Finally Understanding What You Thought You Knew
For those who know me personally or read my essays will know that I reject the notion of writing anything in the form of a diary. However, I realize that all my articles over the last quarter century are in fact a diary. Each essay reflects various issues that I am facing in my journey down the yellow brick road of life.
One of the issues that I have attempted to grasp and understand was my metamorphous while spending a month in Myanmar (Burma). That trip, during winter break from teaching just over a year and a half ago, was the most transformative trip overseas that I have ever had. Over the past half century, I have spent a total of two years overseas. I have traveled in several dozen countries during those various trips. Therefore, my comment about Myanmar is substantive. Most of the Critical Issue links are the result of my seeing the light more than I had prior to Myanmar. Read the first link, On Seeing the Light, which explains my cardiologist's comment, when I asked him about why I was so driven.
Seeing the light is a wondrous experience. However, I will continue to wrestle with seeing the light more fully than I have already. For example, I have attempted to understand my finiteness. I have danced with death twice and, as a result, have seen that light fairly clearly but not completely. This quest drives and even haunts me until I can resolve the issue totally. Additionally, I realize that I do not have an entire lifetime to ponder and re-ponder those haunting questions. Therefore, I am engaged more than I have ever been to deal with those still pending questions.
The dis-ease, which I experience of not knowing enough, forces me to think and to continue to question until I am satisfied. The dis-ease is an illustration of the no pain, no gain phrase. Instead of merely going with the flow and wasting the time remaining in my journey on the road of life, I want to know all that I can.
Looking back upon the seven years since I danced with death twice, both dances have become blessings. We all know before we enter elementary school that we will not live forever. However, that knowledge is severely limited. Even when I was fifty years old and had my first grandchild, I knew that I was not immortal. My parents, grandparents, and many friends had already died. I knew that my time here was limited.
Nevertheless, when I danced with death twice in 2008, I got the message quite clearly with a resonance that I could not overlook or ignore. To be perfectly honest with you, this essay is like preaching to people not in the choir. You cannot fathom what dancing with death is like unless you have. I did not prior to 2008. How can one grasp something beyond their experience level? One can read about other people's understandings, however, you cannot fully comprehend the change one experiences unless you have done the dance.
Wrestling with seeing a fuller picture of my dances resulted in dozens of essays, which reflected my journey to seeing the light more fully. However, there is nothing pleasant with dancing with death. I did not enjoy any of those moments medically. In addition, I did not relish attempting to lead death as we danced while I was many times half-dead.
Having been honest about that reality, I am equally honest about not wishing to delete either dance from my life. I am a far better person for having successfully danced with death. I learned the real value of life itself even though I naïvely believed that I already comprehended it fully.
Looking back upon life today, I am radically more driven than I was when I was in college and graduate school. Back then, I thought that I was driven, especially on issues like addressing racism in America. When I recall events back then and compare them to today, my change today is far more profound.
Here again, Myanmar was the intellectual lightning bolt that jolted me. I can tell you where I was standing in Sule Pagoda, which was a five-minute walk from my hotel in downtown Yangon. The parallels between the civil rights movement in America and the human rights movement in Myanmar clearly rang in my head. As I stood there in front of the Sule Pagoda at a protest rally in a military dictatorship, my mind floated between America in the 60s and Myanmar in the present.
I heard in the distance the speakers at the rally at the Sule Pagoda, but my head and heart clearly heard Joan Baez singing We Shall Overcome. The song morphed two worlds, Myanmar and America, into one. As long as I live, I will never forget that singular experience of floating between the past and the present.
Recently, there was another rally of sorts. It was the funeral of the Rev. Pinckney, in which President Obama gave the eulogy. Toward the end of his message, I heard another song.
There I was watching on television another transformative event similar to the one that I experienced in Myanmar. This time, I heard Obama as clearly as I heard Baez nearly two years ago. Talk about hearing and experiencing a new Weltanschauung (worldview).
In a previous article, I wrote about GiGi and how she pushed me to think based upon the Socratic Method. She wanted me to think outside the box by asking me questions. Taking GiGi's lead, allow me to ask you a couple questions. Suppose all my readers are black. How would you feel if white racists had enslaved your people for centuries? How would you feel after a century of segregation and the Jim Crow era?
GiGi would add several more questions. "How would you feel about all the killings of other blacks just since Ferguson to recently in Charleston? How do you feel about white racism?"
GiGi's next question would have been, "How did the blacks feel at all the funerals over all these years of racial killings? Also, how did they act?"
Finally, GiGi's last question, "If you all were white folk and whites were being killed, how would whites respond?"
If you have not watched President Obama's eulogy, here it is in its entirety.
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Man in the Arena page to read more about this topic.
Visit the GiGi page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.