I do my best to hide my distant past from people I have to deal with in my present. I get tired of the immediate sea-change in the way they talk to me and treat me. I go from the nice middle aged woman with a teenager to ex junkie. It was a long long time ago now, apart from a brief blip with pills, I’ve been sober for longer than I have been a mother. I’m as safely sober as it gets.
I had no choice, I had to cop to my past. I expected the usual, but instead got compassion and kindness. I got understanding and respect. It took the teeth out of the beast. I was grateful.
I wanted to give a token of gratitude, but have nothing to give. I wanted to explain how much it meant to me, but failed. Yes, the attitude has shifted slightly: people are more gentle with me than before.
I keep asking myself what the difference is, here in the shelter in SF. What is the difference? The answer stared me in the face: the culture of the people surrounding me. The people I am talking to have been there, done it and bought the tee shirt, they have fought for survival against huge odds, they fight to thrive in a hostile world. They too suffered. The difference was lack of privilege. Privilege makes some proud and haughty, makes judges out of beggars, and executioners out of small bitter men. I have privilege too. I’ll own it. If I had been in the same situation and not white, my friends, I think I would have died. I think the barriers would have crashed down on me harder, I would have found it harder to hide. I have privilege and I try to own it and tame it, and reject it where I can. As poor, as downtrodden, as needy as I am, as hard as things are in the shelter, I have a certain amount of buffer around me, and it is wrong that this is the case.
My son with his tan skin and his Asian features gets judged accordingly, is accordingly a potential victim of the anti Asian sentiment, and I get protective and defensive. Compassion. Empathy. Kindness. Generosity. There has to be a way forward for my beloved America towards a future ruled by these attributes, but we aren’t even part of the way there. We haven’t nearly begun, but I’m here and with what is left of me, I hope to be part of the solution, not the problem.