Oregon has not always been an easy place for me. As a black woman, I have felt unwelcome and even afraid for my life in years past as I drove through rural areas of northern California and Oregon. I was clearly an outsider, clearly an “other.”
Not any more. Three weeks ago, on my birthday, no less, I tripped and broke my shoulder, smashing it to smithereens. That fall shifted everything I thought I knew about Oregon from my personal experience, supported by recent negative news relating to the rise of the radical right and weeks of protests and counter-protests in downtown Portland. Initially planning to spend a couple of days with a friend who retired and moved there, following which we’d head northwest together, I did not make it to Olympic National Park again this year. But the trip I did take, the emotional shift that occurred during those two unplanned weeks in Portland, was nothing short of Olympian.
Hopefully, and following a series of most remarkable encounters with a steady stream of Portland locals, I will never again judge the whole by the part at any given moment in time. At the height of ugly national and local discord, I was shored up, even embraced, by person after person across various racial, ideological, and cultural spectra on my way to a reverse total shoulder replacement. When it was all over much more than my shoulder had been replaced: old wounds, even childhood memories were reamed, amputated, reversed, and eventually replaced to serve me in new ways. I did not make up these words for dramatic effect: they came verbatim from the surgeon’s detailed and graphic dictation of the medical procedure he used to replace my shoulder.
The Bionic Body: Rebuilt and Reframed
I am now a bionic woman. I embody in my very being the fusion of organic and inorganic substances that work together to provide me with new possibilities, just as they have worked together for billions of years to provide this special planet with the same. With hope. With endless exploration. With curiosity. With wonder. With inventiveness. While we humans fight endlessly over skin tone, eye shape or color, relative brain size, and ranking on the phylogenetic scale, the introduction of titanium into flesh makes it possible for me to type this statement on my non-human laptop a mere three weeks following surgery.
It is time to reframe everything we think we know
We love stratifying people, places, and things. We love determining what is conscious and what is not, what is intelligent and what is not, what is worthy and what is not. We love anthropomorphizing the universe. That is the old paradigm. And yet elements as alien to flesh as titanium and zinc and copper work together seamlessly inside this very human form to assist in its expression of ideas, emotion, and values, which may be ineffable but in no way artificial.
Our global family could use a little reaming, amputating, and replacing worn-out concepts and absurd divisions. While I would not wish what I have gone through over these past few weeks on my worst enemy, even now I am compelled to find gratitude for a most unexpected experience. What I could not accomplish incrementally over decades of inner and outer work was reframed in an accident in a most ordinary setting.
Should We Be Afraid? I Think Not.
I have read a lot lately regarding the possibility and fear that artificial intelligence will supersede human intelligence. What I wonder now is whether artificial intelligence will accomplish what we have been unable to do so far and recognize the interconnectedness of all things. ALL things. I wonder whether AI will ultimately outstrip human beings in qualities like compassion and ethical behavior because these values make imminent good sense. Logical sense. After all, logic is the foundation and language of AI.
For now, let us give the artificial a try. In the long run, it may teach us a thing or two about the interdependence of all forms of life and consciousness, organic and other. It may take us one step closer to understanding the underlying blueprint of literally All That Is: connected, collaborative, imaginative, filled with endless possibility. I think I could come to like that picture and trust I will find the perfect frame in which to place it!