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Natalie Goldberg Deck: Card #12

Where do you find injustice? What do you feel about it?

Where do I find injustice? What do I feel about it?

I’m trying to resist the low-hanging fruit: police brutality, trans-shaming, the despicable state of elder care in our country, the fact that battered women can get a restraining order but the Supreme Court says the police don’t have to enforce it, the fact that sending our kids to school these days is no guarantee they won’t come home in a coffin.

Where to start? I mean, seriously, where would you even start to write about “where do I find injustice?”

Whenever I’m this riled up, though, I try to come home to my body. And in doing so, I try to remember that the only thing I can control is my own thinking, in my own life. So where is it there?

Let’s try this exercise again. With my feet pressing into the ground, and the back of my heart softened into a deeper listening place, where do I find injustice? What do I feel about it?

I can find it in my own mouth. I can’t count the times I say things with a little sarcastic edge, or the times I make a joke at someone’s expense — specifically because that person isn’t in the room. It feels inconsequential (almost nonexistent) when I’m doing it. But if they overheard, they would invariably feel so hurt. But it’s such a habit, now. I don’t even know how to break out of this without coming off goody two shoes. I’m just being ‘one of the guys,’ right?

No. This is injustice because I’m picking on someone who can’t defend themselves. They’re not even in the room, so I win every time. (except karmically, but that’s another blogpost. :-)

How do I feel about it? In the moment, I feel superior, secure in my place in life, and I feel buddies with whoever’s in the room with me. I feel smug and freewheeling.

Afterward, if I’m lucky enough to have noticed that I just (tactfully, subtly, or otherwise) trashed someone behind their back, I just feel cheap. I get that discouraged, tired feeling of having to start over at the beginning, all over again. Which I have to do, all the time.

I can find injustice in my house. The size of it. My wife and I are two people. But we live in a lovely home with more room than we need, more kitchen appliances than we need, more clothes, more stuff than we need. I’m in no way bemoaning this, or pounding my chest with guilt over it…but it is unjust, when you look at the distribution of wealth in the world.

And I’m not even talking about the poorest pockets of the world. I’m saying there are people in the next town over from me who don’t have food or shelter. I don’t see them because they are out of my field of vision. Someone else takes care of them. Maybe. Probably. Okay, maybe not.

The point is: through no fault of their own, they need what I have. And through no merit of my own, I have what they need. The injustice in this situation is clear.

How do I feel about it? My mind and heart both shut down. I can’t contain the pain I feel — both for them and what they need and why, and for me and how when I give to the causes I really care about (homelessness, women’s issues, animal welfare, etc.), I have this terrible sense of drop-in-a-bucket about it all. Nothing is enough.

I worked at a soup kitchen for two years. I went every Thursday. I loved my time there. I appreciated learning the truth about what the homeless population needs the most in terms of what we could give out: tampons, diapers, baby wipes, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes; and as for food, cans of tunafish with popup tops, peanut butter, crackers, and ham sandwiches were a delicacy. I loved getting to know the people little by little. Kind people. Some more in charge of their sanity than others.

I hated reading the paper aloud before lunch, the one we had to read in English and in Spanish every time just before lunch. Stuff that treated them like children. Stuff that said if they were disruptive, they’d have to leave. These were people who had nowhere to go, and sometimes the only time they were inside was for this meal at noon. This was the only meal they’d have all day.

And yet, I witnessed the reason for that paper. Not everyone there was “all there.” And a riot could break out like wild fire in seconds. So I got it. But after two years, I couldn’t take it anymore and I left. I felt bad about that. I don’t like to think about it.

I can find injustice in my thinking. Really all day long, it’s there in my head.

Example: If my neighbor (and good friend) tells me about an altercation she had with someone, I know the drill. It’s a human sort of agreement. You tell me you were wronged. I’m on your side, so my reaction is a sympathetic one, usually including colorful disparagement of the person you were wronged by.

Is it fair? Is it just, in the truest sense? Not really. I don’t know both sides. And even if I did know exactly what happened, if I was there to see the whole thing, I still wouldn’t know. We don’t know what other people carry. I wouldn’t know if the other person in question hadn’t just gotten a call telling them their mother died, or their brother had cancer, or they’d been turned down yet again for insurance reimbursement that they desperately need. We do not know what other people carry.

So, yeah. There’s injustice all the time as I’m making up my mind about people I know nothing about. It’s harmless enough if I can keep my mouth shut. But that doesn’t always happen.

How do I feel about it?

One concluding story. Decades ago, I took some mushrooms, and ended up in the airport before the ‘trip’ was over. Everyone I saw, I saw them as children, and all their traumas as well. I felt what had happened to them — even just the normal clueless parent stuff that causes children pain — and my heart just broke over and over.

That’s how I feel about my own internal injustices. I watch my mistakes, I don’t catch them in time sometimes, and I feel so sad.

But I’m not without hope.

Because I am developing a strong meditation practice. And that helps me remember that no one is only their worst moment. everyone is full of glory and whimsy and darkness and love.

And that includes me. And you.

My mind slows to a trot. My heart softens.

Compassion grows.


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