I spend a lot of time in a box, my box; it has my name on it. I share my box space with a variety of other people who also live a good deal of their lives these days in little boxes on a screen. At first I wasn’t quite sure how to live in my box, but now I have my own little comfort zone where I can live in muted solitude, even disappear into a black box if I want to so I can hide to finish my breakfast or a snack without embarrassment. And I have even learned to live better with myself as I stare endlessly at myself among the rest of you and notice all those new wrinkles - but also realizing how I actually often enjoy my own smile as well as the smiles beamed out from others. And I often feel so appreciative and deeply grateful for the fellowship my box and I share with so many of you.
Our little boxes are also astoundingly, surprisingly magical boxes. My box, for example, is quite a long distance, instantaneous space traveler. Such an experience happened for us this morning as we were transported at 4 am to a world-wide Quaker meeting for worship in England, attended by people from around the world, to commemorate a hundred years of united opposition to war after WWI. And last week my box and I went to Albuquerque for a seven hour conference on nonviolence sponsored by Pace e Bene. And no danger of Covid-19 along the way!
But mostly my box and I focus on friends and family. Last week my box joined a book group with my friends here on Whidbey, for example (I miss the potlucks!). And my box and I go to Quaker meeting at least twice a week and sometimes more, once on Sunday and once again at 9 am on Wednesdays for half hour mid-week meeting. And we meet my Quaker men’s group there every other week. My wife Cathy sometimes shares her box with me as we visit with each of our grandkids for half an hour or so each week. And my box even goes with me to doctor’s offices. Whew! No wonder my box and I are often tired of each other by the end of the day.
And my guess is that you and your magical box also have wonderful adventures and visits as well
Last week, however, my little box and I found ourselves in an awkward spot. We had gone to a meeting where I didn’t really feel like I belonged. Let me explain, and see if this has happened to you. I belong to a coalition organized to pass state legislation that would allow those with a felony conviction to vote, a right they now have only on a very limited basis in our state. Everyone else in the boxes was much younger than I am; several are people of color; most were also much better at box manipulation and their version of box etiquette; they all seemed to talk faster and conversed among themselves more adeptly than I could have. And most members of the coalition are there because they are dealing with a personal felony conviction sometime in their past, and I don’t fit that class of membership.
So now my box and I are out of place in most ways, sort of “marginalized,” if you will: not electronic media savvy enough to follow "screen saving" and getting recognized and not quick enough to even unmute gracefully at introductions where I also forget to say my “he and him” pronoun identifiers. I am in a box community that has its own culture, and I’m an outsider. I realized this must be the way so many “minorities” feel when they try to join a box group where they may feel marginalized. I think if those of you who have been (or are!) the only woman in a conference room, or the only Black or Latino or gay person among a number of other variations. So in spite of having a good deal of information I could share about criminal justice and prison reform, my knowledge and limited communication skills don't apply to their style of working within their own sense of culture and intentions. This was new and difficult for me.
Well, it turns out my minority status in the Washington Voting Rights Restoration Coalition is a perfect place for me and my box to learn a great deal by just being present and listening. I can learn a whole new way of building community (they are very good at it) and learning new practices of accountability and cooperation (and they are good at that, too!) So I have shifted from feeling left out and sad about not being recognized for my experience and wisdom (white privilege?”) to being genuinely interested in what I can learn from this new generation and culture with the understanding that’s exactly what I need to do. At some point, if and when I truly do feel consistently marginalized, I assume I can try to be recognized when I have something appropriate to say and can figure out how to say it.
If all this sounds unfamiliar, I hope my account is at least of interest, and possibly an introduction to those of you who may sooner or later face a similar situation. Perhaps your are already feeling caught in the margins between generations or ethnic or political cultures. Or do you and your box stay pretty close where you feel more comfortable - and if so, that’s OK, too.
It is indeed a brand new world of little boxes and cultures and communications for us all to negotiate these days, among life’s many other challenges, of course. May we all have the grace to somehow balance all that frightens and upsets us with all that is actually full of new possibilities for deeper and wider relationships. May your little Zoom or FaceTime box be a source of not only magic travel, but a place of surprises and curiosity and mutual warmth of family and friendships.
In peace - and temporarily released from my little box,