“I’m in a new place.” We say that a lot, right? Like when we are trying to shift our mindset, move past something difficult perhaps. Once accomplished, we truly have traveled to that new place — or space as academics might say. Because academics like to appropriate simple words to substitute for other simple words so that everyone knows we are academics as opposed to just regular people. Fortunately, some academics have found themselves in a new place in their writing and no longer wrangle words into performing their bidding.
Anyway, I’m in a new place myself. Literally. And then — because of the nature of my move — emotionally, spiritually, and even olfactorily. (California definitely smells different than New Jersey, now that the smoke has cleared). It’s hard being in a new place. When we decide to move out of our mindsets, it takes a lot of effort. If we are religious, we might pray for wisdom and clarity on our new path. And if we are just about everybody else these days we might meditate on it. Some will “journal” about the process, articulating in our lovely lined-paper, leather-bound books where it is we want to go, and that which we are choosing to leave behind. It’s a noble pursuit, this sorting out of our positions like old possessions.
Yet, when public figures shift places we tend to criticize them. (Rightly so when they are being hypocrites, such as those crying urgency in the need to replace Justice Ginsburg even as they denounced such an idea when a different President was in office). Sometimes folks seem to be punished simply for revisiting their opinions and deciding they would like to make a move from that old habitat. I remember when President Obama was accused of “flip-flopping” regarding his stance on LGBTQ rights. I for one was happy for his flop towards a slightly more equitable union, but some characterized it as weakness, indecisiveness. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved to a new space in the ways in which he challenged our American society. At first his message bore a more passive style, simply stating that all humans deserve equal rights and that that was not yet the case when it came to African Americans — and the poor, and other marginalized communities. But once the Vietnam War was in full swing, all that it entailed really stuck in Dr. King’s craw and he was forced to move to a new place of direct criticism against the immoralities perpetuated by the U.S. government. This particular relocation in all likelihood got him killed.
Even Notorious RBG was known to have had a change of address now and again when it came to her thinking, albeit nuanced. In a statement she made surrounding the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Ginsburg apparently contradicted an opinion she had written regarding a 1993 religious freedom law. She was publicly called out on this shift by her friend Justice Scalia. Apparently a popular saying — when justices were trying to explain (away?) certain changes of heart — was making its way through the Supreme Court. It was first stated by a Justice Jackson in 1948: “‘I see no reason why I should be consciously wrong today because I was unconsciously wrong yesterday.” Scalia and Ginsburg both quoted it on separate occasions. (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/us/supreme-court-justices-admit-inconsistency-and-embrace-it.html).
In order to go to a new place, one must move, relocate, reposition, shift. I just moved across the country and I’m not sure which is harder: driving 40 hours in 5 days, or budging our minds to rethink something, to open up to an idea we didn’t originate, to embrace a possibility we know nothing about. In this volatile time that only seems to increase in volatility with every current event, I think it’d be a good idea for us to pack up and move our minds to some new places. We don’t even have to give up our old properties, that’s the great thing about metaphorical mental real estate. But I think that taking a quick trip to a foreign idea, or going sight-seeing in someone else’s thoughts and feelings for a minute, might just ease the pain that so many of us are in right now — and perhaps help us understand the pain of others as well. Whether we get down on our knees to pray, sit lotus-style for meditation, look up to the heavens, or just stare out the window, it’s time to go exploring. This is one activity that even COVID can’t obstruct. And it won’t cost a thing either, except maybe a little pride or ego. And then next time someone asks you where you are, you can simply answer, “I found a new place.” And then make sure to give them directions.