When I listed my daughter’s ballet shoes on eBay, I was reminded that my user name in many parts of the Internet is Amid Privilege. You know how that happened. I started this blog as a way to explore and articulate my as-yet-unnamed family culture, to integrate it with my blurt-it-all out, notice-every-iota, feel-all-the-feels temperament. I had my reasons, as they say.
In those early days, I wrote in a voice from my past, the imperious tones of older female relatives. Then, as it became clear that the artifacts and aesthetics of that culture were most interesting to readers, I began to write about style. This dovetailed quite nicely into my 2011 back-to-work project, since, lo and behold, I had to wear clothes. Cue the outfit posts. So fun.
Now we’re on to full lifestyle blogging. Martha Stewart meets Jacques Derrida. Kidding. But the joint’s still called Privilege.
The other night I heard my stepmother speak about her childhood. She was born in Germany, during the war, and emigrated at 5, her mother having divorced her German husband to marry an American soldier. This is a story worth telling. Meaning hangs on bare facts. The pain of war, the fraught role of women, the experience of immigrants in America. The word “father.”
I found myself wondering, what would I say, if ever I found myself at a podium with an audience and an hour? Not that I’d be at a loss for words, they gurgle in my throat at the ready. But what would I say that mattered? I imagine bunting on the hills above Darjeeling, fluttering – there’s a pattern if one can but see it.
So I leave Privilege up top. If I changed the name I’d call it Kindness. Because if I find underlying meaning in my life experience so far – that’s it. If the world makes sense, when we grow up in privilege and we are not harmed, we will become kind. Our striving to Get will lead us to Give. Otherwise we’re all going to hell in a handbasket and I refuse.
Kindness can’t be legislated. Can’t be theorized. Shame gets us only so far. I believe that people are naturally good but I concede that even in privilege people get damaged – grow up sad or angry or in need forever. If we fail to heal ourselves we can’t follow what I optimistically believe is the natural course.
So take the time and thought to parent kindly, remember that supermarket clerks are human and deserve courtesy, keep your hand off the horn. It’s all hard and if you find yourself unable, you’re probably tired.
Be then kind to yourself.
It’s possible I rely too much on my family as proof that people are good. Please excuse my pride, in advance. Nobody’s perfect. But they work in the service of knowledge, social or personal. Everyone’s trying or has tried to give.
And my stepmother, who, when asked what she had learned in her retelling and repicturing of her past, said, “I was a coward.” She must in fact have been heartbreakingly brave. In the context of her story, she meant she did not search for her German father, didn’t see him until he reached out decades later. But still, once safe from war, to look back and wonder how one could have done better.
Not to blame the world. That’s kindness.
If I’m wrong, if there’s no correlation between privilege and good behavior, why then is the world getting better, overall? So let’s say I’m right. Let’s say people are basically good. Let’s say our main job in parenting is to do no harm. Let’s say that every little bit counts. And let’s admit that when we are lucky we owe it to the very idea of humanity to be worthy of our good fortune.
It’s hard to go by Amid Privilege. In counterpoint, I write on my Twitter profile, “I try not to be a jerk.” I imagine there are many who land on this blog, see the title, and depart in haste. But Privilege is the truth. And truth demands we keep our feet on the evident path.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Time is a privilege and a kindness both.