It’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit today—there’s a heat alert for our area—but it’s far hotter with the humidity Index. I took the dogs out at 10 this morning. It was very unpleasant under the sun and a mosquito massacre under the trees. The plants and mosquitoes are thriving this summer.
Aussie went down to the water to cool down, her favorite summer activity other than chasing deer. I put on air-conditioning, a rarity for me, in mid-afternoon till tomorrow early morning; otherwise, we won’t sleep much tonight.
Earlier I spent some time reviewing a draft of an essay for college applications by the son of an immigrant family from Ecuador. The young man, bespectacled and very, very serious, feels that all his parents’ hopes are riding on him. He’s a first in many ways—in his class, in the Honor Society, to go to college. When not in school, he works to make money. He’s known for a long time that he wants to become a doctor.
He’s applying to a variety of good universities and is hoping to be accepted by one of the rich private ones that give scholarships to needy families. He’s already discovered that the state schools can’t give him much though his family can’t afford the tuition and living expenses, so a lot depends on where he gets in.
When we sat together in front of my computer, Henry scratching madly on the door trying to get in, I asked him what any university admissions person would ask: Why does he want to go to x, y, or z university? He said that it was his parents’ dream for him. I said, yes, but what about your passion, your drive, your dream?
The question didn’t evoke much of a response. He reiterated that he wanted to be a doctor, but those words carried nowhere near the emotion there was when he talked about his parents and how they had toiled to support him all these years. He talked briefly and seriously about helping families and the community through health services– “Helping is important for me.”–but it was clear that his parents’ dream mattered to him more than his own.
I’d already looked up various articles on how universities will try to maintain diversity after the latest Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, gathering information on what they were looking for. I told him that while his grades were good enough, the circumstances of his life might be the big plus.
After he left, I thought for a while about the difference between graduates in his shoes, with passion, hard work, good grades, and few financial resources, and those who get in through legacy admissions because their parents and grandparents had gone to the school earlier. I thought of one particular case I personally knew of, a young man whose grandmother expressed concern to me about his average grades and how they would affect Yale’s decision to admit him or not.
I said nothing, but thought to myself that since Yale had a building carrying his family name, there was no way they would reject him. That turned out to be right.
More to the point, I wondered at how she couldn’t acknowledge the tremendous heads-up her grandson was getting from being a member of a wealthy family. “He’s working hard,” she explained to me.
Of course, he was working hard. The young man who came to me today was also working hard, including putting in many hours in the summer at a chain store. Who doesn’t’ work hard? And as hard as we work, some will do well, some won’t.
I don’t say this to raise guilt or shame in people with money; I don’t even like the word privilege, which I believe evokes those feelings today. But at the very least, I want to be conscious of how much space and resources I take up in this world, and the implications of that for other beings. I try to bring curiosity into that inquiry, not judgment. Still, it’s enough to make me hesitate before turning on the air-conditioning this afternoon and remembering to turn it off as soon as possible in the morning.
Tomorrow, a day of thunderstorms, we will sit for the entire day. I’ve already arranged with my housemate to bring her car into the garage and make sure to open the back door so that Aussie could get in there and feel safe. I admit to some concern about me. I don’t do well in those storms, they trigger fears and bodily reactions I can’t seem to control. Maybe trauma, but that, too, is a word I suspect is overused. Whatever it is, it’s old old old—and still here.
Tomorrow I won’t be able to run away. Instead, I will sit in the big meditation hall without moving, like the others. Be aware of the cell descending on us from the west, carrying lighting, thunder, and downpours. More flood alerts, perhaps? More farms floating, waiting for emergency relief? Meditating atop the trail where Native Americans and settlers fought bitter battles and waged massacres in the 17th century. Yes, still sitting through all that.