Monday Musings: Standing In The GapPosted: February 17, 2014 Filed under: advocacy, being Korean, disability, emotional stuff, parenting | Tags: disability, immigration, Parenting, perspective, race, religion, values 23 Comments
No, not the giant clothing label. I mean, the gap, that place in between where I seem to constantly find myself.
Recently I was in a conversation about bridging divides, and someone told me that my purpose in life might be to stand in the gap. I find myself often feeling so sympathetic to two seemingly opposite points of view, and I wonder, am I being inclusive or being too relativist? I’ve chewed that over for a few days.
I do feel like I’m forever in a gap. I’ve felt this way ever since I can remember. Growing up as an immigrant, I never felt at home like others seemed to feel. I was eternally confused in my friends’ houses. Why are there so many darn table utensils? Why are their beds so complicated and ruffly? Why do they all wear their shoes on the carpet? Why is breakfast always sweet bready stuff? I can’t say that being in Korea felt like home either, though. My Korean is about as good as a first or second grader’s (and maybe that is a stretch). I have a distinct memory of my cousin teasing me about how dark my skin was (from so many hours of running around in the California sun). Most of all, I couldn’t quite feel comfortable in a place that was so… homogeneous. The San Francisco Bay Area is so diverse, I’d gotten used to seeing every color under the rainbow, every style, every language, all on the streets together. As a result of all this, I never felt like I totally “got” my family, but never felt like my friends “got” me either.
After my sister died, I felt caught between childhood and adulthood. At eleven years old, I’d found my baby sister cold dead in her crib. Hours after the ambulance had taken her away, someone took me to the hospital. I don’t remember walking into the building, or who even brought me. I will forever remember walking up to my mom, holding my sister’s body. My mother said, “She just looks asleep.” Aside from the marks left on her face from the intubation, she did look asleep, and I immediately understood why my mother couldn’t give her body up. It seemed unfathomable that the spark of life could leave a body like that, forever. I grew up a lot that year. That kind of finality, and the resulting wild grief that my parents endured was a lot for an eleven year old. I felt half like the young child that I was, and half like I’d already lived too much.
I’ve grown up between privilege as well. After some pretty working class beginnings, by elementary school I was attending an overwhelmingly white school district that was very wealthy. We, however, were neither white nor wealthy. I very much felt my model minority status. I can’t tell you how many times teachers made comments about “my background” being the reason I did well in school. I assure you, those teachers did not mean my mom and dad’s parenting skills.
Yet, I didn’t feel like I necessarily came from the “wrong side of the tracks” either. This has persisted as I’ve become an adult; I see a lot of wealth and privilege around me, and honestly, I’m never sure if I’m part of it or not. We live in East Oakland, on the edge of what seems like one of the last working class neighborhoods in the entire Bay Area. I can’t deny that there is gang activity and lots of poverty very close to our house. I’m not white, but most of my friends are. We are not experiencing poverty by any means, but we struggle some months. Heck, my husband is a lawyer, and I’m a stay-at-home-mom. We have the choice to eat organic food most of the time. That feels like privilege. Yet, I feel outside of the groups that are considered the most privileged in this country. I’m a brown-skinned immigrant, after all, and I’ve felt the real negative consequences of being made into the Other.
Then… God. After I left Catholicism, I drifted. For a while I thought I was agnostic, but over the years, I haven’t been able to truthfully deny that I do believe. Just like I hear atheist friends say that in their core, they know there’s nothing out there, I feel in my core that there is something out there. No, not men with beards in fluffy clouds. Or even one single divine omniscient being. All I know is that there’s something there. Organized religion, however, all falls apart for me. I just can’t do the dogma, the structure, the rules. Yet, I find myself defending religion all the time. When I listen to people speak about faith and God, it does speak to me. The language might differ, but important messages all sound the same to me whether they come from a place of belief or not.
More recently, I’ve found myself in a gap of Disability Land. I have a hard time even navigating the language I use on a daily basis. I’m a parent of a disabled child. I’m a parent of a child with a disability. I’m a parent. My child has 47 chromosomes. He’s my son. I’m his parent. Words matter, and I struggle in this Disability Land gap. I’ll forever be connected to his disability but will never experience it myself. I am constantly walking the tightrope of my own feelings and respecting his future.
Sometimes, I find standing in the gap lonely. Other people look so confident and secure in their willingness to pick sides, speak so unequivocally, and I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I seem unable to do the same. Other times it is freeing. I get to swim in my current and not anyone else’s. Finally, in my thirties, I’ve discovered that even though it takes more energy for me to be this way, it is better for my heart and soul to do my own thing.
All my life, I’ve had people try to push me one way or another, to pick a camp between Right and Wrong, Should and Shouldn’t, Good and Bad. I worry that others think I’ve got no moral compass, but the fact is that I find it more fruitful to study that gap, stand in the gap, explore why the gap exists, than to pick a side and try to pull anyone else over. Maybe that friend was right. I guess this is where I’m meant to be. Maybe if I stand here long enough, the gap won’t seem like such a gap, just another place to be. Then, we can all stand together.
Love this! That’s probably why I send you all the stuff I have a binary reaction to so that you can point me to the middle! :D It’s a gift really
Binary reaction, haha. Well you’re not the only one, I seem to have a binary reaction to the whole world. ;)
Thank you! :)
whoa… reading about your experience finding your baby sister not breathing…that’s heartbreaking. i’m sorry to read of your loss.=(
You know, it was heartbreaking. Then it wasn’t. :)
It is hard to explain, but now, with some hindsight and life behind me, my memories of her and her death are not entirely sad any longer. Rather, I feel like her life showed me a window into something greater than me, you know? It was hard that I experienced it so young, but on the other hand, I also feel like I was young enough to take it in a different way than adults did, and that ended up being a good thing.
Diversity in your background gives you a unique perspective, Jisun. Growing up with an experience so deep as your sister’s untimely death has also given you an exclusive insight into life and death and love from a very tender age. Biblically, “standing in the gap” encompasses a few scripture passages that mean intercession: going before the Lord in prayer and entreating Him on behalf of others. In culture, “the gap” to me is the convergence on a venn diagram where compassion, respect, and empathy reside no matter what lies in the outer circles. In that cross-section, it can feel lonely because the common ground is so much smaller than the exterior spheres where the majority take their stand. But… it’s beautiful! Which is why you’re there helping the extremists to reconcile with those on the other side; striving one blog post at a time to enlarge the middle population where peace intersects. I’ll call you Special Agent J-Lee (not to be confused with J-Lo). ;) Your mission is awesome.
Haha. Yes, I will agree to be a special agent, but only because I think it is cool to be a special agent, period. ;)
You know, I don’t see the biblical gap and the secular gap to be terribly different. Both are choices, and both are efforts of faith, albeit in different ways. Hm. So much to think about there…
When I read your words, it feels like I’ve found a long lost friend who finally understands me. I stand in that gap with you…teetering between so many crevices, precipices and principles that resemble yours. Finally, after 40+ years of fighting that tendency, I embrace the gap and people have come to appreciate what they describe as empathy, tolerance and understanding of all sides. I’d be proud to hang out in those gaps with you. Beautifully written, dear friend.
I feel like that when I read your posts too, so much of what you write just makes sense to me. Which, strikes me as funny, because on the face, we probably look like very different bloggers. Goes to show, commonality runs in deep and unexpected ways. xo
I feel the same way, but at this point in my life I see it as a positive. The world needs more people like us :) Certainty is overrated.
Certainty *is* overrated, I agree! And a sure fire way to be wrong at a later date, as I’ve discovered. I’m all for more people like us, no question. ;)
Hi Jisun, I’m a middle-age white American male, but your post struck me deep in the heart and I’ve been thinking about it all day. Maybe it’s just me (long-term jobless, Stanford grad, chronic depression, Asperger’s, introvert, struggling but proud DS parent, traumatic brain injury etc) but it seems many of us are gap-standers. Perhaps those who aren’t gap-standers simply lack sufficient insight to appreciate multiple perspectives. We gap-standers may muddle through in some ways, but we are better able to slow down, savor the view, and appreciate how it changes depending on time and the angle of perspective, as it did for you with your sister’s death.
Howard, thank you for this comment. The more I talk about this post, publicly and privately, I realize that many people feel like this. So maybe everyone feels like this and some choose to push to the sides, while some of us are more willing to stand in that sometimes uncomfortable middle, I dunno. I’m so glad you shared this though, because I wonder what would happen if we all shared more of ourselves, showed more of our competing identities. All the best to you and your little one. :)
A lot of food for thought, as always… – And you know, I think many of these people who look so “certain”, so sure of the side they are on…. maybe it is just a show, and they fool the world and maybe even themselves… Because it is easier to pretend to fit in than to admit having doubts… But I think the doubts and troubled thoughts and the looking twice at things are really important. Otherwise we were just a bunch of sheep.
Yes, I think that is true, about hiding the doubts, because I’ve done it too. And the funny thing about us all being sheep is… whose leading us then?
Another wise and beautiful post. A lot of it resonates with me. Although I can’t necessarily relate to all the things you talk about here, I have carried around with me all my life a vague feeling of not really belonging.
I really appreciate learning all these things about you. So glad to know you.
Yes, the vague feeling of not belonging. Me too, which must be part of why we connect. When I was much younger I thought it was something wrong with me. Now I’m figuring that it just happens to some of us. I’ve always wondered, if I has grown up in different circumstances, would I feel the same? Or would I interpret my life’s events on this same way no matter what? But that’s for another day to ponder I suppose. And another post. :)
Half way through I started saying you weren’t in a gap, you were just on your own track (or path thru the woods, if you want to get poetic. I’m also partial to the Venn diagram idea but it seems immobile) …but being the wise soul you are, you got there all by yourself at the end. I hate it when I can’t be helpful like that : ) The loneliness trouble me too, occasionally (for different reasons, obviously) but less so as I’ve gotten older and since I’ve found -not a crowd- but a few special people who like wandering thru the woods as well.
Love this. Yes, as the years have gone by I’ve felt pretty fortunate to have found great people to wander the woods together. Wander on, friend. :)
I am relatively new to your blog, but I feel as though what you describe here is so common. Perhaps none of us feel we belong. I have struggled with my faith for years also. The way you describe it resonated with me. Two years ago I joined a Bible study thinking…well what do I have to lose? And I finally felt the confirmation of what I had always believed. That there was a God-shaped hole in my heart. That I needed the love and acceptance of someone bigger and greater. I don’t know if that is helpful to you right now, but I’ve felt such a sense of peace lately. I feel like we are all designed with this longing…a desire to be understood…that can only be fulfilled by our creator. I still have a lot to work out, but I’m getting there. :)
I think you’re right, that feeling is probably pretty universal to the human condition. I don’t know what it means. Perhaps it is different for everybody. For you, it meant reconnecting to your Christian faith. For others, maybe it means being OK with their nonbelief. I’m trying to feel peace with what I’m feeling, no matter what, because that’s where I seem to learn the most. I’m glad to hear that you’ve felt more peace since reconnecting and joining that Bible study. Thank you for sharing your experience, I really enjoy learning about others muse over these sort of topics. I have a lot to work out too. ;)
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