#RacistinRecovery 2018 is almost in the rear-view mirror. On that front, at least, I think I made some progress.
Professionally, I attended a pre-conference workshop on dismantling institutional racism in libraries, and was able to do that beautiful fusion of personal and professional when I took a six-week class called “Unlearning Racism” at our local Y.
Being a racist in recovery is an ongoing process, one that will continue until death or dementia comes to get me. I have learned to be comfortable with the discomfort of this reality.
In the “onward and upward” category, the most interesting thing about becoming comfortable with that discomfort is the way it’s led me to my next internal exploration – disaggregating white privilege and Jewish identity.
As a white human, I have benefited mightily from the privilege that comes with being the color I am. As a Jewish human, I live with the constant low-level anxiety that comes with being a minority targeted for violence and extermination at different points in history. Currently, we are at a historical moment when it seems that things could go any kind of way – Pittsburgh is one illustration of that. The Women’s March is another. And most recently, Alice Walker’s inflammatory rhetoric, which was amplified by The New York Times.
On a purely personal level, 2018 provided some really sucky moments. Lows included Sweetheart’s January heart attack, Mom & Aunt Freda dying 10 days apart (February 15 & 25), and a family mental health crisis. It also provided two cool ones, one of which, combined with a medical rite of passage, sparked a slight bout of existential angst.
Cool moment/Angst Spark 1: Doubling the number of grandchildren. Grandbaby 2 being born on the same day of the month as Grandbaby 1 has sparked the following rule: All grandchild birthdays will be observed on the 18thday of the month in which they’re born.
Medical rite of passage angst spark companion: Cataract surgery
Slight Angst Bout Result: You cannot pretend to be 30 when “grandchildren” and “cataract surgery” are components of your experiential vocabulary. (This angst bout might be compounded by the realization that the entire generation above me has Moved On and I am now the matriarch of the clan to the younger ones, who will gasp in awed horror upon learning I was alive when cell phones and live streaming did not exist.)
Cool moment 2: Oldest Daughter and I had a great relationship until Ex 1 (her dad) and split up. The reasons behind it are both simple and complicated, but is most easily summed up this way: He and I had the same secret – a parent who’d died under sketchy circumstances when we were teens and a surviving parent who wouldn’t talk about it. Four years later, I went hunting for answers (my first foray into investigative reporting) and found them.
Result: Our lives began to diverge. When they fell apart completely, his rage translated into hurt.
Result: He made it clear to our then-seven-year-old that demonstrating love for me would be seen as disloyal.
Result: My decision to not complicate matters by forcing her to choose. It may not have been correct, but I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t do more damage.
Result: An emotional estrangement that lasted until this past July.
I’m not sure what, exactly, sparked it. But seeing what it’s done for Oldest Daughter to let go of that baggage has been beautiful. And it’s brought good things for both of us. She seems so much lighter and happier.
The trauma of watching Mom suffer and decline in tiny increments over the past four years has rendered her death more of a relief (probably for both of us) than a sorrow. Getting her buried was one of the most affirming experiences of my life. (Pro tip: Few things will make you feel more competent than getting a parent from dying to dead to buried exactly where they have made it clear they want to be.)
There was this moment a month or so after the funeral when I thought “If only I’d known this was going to happen when I was 8 and she was telling me for the millionth time that ‘If your head wasn’t attached to your shoulders, it would probably fall off,’ I could have said, ‘You should be nicer to me, because in about 50 years I’m going to bury you and I’m going to do a great job!’ ”
I’m sure it would have made us both feel a lot better. (Okay, maybe it wouldn’t have made her feel better then. But you never know, do you….)
As with Mom, who wasn’t my biggest fan for most of my life but ended up as fan club president long after I’d adjusted to life as it was, it’s a gift to suddenly have the kind of relationship you’ve always wanted with someone but were too much of a realist to dream about. It feels like blue-sky-cloudless-chocolate-cupcake-flowers-waving-gently-in-the-wind.
Here’s hoping for a 2019 filled with fields of chocolate cupcake flowers on blue-sky-cloudless days.