This morning was sunny, unlike so many mornings in the last I’m not sure how long. As I was looking out onto the marsh and pond and the pines that tower over them across from my home, a hawk flew by, gliding towards a perch close to my window.
Later today, after a couple of meetings, I’ll take a break to go work in the yard. Over the past few weeks, being home all the time, I’ve been able to build a large raised bed and a two-tiered, stone-enclosed garden that will be planted with vegetables and flowers for cutting. Yesterday, I transplanted some forsythia from our back yard to the front yard. And this afternoon when it’s warmed up a bit, I might go for a bike ride with my son, who’s staying with us until May, when he’ll go to Jefferson, Vt., to apprentice on a farm that he’s hoping to purchase with a few close friends and develop into a cooperative.
My daughter, who teaches middle school at Buckingham Browne & Nichols (and was, herself, a lifer at BB&N) is settling into remote teaching. She misses being with her kids desperately, but she’s making the shift admirably. And my wife is working at home, taking walks between meetings and staying as connected as possible with friends and family. My parents and siblings are well. My dad just turned 87. To mark the occasion, Leslie, Lauren, Evan, and I drove to my folks’ house to sing “Happy Birthday” from the driveway and deliver some bread freshly baked by Evan.
And if all of that isn’t enough, I’ll complete this confession by saying that not only am I circumstantially privileged in this pandemic period, I am, as it turns out, built to social distance, hunker down, and live a quasi (if not out and out) monastic life. I’m a veritable social distance O.G.
There has been a good amount of affirming recognition of collective grief and moving testimonials of how grief is manifesting in different contexts — students and teachers cursing the glass wall that’s been erected between them, healthy family members who cannot be at the side of ill family members, folks who’ve lost their jobs, folks who’ve lost their loves ones, folks who’ve lost their bearing in a world that’s slipped off its axis.
My family immigrated to this country from Costa Rica in the early 1960s. Like many immigrant families, they came with hope and dreams and little else. Unskilled, under-educated, underrepresented, and underserved, they somehow created circumstances in which I could go to some of the best schools in the world, earn a Ph.D., and live a life that has led me to a co-create a beautiful family, live in a beautiful home in an affluent town, enjoy fulfilling work, and become, in many respects, part of the privileged class.
I know people all along the spectrum of advantage and disadvantage. I have traveled that spectrum nearly end to end myself. I know all the feelings that occur at every threshold on that spectrum. Dismay at the realization that systemic injustice has relegated some to a steep climb up an avalanche-prone mountain, while others were born on the mountaintop. Rage at the let-them-eat cake attitudes of those who think themselves somehow manifestly entitled to their caviar. Triumph upon the clearing of every hurdle. Pride in the ability to dodge arrows. Gratitude for being lucky enough — so far — to recover from bullets that were not dodged. And, lately, something that feels like guilt.
Have I done something wrong? Is it simply, automatically, inescapably wrong to be on the privileged side of inequity? Haven’t I done it right? Isn’t that why I’m here now?
I could go deeper and deeper into my own navel and tell you how strange it feels to even be in the position that gives rise to these questions, ever, and especially now as I find myself safe in a suburb away from Covid-19. But, you see, that’s the double-trap and the double-harm of privilege-guilt — having the privilege to navel-gaze and self-flagellate about being privileged. Don’t do that.
If you are a virtual neighbor of mine in Safehaven, and you’ve been sliding towards, succumbing to or indulging in the privilege of privilege-navel gazing, please let my meditation serve as permission to not spend a minute or a minute more deconstructing your own privilege. The only thing you have time to feel guilty about right now is not staying home, not being grateful for your good fortune, and not continuously seeking ways you might be able to ease the burdens of those less fortunate than you, and, better yet, deconstructing and reconstructing the macro machinery that produces and maintains these inequities. If you’re feeling that kind of guilt, then use it as fuel, as a tailwind in your Kevlar sails — just as you should always use your privilege as a superpower, and do some good.