Experiential Beliefs…Learning from Insecurity
Foreword. Some words have been changed to assuage the sensibilities of those with delicate ears. The gist is true.
I believe in learning … whether in a school setting or otherwise. Having been a college student in four different decades, I have heard many lectures, have completed many assignments, and have taken way too many tests. But despite the obstacles of formal schooling, I managed to learn a bit.
( I have a piece of paper to prove it! )
Outside of school, I have also learned many things. For example, as a cab driver for three years, I learned how to be patient, pliable, and pleasant. When a drunken passenger threatens you with a gun, you learn
quickly how to be cool and calm. As the only white guy in the crew of dump-truck drivers hauling gravel for the New Orleans Street Department, I found friendship with my fellow drivers and saw close-up instances of the daily
racism they encountered. As a clerical worker for a large company, I learned how to tolerate and then appreciate the antics of a gay co-worker. As an equipment man for a rock-and-roll band, I witnessed the segregationist policies of some southern clubs years after segregation was declared illegal.
I guess it’s easy to get set in your ways and segregate yourself from the world. But what’s worse is to get set in your mind. I believe in flexibility, learning from experience, and treating others, no matter whom, fairly. But most of all, I believe, in the wisdom of ….yes, the wisdom of… insecurity. Insecurity is the doorway to learning and knowledge. A secure mind is a locked mind. A secured life is a constrained life.
To illustrate, I’m going tell you some stories. If you open up to enough stories, it loosens your mind, makes you a bit more flexible, and prepares you to be more attuned to the world. To face insecurity is not bad. It’s necessary for growth.
The voice from the alley was faint at first. It was only when she was near the side door to our apartment that I could hear her clearly, but quietly plea, “Help me. Please help me.” She wore a nightgown and her wrists were tied behind her back. She had bruises on her arms and she smelled of alcohol. She was our middle-aged next-door neighbor and had been abused by her husband. She asked to stay at our apartment. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said, “but I’ll help the best I can.” After untying her and giving her coffee, I called the Domestic Violence Hotline. They said the police had to come first. The police came and, after talking to the husband, decided not to make an arrest. The woman declined to press charges and declined to seek refuge at the shelter. The police left, the woman wandered off into the night, and I pondered … I pondered about the cracks in our society through which so many fall. That night I myself felt a bit insecure.
The native American stumbled through the door of Mary’s Playgirl Lounge on Magazine Street and collapsed in front of the bar. Blood seeped through the front of his shirt and through his hands as he clutched his belly and moaned in pain. I called 911 and requested an ambulance, but the dispatcher said the police had to come first. Before the
police arrived, I tried to comfort the injured man. He curled on the floor and cussed, “Damn Negro…stuck me in my stomach…trying to take my money. Frick ‘em all.” Hey brother, cool it, I said, don’t go damning no people. They got bad apples in every barrel. But he was in no mood to listen. When the police finally arrived, the white cop in charge walked over to the long-haired native American still sprawled on the floor, kicked him in the ribs, and said “What’s wrong with you, Kimasabee!” I said something in protest to the cop who had kicked the injured man, but he wheeled on me and said “Who the frick are you!?” I shut up quick, left the bar, wandered into the night, and I pondered … I pondered about the cyclic nature of racism, about the conditions in the city that led to so much crime, and the capricious response of law enforcement, about how insecure my supposedly stable life was.
It was Mardi Gras night, about 9 p.m., and I was standing in front of the Bodhisala Temple on Toulouse St. in the French Quarter. I was talking to Katami and Katari, two devotees of Kumi Maitreya. [Kumi, a convert to Buddhism, was the middle-aged wife of a New Orleans plumber. She gained notoriety by convincing dozens of young hippies to follow her version of Buddhism which they practiced in the aforementioned storefront temple on Toulouse street. Her followers always greeted each other and acquaintances by exclaiming "O-I-A!" [pronounced "Oh-ee-ahh!"]. As explained to me one day, “O” represented the female principle of the universe, “I” represented the male principle of the universe, and “A” represented the unification of the two. “So it’s the perfect salutation for peace and harmony in the world,” her followers claimed.
Well, anyway, while we were standing on the sidewalk in front the temple, three cops came up to us and told us to clear the street. I said, “It’s Mardi Gras. It’s only 9 o’clock.” The biggest of the cops moved closer and barked “Get the frick off the street.” I immediately turned and took a step inside the entrance to the temple but at the same time, Kutami or, maybe, Katari responded to the police, “Peace, brothers. O-I-A!.” The next thing I knew, a crushing blow from behind cracked open my head and buckled me to the floor inside the temple. As blood gushed down my face and covered my left eye, I rolled over on my back and saw all three cops swinging their clubs at Kutami and Katari all the while yelling stuff like “Here’s a piece of a pig you freak!” “Don’t you oink at me, you mudder freaker!” Then another billy club came swooping down at me, but I blocked
the blow with my forearms and then grabbed it with both hands. As I held on to the club for dear life, I pondered about the miscommunication between antagonistic elements of our society, about how words can morph into splinters that dig under the skin of others, about how some innocent bystander like myself is not free from the violence that permeates this world, about how this incident will one day make a good story to tell … if only this pain, this throbbing pain would go away. This I believed.
Afterword. Thirty years later, when I teach calculus I use a personal memory device to teach the chain rule for differentiation. The mnemonic device, inspired by the spirits of a Mardi Gras past, is “DI…DOEI”, which now stands for “the Derivative of the
Inside times the Derivative of the Outside, Evaluated at the Inside”. So far no students have clubbed me. In fact, they chant it with me before taking those dreaded calculus tests.
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