So Many Feelings
This is the first half of a poem written after the election by DuPage Unitarian Universalist member and chair of our Social Justice Committee, Cheryl Clayton:
The sun came up today
As though the Earth were still unchanged.
My world had tilted overnight:
The ground beneath my feet no longer stable.
I watch in stunned disbelief
Surprised by the depth of my visceral response,
My weeping for the Earth,
For my struggling black, brown, gay, Muslim, and poor
Brothers and Sisters.
Yet the sun still shines, indifferent to our pain.
Gleeful in its ability to wobble us on our axis,
Knock us back down to our reviled
Second class status.
Millions wildly cheer its power.
Others only quietly shamefully secretly
Allow inherent white supremacy to bubble up from its hidden lair.
How does the sun deceive us so blatantly?
It shines so brightly – how can so many
Be duped by its shallow core?
The sun can and will destroy us
Unless we harness its power.
At Wednesday’s Vigil I heard so many voices. Words of fear, sadness, anger, and a deep sense of grief. People wondering about how far we had come as a country and as a society, and yet how fragile that progress now seems. They spoke of friends and family they could no longer listen to or speak to. They spoke of brokenness of the system, of some of their relationships, of themselves.
And there were tears. Feelings so raw that words could not express them, feelings so powerful that they could only be expressed in weeping.
The Sanctuary was filled with people from Move On.Org, from Youth Outlook, from our church, from other Unitarian Universalist churches. Word-of-mouth, Facebook, Meet-up, the internet—so many people found our church that night. About half the people who gathered had never been to a service in this church, and yet they came in the hope that their sorrow would be shared, that their feelings could be expressed in this safe space. No matter how they participated in the process, each person at that Vigil shared, to one extent or another, deep, heartfelt emotions.
I too shared my sadness, my difficulty functioning. I listened as people groped to make sense of Tuesday’s outcome. They wanted a plan, something to relieve their anxiety. But then again, the intent of the Vigil was not to start planning. The intent was to create a sacred, safe space to share our feelings, to try to reconnect ourselves to what, for Unitarians, is our First Principle: to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Every. Person.
These feelings may not pass quickly or easily. I am reminded of something I say in our child dedication service:
In this service, we give this child a rose bud. Whether this rose bud is beautiful or not; whether it comes into full bloom or not; whether it fulfills itself as a flower or not—depends on the nurturance it receives. A child is an adult in potential, a flower whose unfolding takes place under the careful tutelage and shelter of love. No flower grows alone, apart from sunshine and rain, apart from the soil in which it lives. So too no child grows alone. We realize that with some apprehension that the quality of our own lives will determine how well this child’ potential will be realized in full bloom and flower. In being part of this child’s life, we also must realize that we cannot remove all the thorns from this rose bud. There will be pain in this child’s life that we cannot protect him/her from, but through the pain we will be with this child.
And I say to each of you now: there will be pain, but through this pain we will be with you.
A Time to Heal
The poem you just heard was written by Spanish Poet Antonio Machado and read by American poet Robert Bly. Listen to these words again:
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – a marvelous error! –
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
In this process of healing we might want to hurry spring along, but right now it doesn’t feel like rebirth will ever happen. And even when spring does break through, we might wonder at it or distrust it, thinking it to be some error of some kind. But I tell you that the only thing that is constant is change. I cannot tell you when you will feel spring breaking through again, but I tell you this, when it does happen, whether for a moment or a day, embrace it. Your feelings will ebb and flow. As we sing in hymn #17 “Joy and woe are woven fine, clothing for the soul divine; under every grief and pine runs a joy with silken twine… and when this we rightly know, safely though the world we go.”
Healing is about accepting emotions, whatever they are, as being real, as being sign-posts that there is something that needs to be attended to within us and perhaps around us.
I have presided over many memorial services, been with many families who have faced the loss of a loved one. What many of us are experiencing is a similar grief. I do not say to these families, “You will get over this” I tell them “Allow yourself to feel your feelings as long as you need to, as long as it takes for you to make meaning of them.” I do offer some caveats: do not shut yourself off from the world, do not let your feelings keep you from taking care of yourself, and do not let your feelings control you. Make time to sit and be with your feelings, reflect on them, own them. Let them teach you, let them motivate you, let them eventually bring you peace.
A Call to Action
This is the second half of Cheryl’s poem:
But MY children, my white, college educated, reasonably wealthy children,
THEY will always have employment, good health care.
THEIR children can go to private schools, expensive colleges.
THEY have never been arrested, nor even questioned by police.
THEY can avoid flooding from high tides
By moving inland.
Privileged, yes. Complacent, no.
They share my grief, will not allow me to mourn for long.
Our work made many times harder
And ever more vital.
How many times have black and brown sisters and brothers
Been knocked back down the ladder?
How many times have they refused to give up, climbed back up:
One painful step at a time?
Channel the energy of our rage, our fear,
Our sense of betrayal,
Direct our energies back down that ladder
To lift our brothers and sisters up.
When the sun comes up tomorrow
May it shine the light of hope.
I asked you to wear safety pins today. It may seem like such a little thing to you, an acorn-sized response to a mighty oak of a problem.
Our feelings can, as Cheryl writes, channel the rage, fear, sense of betrayal, our tears, direct our energies back down the ladder to lift up our brothers and sisters. Some people are sending flowers to their local mosques with notes saying “Remember we are with you” or “You are not alone” or “You are loved.” Some people are writing words of support in chalk at the Wheaton Mosque. Other people are reaching out to friends in the GLBTQ community, fearing for the safety of that population, letting them know that they are not alone, letting them know that we are gay and straight together.
Here is my point, most of the members of this church are white. About half of us here are male. Many of us here are affluent. And we are adults. Most of us will not be the ones who suffer, getting our scarves torn off our heads like young Islamic women have recently. We will not be the ones whose temple or mosque will be defaced or burned. We will not be the ones who will be cursed at, told to go home, told they are terrorists. There are some of us here who are afraid that their right to marry or to choose whether to have a child will be taken away. And our children may bear some of the burden of this divided country, with children seeing bullying and abuse as being acceptable behavior in political discourse. In the last few days bullying by both children and adults across this country has been on the rise—and our children and our GLBTQ friends, and our Islamic and Sihk friends, and all our friends of color will need us to listen to them, to create safe spaces for them, to help them cope with this painful new reality.
Dorothy Day wrote: “People say, what is the sense of our small effort. They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to do.”
What difference will our small effort, writing chalk messages on a sidewalk make? What difference will your small moment of bravery, in the grocery store or on the train, make? You don’t know. You can’t possibly know. But if you truly believe that we are all part of the interdependent web of all existence then you must believe that what you do, no matter how small, is felt by other entities on that shared web. You make a difference. So, I am sure most of you know what the safety pins we’re wearing symbolize. They mean we will not abide mistreatment of women, immigrants, GLBTQ, Muslims, people of color, anyone. Wearing this pin identifies you as a person who will do what they can to make sure another person feels safe. It identifies you as a person they can talk to; a person they can lean on; a person they can cry with; a person to turn to when feeling bullied.
When you see harassment, go to the person being harassed, sit beside them, engage them in conversation; pick a topic, any topic and just start talking to them. Keep eye contact with them, and don’t acknowledge the attacker’s presence. Keep the conversation going until the bully leaves, then escort the person to a safe place if necessary. And I want to be clear this is not only about Islmaphobic harassment; this 4 step intervention works to help anyone who is suffering harassment.
And so, I offer you three little steps to starts moving again, three little “pebbles” to cast into the troubled waters we find ourselves in:
1. Be kind. Take some chalk and write a positive loving message on a random sidewalk or parking lot. Lay down your kindness for everyone to see.
2. Be gentle. Wear your safety pin to identify yourself as a safety zone for everyone to see.
3. Be brave. Stand up to the bullying that you see around you.
Be kind. Be gentle. Be brave. Pick one, or choose all three. Whatever you choose to do make a difference.
And so, we come back to our First Principle: we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. No shaming. No name calling. No exceptions. Even when a person is destructive, prejudiced, bullying, or just plain hateful. Be kind, be gentle, be brave.
So go with peace in your hearts, use your arms to hug your neighbors—they need it right now—and your hands to do the work of the word. Be that safe person, and this church will be that safe place, that people sorely need right now. As one young person said on Wednesday night, let’s go out into the world and make kindness cool.