Thursday, March 26, 2015

I sit with her until I am silent, too

Last week I was walking in the rain with a friend, every so often putting the hood of my rain jacket up or down, constantly flicking water and bits of mud up the back of my jeans. By the end of the walk, the back of my jeans legs, from the heel to the knee, were wet.

As we were talking about my work in Palestine and the presentations I've been doing, she said something like she could never do the work I do because it would make her bitter and (I think her other word was) frustrated with the world. She asked how I stay grounded. I told her that prayer and reading -during my last stint, Gregory Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart  and Desmond Tutu's God Has a Dream -  offer me a vision broader than my own oh-so-limited view of the world.

But I lose sight of that vision all too easily. I get frustrated, impatient, maybe I even put on a sanctimonious air. This morning I got all worked up re-framing  the idea of "afflicting the comfortable." I didn't even know how much emotion was there until I was speaking my mind about how the idea was to encourage those with privilege to willingly give up some of their privilege so that those who don't live a decent life don't have to work so damn hard to get what every person should have simply by virtue of being human. I was thinking about "those people" who could use some discomfort.

Of course, I am one of "those people" with unearned privilege upon privilege upon privilege. There is a lot I could give up and still live an incredibly rich life. I could use some more affliction myself to urge me to better live in solidarity with others.

Solidarity - I will give up my safety (physical, emotional, social, economic) to stand with you or sit with you or walk with you, to take on some of the pain you face that I can avoid, if I want to, because of my placement in the world.

Solidarity is a choice. It is simple, but not easy. Working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, I try to practice solidarity a few weeks a year in Palestine, just a few weeks. People praise me for doing the work, as if it is something noble and not simply what I should be doing. I accept the praise and too often forget to say that any courage I show is minuscule in comparison to that of the Palestinians I know. Any struggle I have is nothing compared to those who have lived under Occupation their entire lives. Any stress I feel is usually alleviated when I leave for days off or, after my stint, return to the U.S. When I return, it doesn't take long to settle back into comfort. I come home with mixed emotions, grateful to return to safety (physical, emotional, social, economic) and disappointed in myself for so easily slipping back into a life where solidarity is not my primary modus operandi. 

Perhaps it is in an effort to keep that sensibility alive that recently I've been sharing the voices of others, primarily women. Maybe sharing their words is a small act of solidarity? Maybe it is a way to hold onto a thread of a larger tapestry? When I wrote in my International Women's Day post that I was angry, someone replied that being angry is good.

Anger can be useful, if it takes us most often not to bitterness and frustration, but to solidarity. To loving, deliberate action ("loving" being an extremely important qualifier) rather than stagnation or purely reactive in-the-moment response. To the slow movement that happens in the depths, rather than frantic splashing at the surface.

To greater care for people.

And so I share another poem.

Maren Tirabassi


     as a word
first appears in Middle English,
as it is derived from the
Old Norse - "sorrow."
The woman's stillness
casts a shadow -
that is anger.
It cannot be defined away.

She has the right to it -
you cannot take it.
You cannot extract its terrible teeth,
nor do you need to know
her reasons,
so that you can re-arrange them
into something acceptable,
or identify them
as right or wrong.
You may only know that
she has sat down
into a place
derived from old, old sorrow.

I respect her - I sit with her
until I am silent, too.
For anger is never abstract.
It is one woman,
and then another woman,
and then
another woman -
with broken stars.

I sit with her until I am silent, too. Sitting in a place derived from old, old sorrow.

This is not bitterness or frustration. Perhaps this is solidarity.

Perhaps, like the rain, it will make its way to my body- through my head, through my feet- and will seep into my being until, finally, it saturates my heart.

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