past essay, new reflection

it has been a while since i wrote last.
can i just chalk it up to graduate school?
working at 18 credits at once is just as challenging as i expected.

because my life is academia right now, i wanted to share a past essay. i wrote it during undergrad and have found new meaning in the topic of discussion.

as i read and brew over disability studies, what disability is and what part i have in the conversation, i see more and more of a connection my religious studies degree.

one reason why we take to religion is because it helps us make sense of the reality we experience. religion gives us meaning, and in some cases, hope. for the purpose of this post, religion gave me a new lens to set disability identity against.

and the contemplation continues…

My Nuclear Family

My mother, Mary, and father, Richard, brought me into existence in 1990, three years after bringing my sister, Brittany. We were born into a legacy -albeit a newly formed one- that would, in many respects, define who we were and how we walked in the world. The dynamic relationships within my family have worked to mold each of us as individuals, but also redefine the public and private notion of what it means to be a ‘Gabel’. We have all been essential in creating each other, ourselves, and our collective. This essay borrows from the concept of Indra’s net explored by Francis H. Cook to illustrate the fundamental nature of the interdependent dynamic relationships that have formed our individual and collective identities.

The jewel net of Indra, sometimes referred to as ‘Indra’s net’, is a metaphor for a concept of interdependent identity. The metaphor presents an image of a net of reflective jewels. Each of the jewels captures a reflection of all other jewels, which also each contain an image of all others, so that when one looks at any single jewel, one sees every jewel. The jewels here represent all things in the universe. Thus this model suggests that all components of reality are not only dependent on, but also made up of all other components, so that no one component can exist alone. It also suggests that each component is essential to the unitary whole, hence with even one component missing, the whole wouldn’t be complete. According to this model, as Cook says, “nothing exists truly in and of itself, but requires everything to be what it is” (220). Further, Cook asserts that within this model is a concept of codependent origination. This means that not only is each component defined by its co-components, but also each can be said to have given rise to all of the others. In Cook’s own words, “each is at once the cause for the whole and is caused by the whole, and what is called existence is a vast body made up of an infinity of individuals all sustaining each other and defining each other” (219). Perhaps it is apparent then, that a contemporary example or application of the concepts of interdependent identity and co-dependent origination is a nuclear family. A nuclear family consists of a mother, father, and their children living in a house separate from any extended family. It is a notion of family that is prevalent in the United States and other ‘western’ countries and is often referred to as the ‘immediate’ family.

The members of my family have similar mannerisms and dispositions, and share the same sense of humor. We learn from one another in every aspect of life. When I spend time with my sister, I in some way get to see my mother and father, because she reflects their personalities. The same goes for my mom and dad, if I am with one of them, it feels like I am with all of them.

But it is not just our personalities and the identities associated with those that fit the model presented by Indra’s net, it is also our symbiotic relationships. When something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. We all feel it, we all react and adapt to it. For example, when I was eleven, I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Because it wasn’t genetic in my case, it was wholly unexpected. After my diagnosis, my parents took on the disease themselves. They began holding fundraising events to raise money for The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and began advocating for diabetes awareness. When I was diagnosed, it was as if we were all suddenly ‘diabetic’. We took it on as one. We learned together, we struggled together.

Being an individual is a requirement in this society. Making clear your distinctive identity, as if to prove some unique self apart from family, friends, or any other being has become paramount to success and prestige. But I would agree with Cook when he argues that, “the part and the whole in this sense are one and the same thing, for what we identify as a part is merely an abstraction from a unitary whole” (221). Without the whole, there cannot exist the parts that make it up, therefore, individuals can never be wholly independent. Further, Cook argues, “to insist that it is only a part is to fall into a fallacious view of the whole as an independent and subsisting entity to which parts belong” (220). So, not only do the individual components depend entirely on the unitary whole, but also the unitary whole depends entirely on the individual components. Therefore, neither the whole nor the components can exist on their own.

This concept is a bit tricky to apply to people because the world clearly does not cease to exist if one person dies, if one component can no longer perform their function. I would argue, however, that some parts of the world do suffer at the loss of an individual; and that they not only suffer from heartache but also from loss of potential to grow from that component. That is to say, when an individual dies, other individuals who would have been impacted by said individual are robbed of their opportunity to grow. Before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was on the brink of death. Had my doctor not figured it out when he did, had I died, my parents and sister would be entirely different people. Their collective identity, their whole, would have been privately and publically transformed in an entirely different way. Being a ‘Gabel’ would carry a radically altered meaning. We are a family of individual components who depend on each other and our collective whole for personal growth and identity. We represent each other, reflect each other, and sustain each other; we act as one. My family is a jewel net. As Cook says, “ It is not just that “we are all in it” together. We all are it, rising or falling as one living body” (229).

Cook, Francis H. “The Jewel Net of Indra.” Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Ed. J. Baird. Callicott and Roger T. Ames. Albany: State University of New York, 1989. 213-30. Print


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