When I first read the quote in the heading of this blog, it was in Floyd Skloot's memoir, The Night-Side: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Illness Experience. As someone who has this poorly-named condition (also known as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomeylitis -- CFIDS/ME), Sacks' comment gave meaning to my life at a time when I was struggling to give meaning to losing my health, career, social life, and financial and physical independence. Even if I was sick, I was still a writer. I still had a mind (even if it didn't work as well as it used to) to make sense of the horror and wonder I was living that my peers were not.
As I thought about titling a blog in a way that would best describe all the disparate parts of me, this quote eventually came to mind. While it refers to the illness experience, the title "behind the surface" could also describe what I do as an academic studying American Evangelicalism and the Israel/Palestine conflict. When people find out what I study, I am peppered with questions and spend a lot of time explaining what is happening behind the surface of CNN or The New York Times.
Being poor and going through the disability process allows one to also see behind the surface of a welfare system set up to discourage truly helping the poor. One that seeks to punish the poor while maintaining the barest minimum of aid a civilized society can give and still claim to be civilized (though I'm not too convinced by said claim). Through my sister Tammy, I get to see a bit behind the surface of black America and just how racist a society we remain, as well as the hope and love in people working to soften its impact.
As a Christian who grew up evangelical Baptist and converted to the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church on Pentacost of 2000 (is that not the coolest chrismation date ever?) but who is also learning about Buddhism and Taoism through treatment for CFIDS/ME, as well as spent a lot of time learning about Islam when I studied Arabic and Judaism when I studied Hebrew, I'm trying to learn to look behind the surface of the literalism I grew up with and towards the dynamism of a relationship with God. This is particularly challenging for me as an academic who has been trained to think critically. To deconstruct any text (and you'd be surprised at what I can turn into a "text'). At the moment I'm working at trying to be less intellectual about my faith and to feel it a bit more.
So, here's to life behind the surface...