Bonita had a portable television set in the kitchen, and she kept turning toward it to watch the news report of the riot in Harlem. It was hot stuff, but Sherman hadn’t paid attention to it. It had all seemed so remote… the sort of thing that happened out there… among those people…
…Insulation! That was the ticket. That was the term Rawlie Thorpe used. ‘If you want to live in New York,’ he once told Sherman, ‘you’ve got to insulate, insulate, insulate,’ meaning insulate yourself from those people.
I read Bonfire of the Vanities for my freshman English seminar and thought it was boring, until this passage hit me with incredible force and weight.
Later that year, I would begin to learn just how big the world truly is. I would begin to see threads of my life woven together with others’, in ways I could not previously comprehend.
My well-being is tied up with that of so many more than just myself.
Similarly, the far-away horrors I read and hear about are much closer than I’d like to think, and they are not as siloed as they are presented to be.
The same callousness, willful ignorance and abuses of power in the news this week do not just exist in border towns, and are not recent phenomena. They are the latest symptoms of a virus with which this nation has been infected for generations. I submit as evidence:
Families dismissively separated at the auction block.
Children of first nations involuntarily removed from home in order to “assimilate” them.
U.S. citizens forcibly interned behind fences as war propaganda.
Ten year-olds prosecuted as adults. Sixteen year-olds incarcerated with adults.
History is not episodic. It is a series of choices, and the consequences of those choices can reach forward decades. I keep looking back, and see repeated failures of Bonhoeffer’s test of societal morality.
Suddenly, that insulation sounds pretty comfortable.
But Tom Wolfe’s words are pressing harder than ever this week.
So, I’ve read. I’ve listened. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. And I’m figuring out how to channel both simmering indignation and emotional exhaustion for good.
At most, maybe four people will read this, and probably don’t need to read this anyway, but nevertheless, to you:
Fight back against that impulse to insulate.
If you’re not careful, if you let it become too thick, you may find yourself struggling. It is spiritual suffocation.
I think it is dangerous for beings made for fellowship to decide, in a way that is ultimately so arbitrary, who their neighbors are, and who “those people” are. Who I deem my neighbor is entirely a reflection of my own character, and not the character of whomever I categorize.
God, remind me of who I am, and continue to break my heart for what breaks Yours.