By Steven Gates
Nya:wëh sgë:no’. One time, a while back, I told my mother that I’ve now been out of the Marine Corps longer than I was in it. Those words came easy then, and long before my mom recounted the anguish she endured knowing the Marine Corps took me before I was ready. Now, approaching the 35th anniversary of my honorable discharge from service, through the smoke of upheaval rooted in this country’s entrenched inequality, one thing has become very clear. At each phase of my existence, I have known at least one of the following: bias, stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice, inequality, racism, race violence, police brutality. As a boy, a teenager, a young man, during and after military service, at each job I’ve held, each place I’ve lived, and now, solidly in my middle-age years, these remain unseen forces that I must still routinely navigate.
A friend once asked me to go into his backyard, open the milk box, take his house keys and go into his house. It was a wake-up call of sorts. I have a healthy relationship with police, though I have been twice brutalized by them, and I thought it would be okay. As near as I can tell, I came very close to harm that day. Thankfully, the neighbor called my friend first not the cops.
My physical attributes have been a lifelong curse. Black people see me as white, white people mostly see me as not white, and my own people see me as different. An essay I wrote years ago titled “The Prophecy of Difference” was an attempt to deal with the unseen forces that have shaped my life. The essay is ongoing, as is the attempt. Past events I now see anew. The smoke of upheaval is a lens that makes clear many shortcomings. I’m not perfect. Only One is. Humans are a wildly elaborate species, as are all other beings in nature, beings that have existed for eons before we emerged but who now suffer from our stance. Are we worthy of them? Is it our place to dominate them?
The Creators plan includes all beings and all things in an unimaginably large universe. Think about it for a minute. Science has proven there are billions, maybe trillions of other galaxies outside of the Milky Way galaxy. Each has millions, perhaps billions of stars light-years apart. These galaxies exist in the cosmos in a distinct way, not a repeating pattern, but in a recognizable structure that exists in nature large and small, alluding for many to a plan. We cannot understand the Creators plan, though many have tried, me included. It is a mystery. Nevertheless, faith allows us to proceed into the unknown, confident the last thing to happen to our Earth-bound tangibility is the best thing that will happen to our everlasting spirituality. My hope is that we, as one human species, existing within one merciful Plan, can grasp and be thankful for the many teachings afforded us through the smoke of upheaval.