“If you feel like you don't fit into the world you inherited it is because you were born to
help create a new one.”
~Ross Caligiuri (found in Alan Cohen’s “Daily Inspiration” for 8/11/2019)
The world we are born into is our family. In traditional societies it is an extended one. For those of us in the so-called developed world, it is the nuclear one. And of course, for too many these days, it is a fractured or fracturing one, generally headed by an overburdened, under-resourced mom.
Early on we hear things like, “She looks just like her mother.” “He is the spitting image of his father.” “I’ll bet George was adopted; he doesn’t look like anyone in his family.” As children we may come to the conclusion that even if we do look like one of our parents, we really were adopted. Our parent or parents speak a foreign language. In my family of origin, for example, the talk was always of money. “So-and-so is doing really well. His firm just got bought out.” “Did you know [directed to me] that Sheldon G’s son just married a dermatologist’s daughter. He’ll be set for life.” Or my personal favorite: “I hear that Joe N. is now worth $5 million!” [That was big money in the late-40s.] Can you imagine placing a dollar figure on someone’s value? The person in our family who really was my family was the “colored maid,” Florine. As a little kid I knew that she was poor compared with my parents: that’s why she was working for us. But I also knew that she was the richest person in the family, not in dollars but in the songs she hummed while ironing, in her smile, in the unconditional love she showed me, in her clarity about right and wrong, even in the way she spoke. I later learned that one day I brought home a note from Kindergarten to the effect that I had a speech problem. Apparently, I was speaking Black English—something that didn’t go with my platinum-blond hair and blue eyes. I must have thought it was the source of Florine’s strength and put it on like armor to protect me from the new world of other people. After the note, that behavior apparently stopped, but what didn’t stop was an inner decision to be more like Florine than my parents, to help create a new world in my family, among my students, with my friends, and possibly with you who are reading this blog—a world where people are valued by their inner, not their outer, riches.