilege at our own peril.
Whether that has to do with face masks and going to the grocery store.
Or with race.
Or sexual orientation.
Or zip code.
Both yesterday and today…
I had enough food to eat.
I had a roof over my head.
I live in a safe community.
I had meaningful work to do.
For which I am paid.
I am healthy.
I can go to a doctor when I am not.
I have people who care about me.
And, care for me.
I have a coat to put on when it is cold.
And another coat for when it rains.
I have money in my wallet.
And a wallet.
And a credit card.
I can walk out my door and go where I please.
And, return home again.
I can read what I like.
And write what I like.
I can listen to whatever news I like.
Then listen to an opposing point of view.
And make up my own mind.
I can walk into a church.
Or a synagogue.
Or a mosque.
Or a temple.
Or none of the above.
I fall asleep at night in a bed.
I have both a blanket and a pillow.
I dare not forget how privileged I am.
Today I sat and looked out the window.
At the snow.
Allowing my mind to wander where it wanted.
Then I walked the dog.
Not necessarily because the dog needed to be walked,
But because I wanted to walk.
To be outside.
To feel the sun.
And the breeze.
I stopped for a while and talked with a neighbor.
A little later in the day the dog and I went for a walk again.
Then I read a book.
Sometimes with the dog sitting on my lap.
Dozing every so often between pages.
Then it was time for dinner.
In the car today I listened to a program about European countries pushing back against giant US tech companies – Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others. In part because the influence of these companies is so great it is beginning to impact those countries’ culture and customs. I never thought about that. I just click the Google icon and type in what I am looking for. But, as I listened to the program, I realized there is so much I have never had to think about.
A colleague, an African-American pastor of a neighboring congregation, shares that he no longer shops in one particular store because each time he has gone in he has been shadowed by one of the store’s employees. I have never had the think about that.
Many years ago, a friend who had been a camp counselor with me and was wonderful with the campers in his care shared with me that he was gay, but couldn’t tell anyone because he was afraid of what others would think and that he might lose his job. I have never had to think about that.
At times, a neighboring Jewish congregation has had to hire a police officer to be present during their services because of their concern about antisemitism in our communities. I have never had to think about that.
Following the terrorist attack in Paris last fall, Muslim neighbors shared how concerned they were about the push back against them and their children and their mosque even though they were as outraged by the violence and terrorism as I was. I have never had to think about that.
She graduates from her high school with honors and is recognized both within the school and the community for her academic accomplishments and ability, but wonders if she will be able to attend college because she moved here when she was a child and she and her parents are undocumented. I have never had to think about that.
There is much I have never had to think about.
As we were approaching Thanksgiving, I began to notice how those around me were speaking about the things for which they were thankful. As they named those things- home, health, food, safety – they would link them to the word blessing. The more I listened to them the more troubled I became.
Maybe I just over think it, but I believe words matter.
And, how we use words matter.
In subtle, but powerful ways the words we use both shape and reflect our perceptions. And that is true of both of these words – blessing and privilege.
The word blessing connote favor.
Something bestowed on us because of who we are.
But, I wonder if it is the correct word to use when we say things like:
“The blessings of life…”
As I asked those to whom I was speaking when I was asked to speak about Thanksgiving, does that mean that those who don’t have what we name as blessings are less blessed than we are or are less grateful. That doesn’t site well with me and I don’t think that is true. Some of the most grateful people I have ever met have far less than what I have.
As, I have continued to think about it I wonder if the word we should be using is privilege.
Because of the color of my skin…
Because of where I was born…
Because I am male…
Because of more factors than I can really name or know…
I have led a privileged life.
It has enabled me to become educated.
It has opened doors, which were and are sometimes closed to others.
It has enabled me to walk down a street and not be questioned.
And those things I enjoy for which I am grateful – health, safety, more than enough food, a home larger than most in this world – are more a result of privilege than blessing. (Yes, I realize that my own hard work and effort have played a part, but others who also work hard often have much less.)
But, we don’t like or want to use that word privilege, do we?
Because then we have to grapple with the implications of what that means.
And, what our obligation and responsibilities might then be.
But, until we do, we will just be fooling ourselves.
And, holding others, safely, at arms length.