For Danny O’Connor. murdered 29 years ago, but like yesterday. You are missed and cherished.
When I was growing up, I wanted for nothing in a material sense. My brilliant Dad was a rock star financial provider and worked his tuches off to take care of us. (Thanks, Dad.) I can’t recall ever thinking of financial struggles until I was 15 years of age.
I became abruptly aware of economic variance (and root causes of oppression), in high school, when I attended, embraced and thrived in a rich, arts high school, chock full of diversity. My friends at the small, private arts school, in a then, seedy part of downtown Chicago, altered almost everything I thought I knew about privilege and injustice. This significant four-year experience was an obvious foreshadowing for who I was going to become as an adult.
Friends of mine lived all over the city and suburbs. Many were on scholarships. I recall hearing periodic racist comments from white adults within the administration of the school. (Side note: most of them were kind, lovely and totally progressive.) One day in the school office, I overheard a few women talking about an incredibly talented African American student who was on full scholarship. His mother had just come into the office wearing a Louis Vuitton cap and a stunning fur coat. She was gorgeous.
When she left, the two women scoffed over how disgusting it was that her son was on a full scholarship while she was dressed to the nines. They swiftly implied to each other that this family benefited from being black.
Okay, another side note: I was in the office that day, because I was making out with Danny O’Connor in the “lunchroom” bathroom, and got caught by a teacher. Three things about Danny I’m going to put right here to him –
You were a very good kisser, you were an amazing human being, and you are very missed.
I vividly remember that day, because Danny was murdered a few short years after our 12 minute suck-face festival. While I periodically force myself to sit with my feelings about Danny, It’s not only my experience with him that makes this day in my life so pivotal. This was the first day I learned about my own core values; where I stand with racism, white privilege, snap judgments and how far I’m willing to go to help repair this fractured world.
I remember sitting in my own shame of being judged for making out in the bathroom, but my shame was quickly replaced by seething anger. I can’t remember exactly what I said to those women, but it was something along the lines of, “__________ deserves every cent of that full scholarship because he’s brilliantly talented and maybe his mom wants to look nice. Why can’t that be important to her?”
I also remember that they just looked at me and said nothing. I hope that the “school slut” taught them something.
When I sat down to write this post, it was going to be focused on my own experience, living without. Like so many individuals and families, I go very quietly “without.” I don’t think about this too often, except when I think of my children and some of the things I simply can’t give to them due to lack of finances. I am rarely sad about this, because I believe my children and I have benefited from the NEED to be creatively resourceful.
Instead of writing about our own family going without, I’m thinking about Danny, my talented high school friend and his well-dressed mom. Incidentally, I am STILL friends with that brilliantly talented soul, and yes, he’s an incredibly successful professional performer on both, stage and in film. He has great abundance and is also a snappy dresser. Good job, mom!
I think I’d like to ask any reader of this post to consider working on not snapping to judgment about others. I mean, I get that we all do it. We’re human.
I have heard some people hold the belief that I am a woman of means, because I’m gainfully employed, Jewish and white. (Not in that order.) For the record, and I mean, BIG TIME for the record, I am abundantly wealthy due to ALL experiences and the learning that comes from the scars, the grief, the recovery, and especially the diligent daily practice of mindfulness, gratitude and being of service to humankind. That’s it. There’s no finance about it.
So, a few humble requests:
- Please don’t assume I should buy lunch or dinner just because I’m Jewish, rich and white. I’m on a lean financial budget.
- Please don’t assume that someone doesn’t deserve something, for whatever reason. I mean, seriously? How in the hell do we know what someone deserves?
- Please don’t argue with me about whether or not white privilege exists. I have things to do.
- Please take some time to experience life on a shoestring budget, even if it isn’t necessary, just to see how it feels.
- Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Bring a heart-shaped sandwich with you to eat.
- Let your creativity take over and open a pretend restaurant for your family.
- Make 365 little love notes for someone you love. Put them in a Mason jar and give someone one year of riches.
- Create a family contract of only homemade gifts for a period of time. Based on my experience, there is absolutely no contest – the homemade gifts are far superior to any material “stuff.”
Please believe that there’s no preach or holier-than-thou-ism in any of this. I’ve been forced to be creatively loving due to lack of finances, and I so recommend it to any human being. I am giving you love.
This is my no-cost love letter to you.
I love you,