Last night I heard the sad news: Ruth Bader Ginsburg—aka The Notorious R.B.G.—had died.
The first movement of my heart was shock and grief at the loss of a truly great human being. She fought the good fight for basic human rights for all, and was loved by people ranging from Antonin Scalia to Black rap artists. But my grief was quickly replaced by political calculations that drowned out my instinctive human response.
Then a voice rose up saying, “No! Stop. Return to the first movement of your heart and feel the deep humanity of this moment. There will be time for politics, but the seeds of salvation are found in allowing yourself to be purely human at a time when that’s what matters most. Allow your heart to break, and it will break open, not apart. If you don’t, you’ll become part of the problem.”
Now, twelve hours later, I’m grateful for that voice. The collapse of respect—even respect for death—is one of the underlying illnesses of American culture. Yes, the nearly 200,000 American deaths from COVID-19 have political implications. But first and foremost, each of them is a human loss, deeply and forever felt by family members and friends. That truth must come first, before we turn to the politics, or we will have lost all that truly matters, all chance of crafting a politics worthy of the human spirit.
The moment when mortality, ephemerality, uncertainty, suffering, or the possibility of change arrives can split a life in two. Facts and ideas we might have heard a thousand times assume a vivid, urgent, felt reality. We knew them then, but they matter now. They are like guests that suddenly speak up and make demands upon us; sometimes they appear as guides, sometimes they just wreck what came before or shove us out the door. We answer them, when we answer, with how we lead our lives. Sometimes what begins as bad news prompts the true path of a life, a disruptive visitor that might be thanked only later. Most of us don’t change until we have to, and crisis is often what obliges us to do so. Crises are often resolved only through a new identity and new purpose, whether it’s that of a nation or a single human being.
- Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (2013)
The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.
We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.
- Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind
[We learned a lot about the Corrymeela community in Ireland when Pádraig Ó Tuama was with us last winter. Corrymeela has been posting “Prayers for Community in a Time of Pandemic” that are worth following. This prayer was one that we read together at a recent SSU community meeting]:
God of the scales held in her hands, God of the scales that fell from his eyes: we pray for those who have waited far too long for justice; and for those who have taken far too long to see that systems said to be balanced and blind work for some but not for all. May repentance come quick, not from a fear of being condemned, but in the hope of being set free from the seesaw of us–them, win–lose, and from the blindness of seeing only what we want to be true.
[From a current SSU student – Note: The poetry collection, of which “A Ritual of Care” is a part, is meant to be fluid; shifting shape, emphasis and words to fit the needs of the specific gathering in which it is read. It is meant to be shared with a trusted group as it offers space to fully witness the realities of our time.]
A Ritual of Care
Hello, friends and family
You are most welcome here
Thank you for sharing this hallowed space
Today, we have the opportunity
To bear witness to one another
With all the courage that we possess
We will safeguard one another in care
You are safe here
In doing this
We honour the Creator, who connects us
We honour the child, from which we have grown
We honour our youth, those who speak earnestly
We honour our present selves, we, who are fully alive
We honour our elders, those who have walked this road before and know so much
We honour our ancestors, who we will become
As we bear honest and courageous witness to one another
Our compassion will overflow from our cup to each other’s
We will pass hope like mashed potatoes around a communal table
Our grief melting like butter
Saturated with our abundant tenderness.
Today, let our generosity extend to each other
Within this room and beyond
Let us lend our courage to see each one of us as beloved
We are one creation
Each of us, a whole being
And as we rest together, in the safety of each others spacious arms
We acknowledge our strengths
Our ability to care, deeply and without reserve
We honour our individual longings
And as we metabolize our collective sorrow
We honour each other as we step into compassionate action
May we take this opportunity to become
Tender Alchemist of our time.
- Marissa Wiebe – June 6, 2020