On being a leper

I listened to a preacher this morning talk about what it was like to be a leper in biblical times and I remembered a conversation with a man who told me he knew what it meant to live as a leper.    And I wondered about the passion of so many people to declare someone unclean or fouled because they were in some way different. I wondered in how many ways we mark people in ways that are almost impossible to remove or get rid of and effect their lives forever. 

I wondered how much of our current politics was a crusade to mark lepers and how much of the resistance was a fight against leprosy. How much is about the effort to mark people in such a way that their fundamental dignity and worth as human beings was denied and to reduce them to “one of them”?  How much is predicated on the idea that most people want to see “them” finally get what they deserve after years of unwarranted favor? How much is about the unclean being finally marked as unclean and being told to stay away from the rest of us. 

The guy I talked to was homeless. He had been in jail.   He had been in psych hospitals.  He looked different.   But he knew what it meant to be unseen.  He told me once that his whole life had been about how “filthy no good”  he was.  I   think the drugs and alcohol that were killing him was the only soap he trusted

I have felt marked.   Maybe you too. If you are poor you know what it feels like to be marked.   If you are any color other than white you know.  If you are the wrong faith or of no faith  you know.   If you are a woman you know about being marked.   If you have a disability or a diagnosis or a label you know.   So much of the fabric of our living seems to be in making sure that those who matter less know they matter less and don’t try to act like they do. 

If you listen to much of the the news much of it is about segregation…. keeping those away that “need” to stay away.   All the stuff about immigrants.   Even those that protest are marginalized as “paid agitators”  we need to ignore and not listen to.  It is about making sure those that need to be extruded are. 

Donald Trump has already declared his first war.   He is the only president to go to war against a TV show whose most basic crime is to repeat his words every Saturday night. 

America’s truth,  when we are at our best,  is about us.   We are being told it is about “them”.  We too would have our lepers.   But they too,  like their biblical counterparts,  are despite the violence and cruelty we try to excuse as truth,  are people.   People like you.   People like me.  

We can do better.  We should do better.   And there are literally millions of people people in this country who say we will do better and in the end maybe America can finally,  really be about us.  

What do you think? 

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One thought on “On being a leper”

  1. Psychiatric DSM diagnoses ‘mark’ us as a kind of leper even and sometimes especially within our own families. Each diagnosis carries with it perjorative descriptors that are actually only human characteristics. But because there are no positive characteristics these get reified by others and to some extent by ourselves. That psychiatric are now we’ll know not to be scientifically valid, that is, the study or observations that attached the label to an individual can not be replicated, is apparently of little import. The diagnostic system, so harmful to patients, still stands. Why is this? I believe the basis for such diagnoses is prejudice. prejudice creates a stereotype. Stereotypes have been characterized by some as “shortcuts through the imagination”. I would agree with this. Once a person has stopped examining her or his prejudices that person no longer has a need to go any further. Establishing that this or that person is a modern day leper, one that might even be somehow infectious, sets the stage for discrimination and shunning/segregation. Very hard to break through or to change.

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