I’m sitting in a lime green beach chair on Art Hill in Forest Park, munching on some baby carrots. I’ve kicked off my shoes, and my legs are stretched in front of me, cushioned by my favorite blanket—one I’ve had for 27 years. On my left, Jack’s sitting in a similar chair, eating the club sandwich I packed for him. On my right is my favorite friend and her youngest daughter, who, at the moment, are passing back and forth a bag of chocolate, mini-donuts. Around us sit thousands of people with impressive picnic dinners and goblets of wine spread in front of them. It’s an incredible evening; the sky is impeccably blue, and it’s just cool enough to require a hoodie. Maybe 400 yards away, at the foot of the hill and just in front of the Grand Basin, sits the Grammy-award-winning St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO).
At some point toward the end of the third number, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March from a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’m overwhelmed by a feeling I can only describe as I Can’t Believe This Is My Life.
Some people might describe the whole experience as a “blessing.” I’m not inclined to use that word, because I think true blessings ultimately come from God, and I have a tough time believing God dispenses them discriminatorily. The world seems to do exactly that, though—dispense blessings discriminatorily—and I suppose that’s why the word privilege comes to mind instead.
Please don’t roll your eyes at me. I know privilege is a hot-button word right now, and I think that’s because it’s misunderstood. Some people seem to equate being described as privileged with being accused of racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Others become defensive because their lifestyle and possessions have nothing to do with cultural or systemic advantages, they say; rather, they’ve sought out opportunities and worked their tails off. Please know I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and I’m certainly not suggesting people are handed their stuff on silver platters. (Usually.) In fact, the list I’m about to present is about me, and no one else. And if it makes you feel better, you can call this a list of things for which I’m grateful. As for me, I’m calling it:
Privileges Related to a Night with the SLSO
- I had the financial resources necessary to go on an epic family road-trip three summers ago—one that included a brief stay at the ocean. Which is where I purchased those beach chairs. And no one followed me around while I was shopping for them.
- I live in a city that values cultural activities and tries to make them financially accessible to everyone through free concerts; free art, history, and science museums; and free musical theater.
- I can afford fresh produce and healthy bread.
- I have multiple grocery stores within two miles of my home, two of which are within easy walking distance.
- I have laundry machines in my house. Which means I can wash my socks anytime I’d like. Which means I can remove my shoes at a concert without offending the people around me.
- I have reliable transportation.
- I have a support network of friends who have resources—like zoo parking passes so I didn’t have to spend $15 to attend a free SLSO performance. And donuts. They have that resource, too.
- My husband and I have flexible employers, so we can leave work a bit early without it affecting our paychecks and without fear of being fired.
- I live in a country where it’s safe to be outside.
- I have multiple options of clothing/blankets to keep me warm if needed.
- It’s easy for me, physically, to get around.
As I look over this list, most of them relate to economic privilege, but I know I enjoy many others as a middle-class, white, cisgender, highly educated, able-bodied, mentally and emotionally healthy, Christian heterosexual. (I saw you raise your eyebrows at the mentally/emotionally healthy claim. I’m medicated. Soooooo…that counts.)
I’m not beating myself up over any of this, by the way; I’m just learning that it’s good to recognize how my experience of the world may differ from yours. And since I have these privileges, I ought to find ways to use them for good.
Someone else’s good, that is—not my own.