by Momma Dulock
I was eight when I became aware of my elbow.
I had always known it was there, but this knowledge- like so much of my young knowledge, immature in age and experience- was passive.
To have knowledge of a fact, ie: “I have an elbow”, is different from being aware of it. Awareness is an active process. It is attentive, and vigilant….and it often accompanies a negative experience.
So, while I “knew” that I had an elbow, it was not until I almost broke it that I became “aware” of it.
It happened when I fell off a balance beam at gymnastics. The mat beneath me had slid over by only a few inches, but those inches would prove to be the difference between knowing that my elbow was present, and being aware of it in that moment.
As I fell, and connected arm to ground, I heard a crack. Bone meeting concrete.
The space of time between that crack and the pain was both instantaneous and an eternity.
The pain came on intensely, and it was more than I had ever experienced in my young life. While the xrays would prove that the bone had not shattered, that distinction mattered little to me at the time.
My elbow hurt. This joint that I had only ever passively contemplated, now became the centre-forefront of my thoughts.
For the first few minutes, the pain was localized. But it did not take long before it started to extend to other areas of my body. My wrists, my shoulder, my back and neck- all seemed impacted by this synovial hinge in a way that I had never before appreciated. I didn’t know how much of my existence actually depended on my ability to properly bend my arm until i was no longer able to do it.
For the days and weeks that remained, my body throbbed in as it attempted to heal the wound that I had lived. And, even long after the pain had passed, a residual memory and fear of the pain persisted.
I have never again been ‘unaware’ of my elbow. There is seldom a day that goes by where I do not, at some point, marvel at this seemingly irrelevant part of my anatomy.
This is not to say that I did not continue to use my elbow. In fact, I have injured it often since. Becoming ‘aware’ of it was not the end of my elbow’s journey. In fact, quite the opposite. That awareness led me to accepting that my body is a fragile organism that requires care and nurturing in order to be healthy. I have learned to accept this as a fundamental aspect of my life, and- despite the amazing pain that I was caused by this injury, I remain amazed at the resilience and strength that is contained within my skin.
It was hard to get back on the balance beam after that. But I did it.
I often refer to my growth of social consciousness as ‘bumping my elbow’. Once you are made aware of a social wrong, once you are pained by the injustice, there can be no going back. You can no longer ignore that it is there. You have been ‘bumped’. And, if you are self-aware enough to acknowledge this to yourself, your entire existence transforms.
I have had my elbow bumped so many times in the last few years that I hardly recognize myself and my worldview.
Everything from racial and gender inequities, the oppression and dehumanization of disabilities, injustices towards the poor, towards the elderly, towards children…the list could go on and on.
Like when I bumped my elbow and became more aware of my shoulder and wrists, with every “social” elbow bump, my awareness of the intersectionality of injustice grows. My understanding of how all these social issues work with each other, and how various social institutions use them all to their advantage in different ways.
Once you have seen this- *really* seen this- it becomes impossible to look away. And it is painful. Acknowledging your privilege, recognizing your role in the oppression of others, understanding that some of these social issues run so deep that you will likely not live to see them fully rectified…
It hurts. It hurts so much.
Hashtag: First World Problems.
Because, as much as it hurts us to become aware, we are also forced to accept and acknowledge that our pain doesn’t even hold a candle to the pain of the people actually experience oppression at our hands. And, voluntarily or not, the chances are pretty strong that you- at some point in your life- profited off of someone else’s marginalization. The vast majority of us occupy some form of privilege, in some capacity, limited though it might be.
And so, we are left with a choice. Are we willing to *see* these wrongs, accept the pain, and do what needs to be done to rectify them, thus healing ourselves and healing the world. Or do we choose to live in perpetual ignorance because it is comfortable, easy…not painful.
I have a theory that the answer depends on how deep our privilege runs. I suspect that the more privileged you are, the harder it is to let go of all the intersectionalities that keep you as comfortable and as happy as you currently are. In fact, I would wager that the deeper your layers of privilege, the harder a time you have accepting the concept of privilege in the first place.
For me, I can’t help it. It isn’t a choice. Just like that crack on the cement floor awoke my body, so have various life events caused me to awaken my social activist.
It became really hard to believe in the perfection of the Christian church when I became confronted with the inequities it has dealt out.
It became impossible to not support gay rights when my friends came out to me, and I watched them fall in love.
It became all too obvious knowing that the world believes my body to belong to men when I was raped and told to ‘never tell a soul’ by the authority figures.
And remaining blind to the injustices towards the disabled…I could no longer be blind once my son was born and he opened up my eyes to a whole world that I had ignored my whole life.
With every single one of those events, I was given a choice: My elbow had been bumped. I *knew* that these issues existed. I could no longer pretend, not to myself and not to the world, that these things did not exist.
So, I could close my eyes- lie to myself through the pain- and never get back on the proverbial balance beam. Or I could grow from it. I could become aware of my role in the world, just as I became aware of my elbow’s role in my body. I could become stronger, wiser, more in-tuned; perhaps never fully avoiding that kind of pain again, but unquestionably knowing that pain was part of my human experience.
I can not be a human being, or at least not one who is worthy of being called such a name, without allowing myself to become aware of the fragility of the human race. I must be vigilant and knowledgeable of the small but important role I can play in the fabric that binds us all. I can not pretend that my elbow is not part of my body; I can not pretend that my fellow human- black, male, queer, disabled, or otherwise- is not a part of me.
I must be aware of their needs. And I must be willing to move beyond awareness towards acceptance, understanding, compassion and respect.
Because it simply is not enough to say “I know that there is a problem.”
And it simply is not enough to say “I am aware of how that problem affects others around me, strangers and friends alike.”
And it is simply not enough to say “I will not be a part of the problem.”
At some point, in every social movement, the majority group must have an awakening and say “The solution lies in me.”
That is the moment when we move passed the pain of awareness, and towards true healing.
“The solution lies in me.”
If I want to protect my elbow, I must be stronger, better balanced, more understanding of where it is at any given time, and how it affects every given movement.
And if I want to protect my fellow humans, in particular my friends and family members who are living lives of oppression, marginalization, and injustice, I must recognize that my voice must be stronger, better balanced and more understanding of their needs in every thought, word and action I undertake.
My elbow has been bumped. It will likely be bumped countless times over the course of the rest of my life. And every single time, I will have a choice.
Am I the kind of person who would rather be comfortable and ignorant and scared?
Or am I the kind of person who wants to get back on the balance beam?
I knew the answer to that question at eight.
I hope I continue to choose the right answer for the rest of my life.