Culture uses a lot of words to define us: “Fat” “Thin” “Male” “Female” “Black” “White” “Queer” “Straight” “Good” “Bad” “Cop” “Criminal.” These many weeks, we have been trapped in a whirlpool that is unwilling to let us up for air. We, as imperfect beings, cannot fully define the emotions we feel so deeply. We are scared, we are weary, we are confused, we are distraught — those words are too inept. The only word that can define this time is vulnerable. We. Feel. Vulnerable. We are exposed to the world without protection. We live in a world where the men and women who were supposed to protect us turn against us. We live in a world where those who try to protect us cannot protect themselves. We live in a world where we can no longer dance without fear. We live in a world where we can no longer fast and pray in safety. We live in a world where nothing — not life, not love, not religion is sacred. We live in a world with more phobia than freedom. We live in a constant and terrifying state of vulnerability, because society continues to falsely attempt the impossible — defining our humanity.
This week, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote:
“You’re indescribable. We writers spend our lives trying to do you justice. And you’re always more than we can capture.”
Our world is broken, because the vastness of our possibility is too expansive for our limited capabilities to comprehend. So we use the only tools our fragility has given us and we attempt to put people into boxes, boxes where like tigers at the zoo we can tame, domesticate, and placate our potential.
A son is born to a mother, the overwhelming enormity of his endless possibility quakes our unimaginative capacity so we give him labels at birth: “black” “male” “lower-class,” which in turn provide other assumptions “dangerous” “violent” “inarticulate” and “savage.” A baby who could have done anything now has immediate obstacles to overcome, because we attempted to define the undefinable.
We cannot continue to assume we are free if we continuously place one another into boxes that become our own prisons. We as human beings are ourselves beyond our frail human comprehension and therefore must give ourselves permission to never understand, but always love. There are many things about people that I do not understand, but I love it.
I do not understand why a frail eighty-year old man would choose to sing karaoke and dance in front of my local movie theatre, but I love it. I do not know why the man holding a sign on the corner told me to “make sure you look both ways” before I crossed the street when I handed him $2, but I now think of him every time drive I through an intersection and take a moment to look more thoroughly, because his care impacted me.
We live in a time of uncertainty where it seems the world is trying to make enemies of us all. Resist. Refrain. Listen before we speak. The torrent of pain that surrounds us will not be healed by a thousand angry voices adding to the agony of cacophony, but with a transcendent ability to listen. We must listen before we speak.
We who do not understand will never do so if we continue to default to flippant responses. LISTEN. Listen and then, if you must, respond. Listen to the person who is hurting in front of you, before you scream about the imagined attack on your own liberties. If someone’s right of life has been snuffed out, it is not the time to voice a fear of a loss of liberty. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Before everything is life. If a life is being taking due to your demand of a certain liberty LISTEN, provide a period of mourning. Allow the grieving to grab hold of anything that might be of assistance and then provide your retort. Be a soother not a perpetuator of pain. It’s easy. Listen. Listen and understand that this is not your moment to speak. And when you do speak, do so with an awareness of the experiences of those who might hear you.
Our words have power. This is the reason Hitler removed all writers and artists before everyone else. Ideas permeate with more lasting impact than bullets. Let us use this power with care. Let us stop defining the undefinable and begin to listen to our endless potential.