There are lots of good quotes from famous people about the indignity and harm of indifference. It’s not a new concept. But I’ve been brooding over it a lot lately, so I thought I’d write about it.
We read in the Torah several Saturdays ago now, in a section of Deuteronomy, a long list of rules for the Israelites to follow. They’re mostly rules about being in community, and in connection with others. The rules are meant to foster connection and engagement between people. It is something I appreciate and strive to preserve in my faith tradition, those timeless messages about human consanguinity. Personally, I don’t think we can survive as a species if we promote and prioritize individualization and independence the way we seem to. But that is a tangent for another post.
One of the rules that stood out for me in the Torah portion was “If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep gone astray, you are not to ignore it.” It does not say, “Go fix it”, nor does is say, “Take care of it”. The Torah doesn’t tell us to drop what we’re doing and put our neighbor’s animals to rights or solve their problems. It says we must not ignore it. We are told not just to look, but to see. There is a difference.
Joita started high school a few weeks ago. New high school. New town. She is a kid with a very visible disability. You do the math. It has not been pretty. Every day since the start of school she has lurched awkwardly through the hallways of this gigantic unfamiliar building where she knows not a soul and 2000 high school students breeze easily past her and look at but do not see her. The effect has been positively soul-crushing. Evidenced by the disconnected, faraway look in her eyes, the slight tremor in her lower lip and chin as she speaks and the fact that her hair has begun to fall out. No one has been anything but courteous and cordial to her. No one has been mean to her. Everyone has been completely civil. Perfectly indifferent. She sits next to, but not with, other students who animatedly chat and laugh with friends, but who remain utterly oblivious to her presence. It is excruciating, her anguish so loud it’s hard to believe no one hears it. We are doing everything we can and the school is doing everything they can (and, I have to say, the school’s response has been terrific), and I have faith that with time and perseverance she will be ok. But right now the disregard is intense and painful.
And while there really is no comparison for the agony that can be high school, or what my daughter is going through, I have to say there is some resonance for me around being trans. To be forever looked at, but never seen is a very bitter pill to have to swallow. Every single day. With no end in sight. It is lonely and depressing.
And while that is not the single most overwhelming experience of my life, it is certainly something I am cognizant of on a daily basis. Being visually examined without being actually perceived and witnessed leaves me with a hollow, empty, yucky feeling. Not being worthy of someone’s attention and consideration is a very strong, but subtle message. It really is only recently that I have become aware of how injurious that message has been to my soul for so very long. Interestingly, just acknowledging it (the antidote to indifference) is ameliorative.