Several years ago, when I got a new car, my husband suggested I change the settings on it. When we got the car, it was set so that the driver’s door would unlock when I put my hand around the outside, driver’s side handle. There was an option to change the settings so that instead of just unlocking the driver’s door, that action would unlock all of the doors. My husband’s car was set to do that. It does make things easier when you have passengers. However, I told him I was not interested in changing the settings. I prefer to only have my door unlock. Passengers (mostly our kids and him) will have to wait when traveling with me. In a dark parking garage or a crowded but quiet parking lot, I want to know that the only door that can be opened is mine. As a woman, that’s a safety issue for me.
When I explained, my husband immediately understood. It wasn’t something he’d thought about before my explanation however. I think about this a lot when I read books, articles, blog posts, and updates on social media. When someone in the BIPOC community or LGBTQ+ community share a concern or issue that harms them, I try to listen. That concern or issue may not be something I have ever faced or considered. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It simply means I am privileged enough to not be challenged in that way and clueless enough to have missed it for others.
This is something I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve read Michele Harper’s The Beauty in Breaking. The book is a memoir and Harper’s story is a powerful one. She has been a doctor in emergency rooms for many years and the stories she tells are powerful too. She is a Black woman and she spent many years in the ER of a VA hospital. There are so many perspectives there that differ from mine. So much for me to learn.
First of all, this book was very much the right book at the right time for me. I checked it out from the library and almost didn’t read it (as is true for about 75% of the books I check out because I am a very ambitious library patron). Having read it, I am placing an order for the book (from a local, independent bookstore I love) because it is a book I want to be able to pick up again and again and to loan to others.
There were many occasions in the book when Harper or one of her coworkers or one of the patients would describe a challenge they faced and my immediate response was skepticism. That quick, gut response. That response is now a sign to me that I need to slow down, take a pause, rethink and reevaluate my understanding. Again and again as I read Harper’s memoir, I found myself shifting in my perception and understanding of the society in which I live.
I can’t know all perspectives. I can keep trying to understand more and more of them. I am grateful to people like Dr. Harper for the time, energy, and love put into sharing these stories and helping me (and many others, of course) gain broader and deeper understandings.