Saturday, December 26, 2015

Broken Bodies

I read Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, "Between the World and Me," in 24 hours. Maybe because I haven't read a book, a real book, in quite a while. Maybe because it was just so true. Well written, to be sure, in all the formal literary ways. It made me wish I had finished that English Majors Thesis I started to write on the "Violence of the American Dream as Depicted in the 20th Century American Novel." I took an extra course of Biochem instead. Seemed easier, safer.

I'm prone to being pulled into the story of what I'm reading and to love it, agree with it wholly, unabashedly and without much criticism. I just love words- strong and beautiful words that sound full of conviction and importance and truth. A more critical perspective usually comes later, after more processing, or a talk with Jonathan, who generally errs in the other direction. We're good for each other in that way. There's a sweetness, though, albeit naivety, to leaving something uncriticized, unanalyzed, and just believing what's written.

"Between the World and Me" is a hard book for White America (or, those who would call themselves White) to read. It doesn't leave us with much to do, and we're not very good at not doing. Coates offers us the chance to awaken, and most of us would agree that waking up isn't all that fun. I'm a morning person, and even I don't enjoy the reality of bad breath, crusty eyes, and an un-caffeinated mind when I first wake up. We have a lot of collective bad breath and eye crust. Still, I was glad for Coates' acknowledgement of hope for the Dreamers. Lack of hope, which lies on the other side of the coin of fear, is an important message in his book; but, hope is also important.

As a doctor I think a lot about bodies. I see a lot of broken bodies. All of my patients are black or brown, and so the broken black body Coates talks about feels familiar. I appreciate how visceral he is with his talk of the body. Racism and injustice and life on the street, or in the 'burbs, is ultimately an embodied life. The intellectual discussion about it all is a fun one, and one that has filled many late and early hours of my last decade. We all feel important using phrases like "red lining" and "collective consciousness;" no one feels important holding a dead black baby, a dead black prisoner, or a paraplegic 20-something black man. The world we live in is one of bodies- black bodies, white bodies, and everything-in-between bodies- and the breaking of bodies, of all bodies, is easier than the breaking of bad habits.

Coates has left me to think about much. Maybe I'll write about more of it. But, if I could be as bold as to ask him to think about something in return, it would be this:

He writes, briefly, of his distance from this church, saying, "I often wonder if in that distance I've missed something, some notions of cosmic hope, some wisdom beyond my mean physical perception of the world, something beyond the body, that I might have transmitted to you."

Hope, and wisdom, yes I think you can, and many do, find those things in communities of people who follow Christ. But to you, Mr. Coates, the church can offer a body. Rather than bring you somewhere beyond the body and all your physical perceptions, it will meet you in them. It'll introduce you to someone who too had a body. Who started life with a beautiful, dark skinned body, the way you describe the small body of your own son. Someone who fought his entire life to reclaim bodies for people, not only souls. Someone whose very broken body became unbroken, something your book is dripping in longing for. In Him, my body becomes your body becomes His body. His body becomes your body becomes my body becomes our body. As you've discovered, Mr. Coates, bodies and souls aren't as disconnected as we think. Our broken souls can break bodies, and our broken bodies can break our souls.