Compassion and the Dance We’ve Always Ever Done

By Ken Wells - 09/01/2020


Series One: Blog Thirty-Four

I grew up in east central Illinois in a little town called Mattoon which is 45 miles south of the University of Illinois. I was raised in a conflicted incongruent family and influenced by a hypocritical church that I believed today to have been a cult. The community I lived in was only three hours south of Chicago. Yet, I believed that it be a racist community. I learned to cope with all of the incongruence, hypocrisy and inconsistency by creating a sexual addiction to chronic masturbation that I could depend upon as a little boy. Of course, I did not know my behavior to have been an addiction when I was a young boy. It just delivered what it promised in a way that no other source for care in my life did. It medicated the chaos that existed in my family, the extreme eccentricity and abuse from the church and the duplicitous values that existed in our community.

When I was young I played baseball. On my team was a couple of African American kids whose parents arrived in Mattoon during the Great Migration of African Americans from the Deep South. These folk fled the domination and control from southern states headed west to California, Northeast and to the North to flee the wretched conditions of near slave conditions that existed in the South. This migration occurred from the mid 1920’s into the 1960’s. The story of the Great Migration is written by Isabel Wilkerson in her book The Warmth of Other Suns. The Illinois Central Railroad was significant in transporting black hopefuls from the Deep South to the urban areas like Chicago and Detroit. The Illinois Central railroad passed through my hometown in Mattoon. Over the years noteworthy hopefuls included Langston Hughes and James Earl Jones who traveled the Illinois Central and ended up in urban areas with plans to build a hopeful future.

African Americans would purchase a ticket in New Orleans. The plan was to purchase a long ticket that would take them to Chicago. Yet, many train ticket masters would not sell a long ticket and their trip would come up short. My hometown was known to not sell long tickets one way or the other. So coming from the South, when an African American family would arrive in Mattoon, they would have to get off the train and all of their belongings would be stacked outdoors in a pile so that unplanned they would face the end of their journey unexpectedly. They would need to fend for themselves and find a way where there seemed to be no way.

Two of the families of African American baseball players on my team arrived in Mattoon this way.

This was in 1963. It was the same summer that Medgar Evers was killed in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi and the historic March on Washington occurred.

We always told ourselves in Mattoon that we were not prejudiced and that racism took place below the Mason Dixon line. Yet, we nicknamed one of African American kids on our team “snowball” because of his dark complexion. My father learned from my church, unions and other men in community that Martin Luther King was a trouble maker and a Communist. My dad was not considered radical or extreme right. He was a World War II hero.  This was a common belief many folk in this northern community held. When King was assassinated my dad told me that this is what happens to you when you are a trouble maker. Mattoon was an average town in the north that promoted the message that it was not a racist community. Yet, in neighborhoods that I grew up, the “N” word was often used. It was so often used that I remember missing a test question when I was in 5th grade because I could not identify a Brazil nut by name. The only name I knew was “N****toes. Yet I was taught that we were not racist. Today, when I have visited my friends in this town, none recall ever thinking that King was a communist and trouble maker. Yet, one of my neighbors that I grew up with was one of the police officers that beat Rodney King in LA in the 1990’s. Memories are short. I wonder how many other ordinary small communities in the north are similar to the one I grew up in.

As an adult, I have attempted in radical ways to take in the experience of those who have been dominated by those who were oppressors. As a recovering sex addict with complex sexual, cult and physical abuse, I have known what it is to be totally dominated and helpless. Yet, I am not a minority and am one with privileges bestowed simply because I am a 6 foot blonde white guy. Institutionally, my race has favored me in my recovery from shame and addiction.

This frustration has led me to re-visit sights of historical significance like Philadelphia and Greenwood Mississippi where African Americans were brutalized. I visited the National Museum for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama that honors the lives of thousands of African Americans who were lynched in our country. I was moved in my spirit by The Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. All of these experiences have helped me to cultivate a heart of compassion for minorities of all kind who have fought for equal rights. In a moment of sacred reflection, I penned this poem for those who know domination and control from the betrayal of addiction, sexual orientation, gender and racial abuse:

The Dance We Always Ever Done

We all do the dance that we always ever done
Whether adult or child
The trance has its Sway—
Mamma doesn’t know why daddy leaves or where he goes we learn to ignore what’s unmistakable and warmly embrace what’s improbable
Cause we all do the dance that we always ever done

From our head we know what’s Right
in our heart we are weak-kneed in the night
So we coddle compromise and dandle with determination to avoid the reality of pain and the invasion of grief—
we simply do the dance that we always ever done

People are keenly aware and know what to do
That’s not our problem.
Yet, somehow to escape the doom, the gloom and leave no room
for one to question or ponder the possibility of peace that comes through surrender and sweet submission—
We would rather go to war—
Make someone the enemy—
preserve our hegemony—
Because we always do the dance that we always ever done. 

Sound bites of wisdom are popular without review
Arrogance is king— 
pompous, flamboyant discourse – nothing new.
Critical thinking is scarce—reflection and consideration-are overlooked, fragmentary and very sparse— 
like a mouse in a cage running around frantically in search of different thought—
Still— countries continue to war and migrants are distraught
Even so– we all do the dance that we always ever done

He swears that he has always loved her—
She screams then why do you flirt and chase skirt—
It makes me feel more alive than I know I really am is his response
I’ve never had to face any consequence
That’s why I always do the dance that I’ve always ever done

Oil is drilled deep
The cost of discovery very steep-
Standing Rock is convulsing-fighting for its very life
its warriors peacefully protect and elders grovel and weep
We fret the price per barrel will stay extremely cheap—
While glacier and polar bear disappear—
Is anybody anxious? Does anybody fear?
No! No!- there is no time for tear—
Cause we got to always do the dance that we always ever done

Michael Brown is down—all crumpled on the ground-he lay still in the street—
He’s been lying there for such a long time-
A pool of blood is his blanket
Death’s coldness wrapped around his feet.
Senseless violence from those sworn to protect
Domination and hatred is what we’ve come to expect —
What do we say to their families?
whose lives are broken with grief and deeply stunned-
Only the hollow rumbling—
that this is the dance we’ve always ever done.

So what does it matter?
How do we tie all of this together?
Just what is this dance that we’ve always ever done?
the focus on thrill – to always have self indulgent fun-
Give me some more of that Almighty grace
Leave no trace?—-  Just give me my space.
To look out for me and to hell with you—
Doesn’t matter what it costs— just do what you do
to the end fill your coffers- don’t worry bout those who have none—
This is the tragic dance that we always ever done. 

Will things really change systemically for you as an addict- for our country? Michael Brown’s death did not seem to be enough. You hitting your last bottom didn’t seem to make the difference. Will Ahmaud Arbery, Maurice Gordon or George Floyd really trigger systemic change? It is yet to be known. We can protest but the heavy lifting will be determined by whether or not those of us who have power will kneel to those who have none. Only compassion, equanimity and the assertion of the disempowered will be enough to create equality for all. May you know this empowerment in overcoming addiction and dispelling our land from prejudice and racism. Let this be our last dance that we have always ever done.

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