Someone Else’s Shoes

It is no secret that I am a diehard progressive liberal. If that is a surprise, then you may not have been paying attention.

Over the last two days, I’ve been doing something I rarely do. I’ve actually been relaxing. Reading has encompassed the bulk of my waking hours, and I finished the book I was reading.

Reading, although being relaxing regardless of the book topic, also let’s my mind wander around on other topics. With the new year starting, reflection has taken up the better part of the last two days, and last few weeks, in the background of my mind.

One of the topics that has been on my mind has been fear. Most people have a fear of change. I’m usually fine with it as I’ve had to adapt often over my life and have accepted change will occur regardless of my feelings about it.

Fear can take many forms, such as anger, hate, depression, and ignorance. These takes on fear can have us act in odd ways. We might avoid others. We might make huge assumptions about others. We might decide we hate others based on what we see in the media. We might even act out physically out of fear.

Often our fears could be reduced or alleviated if we expand our world experiences, stepping back to see why we fear, or seeking to understand.

Experts have stated, often lately, that fear is fueling the divisions in our country. That fear is escalating the cultural “war” encompassing our great nation. Fear was at the heart of the insurrection and treasonous acts by elected officials and domestic terrorist groups. These groups fear the loss of power, but also the fear of otherness around them. The country has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, with no signs of slowing down.

I got to thinking about my own struggles to understand and the fears that come due a lack of understanding or being able wrapping my head around certain changes taking place.

For example, I’m pretty open to most things, and always want to learn and understand, but I’m struggling to understand things like gender identity. I’m of an age where one was thought of as a male or a female. It made it easy in how to address someone, and in ways, how to interact. Pronouns were easy. Not so much now. There is now non-binary and transgenderism. There have always been people who have identified in these ways, but we didn’t hear the terms in common usage until recently. Please know I have no issue with this happening as we all need to be able to be our true selves. But it can be confusing.

I know, and have known, several transgendered individuals. One is a dear friend of 30 years. When I first heard of him coming out as being female, I was in shock and wasn’t sure how to take the news. Mainly out of surprise because it had never been discussed or disclosed, and I know logically it was none of my business. Logically and emotionally I wasn’t sure of what to do next. So I did nothing, nor, sadly, did I reach out. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to offend. It wasn’t their place to enlighten me or defend their inner being, and so I did nothing.

My love and caring for her never waivered. She is one of the kindest, gentlest, and most generous people I have ever know. I know of her life struggles before the transition, and of the many heartbreaks after. She is and always will be in my heart. And although I’m getting better, I still let her down in terms of the pronouns I use around her, slipping and using he or his.

I think I know why, which is no excuse by any means. In being honest about my process to being better, I think this is because I was not actively in her life in her journey, which pains me as I feel I let her down in more than one way (not looking for forgiveness or absolution, again just being honest). In my mind, it is like the person one doesn’t see for a long time, and in the mind’s eye, how the person is seen is through the lens of the past, not the present. I get lost in a memory of the past, which colors the present.

What I’m getting at is this, if those of us who reflect on our lives often, such as myself, struggles with modern realities. Someone who is well read and well traveled. Someone who seeks to surround himself with people of different backgrounds and experiences. If that someone struggles to understand, I can only imagine the struggles of someone who has not been blessed with being able to travel, lived in a variety of cities and neighborhoods, or doesn’t have the time to stop and think because they are just barely surviving.

My wondering, for myself, and for those who fall into the above type of facing life, is how do we help them to understand, to not fear the other, to not fear the unknown, to know no one wishes them harm? How do we help ourselves and others to come to peace with change, and that these changes are, in the long run, good for us all?

Any good ideas out there? I’m open to any and all rationale thoughts.

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