Without introspection one cannot gain insight into one’s own behaviors. Without insight into one’s behaviors it is difficult if not impossible to affect true change. It is definitely harder to help others when one cannot understand what prompts (or the more popular word, triggers) a response in one’s self.
I learned something about myself last night. I don’t know what ramifications the healing will have but an old emotional wound probably had the last bit of ‘pus’ cleared out last night. Thing is, I didn’t even know it was there.
Monday was a hard day. I felt like crap. My allergies have been horrible, I was exhausted from being stuffy and wheezy, tired from all the emotional baggage of the previous week and just worn. At 8:30 am my pod partner told me I looked exhausted. Not a good sign. At about 1, when I had just finished the 10 minutes of lunch I was able to squeeze in, we started getting word that the county and city had placed everyone on curfew starting at 6pm. People were being bussed in and apparently credible threats were made against the residential communities in the area. Then we received word the clinic was shutting down at 4pm. That’s when I started to melt. Honestly, I couldn’t figure it out. Even when I was talking to my cousin Todd, a Division Chief for CalFire, while he was reminding me of all the rational reasons I already knew, that I was unlikely to need to worry, I could not get myself calm. I simply could not stay alone that night. I went to my aunt and uncle’s feeling like an anxious twit but knowing I needed to be with people that night. Thankfully damage was minimal in Riverside.
I was fine. Busy at work, tired of my allergies, but fine. Until last night. There were going to be more demonstrations in town. There wasn’t a curfew. There were no warnings. I knew perfectly well this was nothing to worry about. And I wasn’t. But when I was getting ready to leave to get my hair cut I had a flash of panic and the sense of glass flying at me.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t dealing with fear of the current circumstances, I was dealing with a 45 year old memory.
So if you are interested, bear with me through a story that starts with a beloved dysfunctional church family in the western suburbs of Chicago, pops over to Japan and back to the states.
When I was 7 years old we moved to Japan so Dad could play ball there before our planned move to Mexico so he could go to medical school. Basically, except for the next winter when Dad needed to come back for a few months to finish his PhD research, we were planning to leave Chicago for good. Before we left for Japan we were invited to go to the Ellis’ house for a visit. Now this is Chicago in the early 1970s. Racial tensions were very high at the time. We went to this little church in the burbs that most people now would consider incredibly conservative however they were really pretty liberal for the time. It was a great little congregation with a lot of dysfunction (because it involved people). Unusual, it was somewhere between 30-60% black for all the years we worshipped there. We loved one another.
I remember thinking the adults were being really weird the day we went to the Ellis’ house. Maybe I’m not remembering all this properly but I remember Dad told mom that Mr Ellis told him the only place we could safely park was on a particular street. We had to come to a particular door and even weirder we had to leave before a particular time or it wouldn’t be safe for any of us. In case you haven’t figured it out, they were a black family. We had a wonderful time because we loved each other but I kept thinking about how the adults were just being weird about everything.
Then we moved to Hiroshima, Japan in early 1975. I learned a lot of really big emotional, hard things the year I was 7. The biggest ones started with the visit to the Ellis house, then a riot, a night at bus stop, and a trip to a museum.
When we went to baseball games in Hiroshima the team administration preferred that we sit in an area next to the press booth on the field level instead of in the stands. Just past the seating area was the visiting team dugout. It was a night game against a rival team. There was a call that was not well received and then the fans erupted. I remember pieces of the night, flashes of the events. All of a sudden I remember my mom was tense, there were guards blocking the doors to our seating area and hurrying of the visiting team out of their dugout.
After a bit there was discussion about where to move us that was defensible because the riot had begun in earnest. I remember standing behind the fancy stairwell in the lobby being instructed to run out to the stairs and head up to the team cafeteria. And not to stop until I got to the cafeteria. As we were moving the fans were breaking the plate glass windows of the lobby. Glass was flying toward us. I don’t remember much more from that night but I do remember being in the cafeteria quite a while. I probably fell asleep.
A day or two later our parents brought us back to the stadium to show us the damage and talk about what happened and why. It probably wasn’t much later that we were standing at the bus stop one night when bus after bus didn’t stop for us because there were no Japanese standing with us. That prompted the discussion with my parents that helped me start to comprehend that some people were bigots. I started realizing that there was actually a reason the adults were being weird when we visited the Ellis family, because it wasn’t just true in Japan. It was true everywhere and was rooted in the insecurity of people faced with the unfamiliar.
When our Italian surrogate grandparents came to visit from the Chicago suburbs we went to the museum at Peace Park. For those who don’t know the Park includes the A-Dome, the building over which the atomic bomb was detonated. We had already seen the shadows in cement that were remains of people killed in the bomb. We knew people who had survived and we knew people who had lost family and all their possessions in the attack. We had never been to the museum until the Rizzo’s came to town. I still remember in vivid detail what we saw in the museum. I refused to go in again when we visited in 1999. I remember putting my head in my mother’s lap sobbing during the documentary because it hurt so much to see the old news reels of what people had done to others. It made me more determined to be kind to others. It made me hate war.
We came back to Chicago for the PhD research, plans changed to medical school in Chicago instead of Mexico 3 days before leaving for our second year in Japan. We ended up worshipping in that little church in the burbs throughout the rest of my childhood. I am more grateful for our time there than most would imagine. I am not perfect, sometimes I’m crabby, sometimes I communicate poorly and sometimes I’m just misunderstood or misunderstand. But I’ve learned love covers over a multitude of hurts/sins. I learned it in that little church.
Now that I understand my very visceral reaction to the threats this week is rooted in the past I can deal with it without it paralyzing me. When I deal with my own issues I can begin to have a clearer concept of what my friends and others go through on a daily basis and have a glimmer of understanding of why they react as they do. If I have a glimmer of understanding then I can be more effective in fighting the underlying causes of issues like racism, first in myself and then hopefully in others.
We need to love one another.
Introspection is an effective and necessary tool to help us do so. I would encourage you to utilize it.