To all the Californians, the colored, the women, the children, the childless, the divorced, the unmarried, the impoverished, the uneducated, the honking laughers, the unclicked chicks, the benchwarmers, the undistinguished, the immigrants, the gay, the mismarked, and the misunderstood:
On a dry freezing day in Montana, while the barometer read, “2 F,” I waited for the shuttle to take me into town. My child had developed congestion in some sort of viral expression and just couldn’t breath well. The nearest pharmacy was about 10 minutes away and I thought, “I can do this.” 45 minutes till the next shuttle, so I parked myself by the door as a look-out. I let the valet men know so they could assist, something like wrangling a wild Montana horse, I supposed, to get me into the shuttle. (Not sure who the horse is in this metaphor.) I felt like I was in the team. We looked warmly at each other in between this moment and that. I thought, “They are on this.”
At exactly 1045am, when the shuttle was scheduled to come through, I approached the desk. “Have you seen it yet?” One of the men there smiled at me. It looked inclusive. Then he said, “They already came and left.” “You’re joking,” I said. Sure that he was having a laugh with me in our conspiratorial way. Team members, you know. “No I’m not. They left about 5 minutes ago.” I was out. Suddenly I was alone and it felt cold and I thought, “My child! I’m letting her down.”
I turned away from the valet men, non team members, and reported to the front desk about it. “They left me.” Humiliating tears sprung to my eyes. Oh my word. I had survived strip down yelling sprees from attendings on the hospital wards, pimping teachers, discriminating male figures, angry patients, bird droppings on my head, and I didn’t cry.
I wonder if the front desk felt more awkward with a grown woman crying over a shuttle ride, or if I did. But within 20 minutes they had one of the security men put to task.
Security-man started right in. “Where are you from?”
Security-man: “Oh. I think Californians have something wrong with them.” Chatter chatter.
“If California fell into the ocean, I wouldn’t mind.” Chatter chatter.
“If the wall went up around California, and just left the rest of us alone, that would be fine.”
Security-man was in his second career, after having retired from working security in a prison. We commisserated on our mutual experience working in prisons. Me in psychiatry and him in security. He was happy to empathize, “Yah! I’ve seen some crazy ones! There are real wacko’s out there. People who eat their poop and stuff like that.” “You psychologists are treated rough,” and dropped the label, psychologist, several times in a knowing way.
He threw in a few more pearls. “I don’t believe in abortion.” “Californians who work, pay for all the unemployed lazy people in their state.” And then with a confident nod, “Trump is going to win the elections.”
Security-man was graciously driving me, what could have cost $40 for a private shuttle. He smiled and probably thought the whole time, “This girl gets me.” Or, “Isn’t she lucky to get a free education on the way things should be?” To him, he was engaged in friendly banter. By the time he dropped me off back at the lodge, he used my first name, saying, “Sana, people like to visit California, but living there?!” Chortle chuckle.
I didn’t cry, but wouldn’t that have been a more reasonable time to have teared up? Visceral responses can be unpredictable. The generosity, the kindness, the friendship, juxtaposed with the aggression was bewildering.
I was sputtering about all this to my home huddle when we met up for lunch and I guess wore them out a bit in a self-righteous diatribe. My wise child asked me, would you have rather taken the ride with Security-man or have paid $40 for a hired shuttle? Or have waited for the next free shuttle 1-hour later? Sheeze. Can’t an elite Californian wallow a little? Fine then. I prefered Security-man in his inconsistencies, kindnesses and cruelties. I know he is defining the world from his brain.
Sometimes we don’t think we are being aggressive but we are. I thought to myself, “How am I being aggressive toward others?” I know I am stigma-imbued and bigoted toward others, but by definition, I won’t be able to see it. That’s how stigma works. We think we are pure minded. We think we see things clearly. We believe in “the right.” It’s not always this kind of abutment, not always this stark, but it is there. It is here.
Back in California, I am checking the tide, water sloshing up to my knees and I’m touting, “Everything is ok folks. We are good. The rest of you though….”
Now I see through a glass dimly…
The brain is vulnerable to our humanity, our health, the condition we find ourselves in at any point along life’s line of time. (Job security… Too much?) Some day, we will have a healthy brain. A healthy everything and then we will see clearly and face to face. Until then, I’m confident we will, all of us, define what we believe is true and real by the condition of the brain in our head, along with the perfect super-human protective grace of God.
For presently we see through a glass in obscurity; but then, face to face. Presently, I know in part; but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1Cor 13:12
Self-care tip: When being slammed by the hurt and twisted brains around us, contemplate our own distortions and the grace we are surrounded with despite ourselves. Then look forward with hope.
Question: How have you improved your life experience when stigma and bias hit?