Forty Days Revisited, Day 38–The Power of Forgiveness

Each year for the past four years, I have decided to write a Lenten blog, and every year of those four I get to a point in the process where I wonder what possessed me to start in the first place. This year I’ve hit the wall many times. Life and work and stress and exhaustion have collided at various points throughout these 40 days, preventing my from fully expressing the things I’ve wanted to in clear and original ways. That is true today, as it has been for much of this week. I have been grateful, then to have past posts that I’ve been able to reach back and bring forward. This Good Friday evening (it’s now almost 11:00 p.m. where I am) I hope to have enough energy to complete an original post. If not, I have just the thing to draw from the “oldie but goodie” bag.

I want to talk briefly about the power of forgiveness. The other day I had a brief but very intense blow up directed at a loved one. It was one of those times when you know you’ve really blown it so badly you don’t quite know how to get it back. The silence that fell between us after my outburst lingered through the rest of the evening, spilling over into the next day. I simply did not know what to do, how to enter in when a literal door had been closed between us. Having had a chance and some distance for each of us to cool off, we met the next evening to talk about what had happened.

I didn’t know how to apologize, I explained, I felt like simply saying “I’m sorry,” sounded lame and insincere. And so I let it stretch out to the point where I felt like I couldn’t enter in.

When it was all said and done, and the air considerably clearer, the band that had tightened around my heart and I knew–without hearing actual words–that I had been forgiven. I exhaled a long, slow, breath of relief as the burden I hadn’t known I was carrying had been lifted.

I’ve seen it play out so many times, the impact of the act of forgiveness on the forgiven. I remember when my kids were small, and during my church days, when one of them would hurt the other–usually physically–I would make the one doing harm apologize to the one who had been harmed. The “victim” in the scenario would respond, “I forgive you.” Both the apology and the pardon were contrived and inauthentic. I fairly quickly ceased the practice. Until my children could genuinely and contritely apologize to one another, there was no point in making them do so. I believe they learned more about apologizing and forgiving from my modeling it with them than they ever did when I made them apologize. They learned it from me apologizing to them when I had done something uncalled for to them.

I’m sorry. I would say to them.
It’s alright mommy,  they would reply.

And that was the sweetest forgiveness I could have experienced without them having to utter a perfunctory, “I forgive you.” I have been fortunate to have been forgiven many times for various actions, inactions, infractions, from small and inconsequential, to larger, more serious matters. The asking for forgiveness can be exceedingly difficult, the receiving–if it comes–is sweet relief.

The other side of forgiveness is offering  it. I’ve had times in my life when I have been wronged and hurt by people I’ve loved and trusted. I worked my way through it. Long after the relationships ended, I worked to forgive over and over again, even when no apologies were offered. And when I thought I had gotten past it all, I discovered that I still held anger, pain, and grief and had to keep forgiving, until one day I realized I was actually finally past it. I had gotten through it. And then, several years later, a card arrived with a poignantly written apology. And I exhaled a long, slow breath that I had been holding for several years. The power of forgiveness isn’t just in the receiving, but also in offering of it, and I have been blessed to restore some of those relationships that I had thought lost.

On this day, this “Good” Friday, we watch the torture and crucifixion scenes of the Jesus movie with horror and amazement, that near the end of his life, as the soldiers were driving nails through his wrists and feet, he uttered requests to God to forgive them for these heinous actions. How did he do that? And what was it like for those men raising the hammer repeatedly to drive those spikes through Jesus’s flesh? Where did they send their minds and hearts to be able to do such things to another human being? And what must it have felt like to have this man look down upon them with battered, bloodied, and swollen eyes, and ask that they be forgiven? How that must have changed those men. How it must’ve moved some of the people in the crowd who had come to watch the spectacle.

We see daily examples of the same kind of grace. We see people offer forgiveness to those who have visited horrors upon them, even now, in our modern times. We don’t know why they do it or how they manage it. Some people even get angry at those who forgive people for their crimes. They don’t forgive them, why should others. It takes effort to truly forgive; and often you don’t get it right the first or second or even the 55th time. The best we can do is keep at it until, to our surprise and great relief, we realize we are healed, we have been able to fully let go and move on.

The journey of these 40 days have led us to this moment: the moment of forgiveness and grace that gives us strength we hadn’t known we needed. And so we exhale, breathing out our mourning, and wait for the dawn of a new day. And so it is.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 37–Weep Not for the Memories

I will remember you, will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
~~From “I will Remember You,” Sarah McLachlan, Séamus Egan, Dave Merenda

This is it. The end of days, or very nearly. “Maundy Thursday” represents a very poignant time in the Christian liturgical year. Those of us who have been watching the movie of Jesus’s life know that we’re watching the last few scenes. He has gathered with his friends to celebrate with them one last night. They know something is up; he’s been unusually quiet–quieter than usual–since he’d rode in on the donkey to the adulation of the crowds a few days earlier.

That night, he spent time with his friends, teaching them, serving them, washing their feet. There was a purpose in everything he did that night, mostly to model for his followers what he wanted from them later. He wanted them to understand, and he wanted them to remember. In that spirit, I offer this post from March of 2016.

The Next Forty Days, Day 39–In Memory of Me
Posted on March 25, 2016 by-author M. T. Chamblee

By the time a person reaches a certain age, they have likely lost someone to death. They often go through a period during which time they engage in some ritual, wear an article of clothing, read and recite a poem, listen to a song, all of which serves to remind them of the person they lost. They commemorate in some way the life of that person. For many years, I wore a necklace that was my mother’s. The feeling of that enameled metal dove against my skin gave me great comfort, and reminded me that the spirit of my mother, in the form of the Holy Spirit, was with me. My sister still wears my father’s wedding ring. Others in my family commemorate and celebrate my mother’s and father’s lives in various ways. In short, we do things in memory of those we’ve lost.

In the Christian tradition, particularly in the Catholic tradition in which I was raised, Maundy Thursday, is a commemoration of the “Last Supper,” the last time Jesus broke bread with his disciples. During that evening, 2000-plus years ago, a number of significant things happened, the elements of which we still acknowledge and celebrate to this day. We learn about humility and offering service to one another from watching Jesus taking the time to wash the feet of his disciples. We learn that if such an action was not beneath Jesus, it was not any of his disciples, and it is certainly not beneath us to serve others, even those considered “the least of us” in our society. While service is a subject worthy of consideration in these last few explorations of the 40 days of Lent, that is not the focus of today’s reflection.

Among other rituals that have emerged from the last supper, one of the most important of these is the breaking and sharing of bread and the pouring and sharing of wine. In doing this, Jesus is creating a ritual that will be refined and passed down through the ages. And as he is teaching his disciples one last time, he shares the significance of the bread and wine, symbolic representations of the sacrifice he would shortly be making. He concludes this portion of the evening with the words, “Do this in memory of me.” So they did, and so we do, all over the world as we have through centuries and millennia.

When you think about your life right now, what are the things you will ask that others do in your memory? In much of our society we do not like to think about our own mortality, particularly if we consider ourselves relatively young. But what are those things you hope someone will do in memory of you, that when that thing is done, your friend, loved one, or colleague will say, “I want to offer this in memory of…”  For those who feel that thinking of something as being “in memoriam,” particularly if you’re still alive is a bit morbid, you might think of it as, “in my honor.” Even as I write that, it sounds a bit arrogant to say to someone, “Do this in my honor,” but it is meant more as a sincere expression of “please remember me,” that I want to feel like I passed this way and left a mark.

This is an inherently human trait–the desire first to be known, and then later to be remembered, to be favorably thought of, even after we’re gone. We want to matter, we want to be loved, we want to be remembered. This is difficult for some of us to admit; we’d much rather do the remembering, the honoring. I recognize in this my own human need to be seen and acknowledged, and this feels very basic and primal. I cannot say how I want to be remembered, I can only say that I want to be remembered.

As I near the end of these 40 days, I am grateful for the journey of these explorations, for the insights I’ve gained that deepen my understanding of the world, clarify my faith, and expand the compassion and love I hold for the people around me.  These words will fade into cyberspace and be forgotten, but in this moment, and for a brief time afterward they and I will have left a mark. And so it goes.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 36–The Treasures of Darkness

And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, which call you by your name, am the God of Israel. ~Isaiah 45:3

Sometimes  I get distracted; in fact, I am often quite easily sidetracked. It is something I’m working on, and the first step is acknowledgment. So as I contemplated this evening’s post, I knew I was going to use this quote about the “treasures of darkness” as written about by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is my favorite book on the bible–yes, I have one. I may no longer be a faithfully practicing Christian, but I do appreciate some of the reading I did back when I was. See? Distracted. Anyway, I got distracted by reading commentaries about what the meaning of this passage was, then after a while I realized that I don’t really care about the original meaning. I am going to make my own meaning of it for the purposes of tonight’s post.

Years ago, back in my “church days,” I wrote a newsletter article using this text as the foundation, very much as I am using it tonight (except back then there was no internet and I had to look it up the hard way: in the actual book, and then literally cut and pasted the article into my newsletter. But there I go, digressing yet again.) I knew even then that there were times when I preferred darkness; that in times of pain or confusion, I would retreat to my cave, a dark place in my mind where I was safe, though isolated, from everything around me that hurt or frightened me. In my cave I could hunker down until I could make sense or come to terms with what was bothering me. I would emerge, still somewhat tender, but a little more ready to reengage the world, if on a more cautious, more limited basis. The treasures of darkness.

During intense times in my church days, I would withdraw to the “prayer closet,” where I would pray, cry, and make sense of the world, and ponder the things I didn’t understand, until I came to some kind of resolution. I literally sat on the floor in the small closet in my small bedroom. It was dark and oddly comforting to sit amongst the shoes, my hanging close brushing my head and shoulders, enfolding me. I would wonder if it that was how it felt to have been in the womb–dark, close, muffled, oddly comforting. I would emerge from the literal closet back into the brightness of my room, my eyes readjusting to the light, and feeling better than I had went I’d climbed in. The treasures of darkness.

Those experiences were in my younger days. Now, I am not sure I could fold myself up as easily to fit in the closet, and I’ve permanently come out anyway. The cave, of course, has no such limitations, as it is a construct of my mind, but I’ve come to recognize that I can’t mentally fold myself up any more than I could do it physically. It was helpful back in the day, but I’m a grownup now, and we don’t run and hide in our caves when things get difficult…do we?

While I am technically a day ahead of when I should be talking about this, I find my mind going to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus retreated to pray through the anguish he was feeling at his approaching arrest and ultimate execution. It wasn’t unusual for him to withdraw; as I’ve written about before he frequently withdrew when he needed to pray or simply to create space between himself and the throngs that so frequently shadowed him. This was different, however. Gethsemane was like my cave or prayer closet; Jesus went there to wrestle with his doubts, his fears, and to attempt to extricate himself from the situation he was about to face.

I can imagine the scene. This is what I love about Jesus the son of man. He is doing what I or any human would when confronting what was coming. He was pleading, bargaining with his father. Is there any way around this? Is there another way to accomplish what needs to be done? He had been quite brave throughout the evening, telling Judas, “Go do what you need to do,” knowing that Judas was going to fetch the authorities who would arrest him and set his feet on that final path, the via dolorosa. Now that he was up against it, he was afraid. It is written that he sweated great drops of blood, he was so anguished, but when it was all said and done, and he had poured himself out in prayer, he emerged having come to grips with his situation.

Jesus didn’t have a cave, he had a garden. And then he had the tomb, in the dark, muffled, quiet from which he emerged after three days later, back into the light and changed from how he’d entered.  The treasures of darkness. I for one am grateful for my cave, my closet, and perhaps someday soon, my garden. They are each representations of safety, and a quiet place to struggle and make sense of things. Perhaps when I next go in, I too will emerge changed from how I enter. May it be so.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 35–A Quiet Place

All I want is a quiet place to live
Where I can enjoy the fruits of my labor
Read the paper
And not have to cry out loud
~from “A Quiet Place to Live” by Carole King

I admit it: I am an introvert. And strangely, I have worked for the last 35 years working with and around people. It’s not that introverts don’t like to be around people (I used to be accused of being “antisocial” by certain family members), it’s that being around too many people in too many setting for too long simply drains the life force out of us. I am at a point this evening in which I am “peopled out,” that is, after two days of back-to-back-to-back meetings, with barely enough time in between to go to the restroom, I’m mentally and emotionally drained. Then to come home and watch the evening news (time for me to go on another news fast) and see example after example after example of human beings’ capacities for cruelty to one another, I have pretty much had it with people.

How can you say that, you are people. I can almost hear the objections. Indeed, I am people, and there are many people I love–my partner, my siblings, my close friends. But for the most part I would be good with very little human interaction, at least for the time being. I think I would be in good company. I think there are a lot of people who are feeling peopled out and we would be in good company if we wanted to be around other people, which we don’t.

I bet Jesus was an introvert. As much time as he spent around people, on more than one occasion the bible says he “withdrew to a quiet place” to pray. I bet he withdrew because he was peopled out and needed a break. I am thinking that I need to withdraw to a quiet place myself, to pray, to refresh, to recover. But the world I live in doesn’t really provide space for that. The nature of the work I do doesn’t provide space for that. The country that we are living in in 2018 doesn’t really allow for that. And so I have to make it for myself.

My former Buddhist teacher, Mushim Patricia Ikeda, recently wrote an article titled, “I Vow Not to Burn Out,” directed toward those who work to bring social change and justice to the world, particularly here in the US. In it she talks about the importance of self-care for those of us who spend time and energy trying to–essentially–change the world. I need to read the article multiple times until the message is burned into the space behind my eyelids where I can see it even when my eyes are closed. Mushim proposed a “Great Vow for Mindful Activists,” which reads:

“Aware of suffering and injustice, I, _________, am working to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. I promise, for the benefit of all, to practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy. I vow to not burn out.”

During the last days of Lent, as we follow the final steps of Jesus’s journey, it’s important to pay attention to the state of our minds, our hearts, our spirits as we go about our daily tasks at work. We need to attend to the warning signs that we are “peopled out,” and withdraw ourselves to a quiet place to refresh and rejuvenate. As I look at my calendar filled with all kinds of “important” meetings, I know that I need to attend to my own needs. Jesus withdrew himself to a quiet place, away from the world, away from people and their demands, away to a place of solitude. The practice worked for Jesus, I reckon it can work for me.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 34–You Gotta Have Friends

One of the things I have been thinking about is the impact that Jesus had on the people around him. For the first 29 or so years of his life, Jesus worked at home, hanging out with his family, working as a carpenter or other such things. Then he got the call to begin his ministry. He left home and went about connecting with people and collecting followers as he moved from place to place preaching and teaching and healing and comforting the people around him.

In a sense, his disciples and other close companions worked with him and served him during the three years of his ministry. Some of them knew him better than just about anyone else, save, perhaps his mother and family. In that sense, they were as close to being friends as anyone in his life. It reminded me of a piece I posted last year about the important connections we make with the people with whom we work. I offer it for your consideration.

Another Forty Days, Day 22–The Blessings of Work Friends
Posted on March 27, 2017

Today I spent a few hours with a dear friend and former work colleague who was visiting from out of town. I realized as I sat there talking with her what a blessing it is to have work colleagues who become friends. I’ve begun referring to them as “frolleagues,” those people with whom you work whom you genuinely come to appreciate as friends.  I have been blessed in my 30-plus year career to have developed enduring friendships with a number of coworkers, even long after I’ve moved on.

I think sometimes we do not know the impact we have on other people, especially those with whom we work. On one level, we can often tell when we “connect” with another person. Something clicks, conversations about work deepen into discussions about personal philosophies and beliefs, and we learn from one another. Colleagues become frolleagues, who sometimes become friends. Our lives inside and outside of work improve from the interactions we have with one another.

We spend at least as much time with our coworkers as we do with our family members, so our relationships with them often directly affect the quality of our lives. Having worked in at least two exceedingly toxic environments, it was sometimes my frolleagues who made my work life tolerable until such time as I could move on. I feel for people who have no such outlets in their workplaces, being surrounded by people who lack basic attributes such as care and compassion for others, and lack integrity, openness, and honesty.

My friend today was highly complimentary of the positive impact I had on her during our time working together. Even though I squirmed with embarrassment as she extolled my virtues to one of my current work colleagues, I realized two things: first, that treating people with “basic” care and compassion might be a no-brainer to me and I try to do my best in my interactions with people to demonstrate that. However, everyone doesn’t engage their coworkers in that way. People often respond well to being treated with love and compassion, and a side effect of this is that the quality of their work increases. And the second is that when you are blessed to work with good people, it makes it easy for you to seem wonderful–they are simply reflecting back onto me what I experience from them. There’s a kind of mutuality in operation in those circumstances that allows collaboration, cooperation, creativity, and positivity to flourish.

During these 40 days, I think a lot about Jesus. He was constantly surrounded by people. Some were there to get from him what he could do for them, some were moved and inspired by his words and could listen to him all day, still others were glad simply to be able to follow and serve him wherever he went. I wonder, though, how many true friends he had. Who did he talk to about what was worrying him? Who did he strategize or consult with about what he was thinking about doing or where he was going next? I have to believe he didn’t always simply check in with his heavenly father about everything. Do you suppose he said to his disciples, “So Peter, John, Mary, what do you all think?” Given some of the accounts in the gospels, I could imagine Peter saying, “whatever you think, Lord…” which certainly would not have been helpful.

Who did he turn to when he was troubled? Right near the end, not many of his peeps showed up for him. As he struggled with his own reluctance to go through what he knew he must, only one or two people remained with him to the end. I’ve had one or two rare occasions in my working life where people who I had befriended silently disappeared when I was struggling. I have also had those one or two who stood with me through the struggles and saw me to the other side and beyond. While the loss of the former was disappointing, the steadfastness of the latter more than made up for it.

These 40 days provide the opportunity not only to think about and relate to some of the sacrifice, suffering and loss Jesus experienced, but also the qualities of the relationships in your life and the connections you have with the people around you. They can be a great source of strength, joy, and love. And so it goes.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 33–Hosanna Hey Sanna…

Hosanna, hey sanna, sanna sanna ho
Sanna hey, sanna hosanna
Hey JC, JC, won’t you smile at me?
Sanna ho, sanna hey, Superstar
~Andrew Lloyd Weber, from Jesus Christ Superstar

Yesterday I counted on my fingers that I have to hustle and not miss another day of writing or I will have only accumulated 38 or 39 days, which would defeat the whole “Forty Days” theme. I decided to offer a repeat of last year’s Palm Sunday reflection, because as I reread it, it captured for me what I imagine happened on that day. We celebrate Palm Sunday on Sunday, but I’m not sure the scripture actually specifies the day of the week that it occurred. It is probably, like so many other traditions, something that became a practice for a variety of reasons, but had nothing to do with the literal day that Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem. Nevertheless undaunted by this technicality, I am revisiting my Palm Sunday post from last year.

Another Forty Days, Day 34–From Hosanna to Hatred
Posted on April 9, 2017

How does one get from “Hosanna!” on Sunday to “Crucify him!” on Friday? What a week it must’ve been–people who adored and cheered and praised you, giving you a hero’s welcome to the city only to turn into a jeering, taunting vigilante mob only a few days later.  Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the “Prince of Peace.” Imagine crowds of people cheering and waving palms and branches, laying them before Jesus as he rides in on the back of a donkey, humble and regal at the same time.

My mind keeps going back to the question, “Did he know then? When did he know?” Did he know as he was riding in on a wave of love and worshipful approval, that in a few short days, masses of people would once again be assembled, only this time it would be to witness his arrest, his trial, his sentence, and the long and agonizing hours of his torture, punishment, and death. I can remember as a child being horrified and angered at the behavior of the crowd. I also found it confusing, when attending Good Friday service to be one of the ones calling out “Crucify him!” when the part of the service that required audience participation came around. “Give us Barabbas!” we shouted, which I also didn’t understand or like. I felt like we were turning on Jesus.

It’s been many years since I’ve been to church on Palm Sunday, or Good Friday services, or even Resurrection Sunday itself. But the stories, the experiences, the feelings that I learned all those years ago remain with me. And I find myself admiring anew the fact that one human being who lived millennia ago can still have the impact that he does. As with the Buddha and other ancient teachers of note, Jesus’s impact remains as strong today as it has throughout the centuries.

But what captures me most these days, as I contemplate various aspects of these 40 days, is not his divinity, but his humanity. So often throughout these days I find myself reflecting on what Jesus the son of man might be thinking or doing as he walked through his days. How did he feel, for instance, riding through the crowds on that Sunday? This right on the heels of having raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead. It had to have been an awesome couple of days. Still, he knew, even as he arrived in the city and spent time teaching and preaching to the people around me that tensions between himself and the religious establishment were strained at best, antagonistic at worst.

I don’t know if on the day the crowds were cheering him that Jesus knew that some of the same people would, days later, call for him to be crucified. It goes back to the metaphor of watching Jesus’s life unfold as one would watch a movie where we see the protagonist walking blindly into danger. We want to holler at the screen saying, “No Jesus, don’t trust these people. Don’t let yourself get arrested, speak up for yourself. Call on your disciples to protect you. For heaven’s sake, do something!” But we know how the story goes, we know how it’s going to end. But for today, we acknowledge and accept Jesus as King. We wave our palms and sing his praise. And for his part, Jesus must have felt wonderful, even if the shadow is impending doom hovered right behind him.

Holy week will offer the opportunity this week for the final days of reflection and solemnity as we wait for what we know is coming. It provides a space in which we are both cheerleader and taunter, where we offer praise and scorn.  The confusion of a people who are emotionally pushed and pulled between the forces around them result in this kind of split personality that we will watch unfold in the days ahead. From Hosanna to hatred in a few short days is a stunning and breathtaking reversal of moods that likely caught the people themselves off guard. Until, at the end of it all, Jesus stood alone and without support.

From Hosanna to most hated, from King to criminal, so too the fates of Jesus turned sharply. We will experience the passion with him this week, whether we follow the basic tenants of any particular faith or not. As we close out another 40 days, we will go through these last days gleaning what final messages we can before we close the book once again. And so it goes.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 32–Whose Life Matters?

This week a young African American man was shot to death by two police officers in his grandparent’s back yard. As often happens, the police has some official explanation for what happened, and have put the two officers on “paid administrative leave,” while the investigation continues. Perhaps some prosecutor in Sacramento where the shooting occurred will take up the case and bring charges against the officers. Maybe they will go to trial, where some mostly white jury will acquit them. The black community will erupt in protest, it will be on the news for a few weeks, depending on the level of uproar in the community and the impact that it has on the white community. And then it will all die back down until the next time. And we are left to question, “whose lives matter?” Because most certainly it is not ours.

It would appear that if you are black in the 21st century United States, you are increasingly unsafe. You cannot drive any kind of car (especially a nice one), go shopping in a Target store, drive with your girlfriend and child…you cannot walk in your neighborhood at night, play with a toy gun on a play ground, be injured and seeking help, play your music too loud…without the possibility that you will be shot to death, not by some random “bad guy,” but by the very people who are supposed to “protect and serve.” This most recent example serves as a reminder to those with noticeable, visible African heritage, that you are never, ever truly safe.

I yell and swear at the television as the news replays the chaotic scene in which this latest victim is shot 20 times before the officers, who swore he had a gun, stopped firing. Seriously, does it really require 20 bullets? At what point was he on the ground and no longer moving and still they were peppering him with bullets? I thought police officers practice shooting on firing ranges where they take aim and hit specific points on their targets. How come they can’t seem to aim when shooting at unarmed black people? Can’t you aim for their legs or arms, or do you always aim for the chest or the head? How come white criminals can get talked down, disarmed, captured, shot, but not killed? How does that happen exactly?

I rarely depart from my usual neutral, spiritual, sometimes whimsical reflections when writing this blog, but what I see happening around me to my people is deeply painful at a level for which I am hard-pressed to find neutral words. Whose lives matter, really?

I am reposting a piece I wrote two years ago, titled “On Being Hated,” because what I wrote then (March, 2016) is as true, perhaps truer, today than it was even back then. It is not an easy read, but it is an important one, at least to me. And if you are a regular reader of this blog, and are likely someone who knows and cares about me, perhaps it will be important to you too. May it be so.
The Next Forty Days, Day 32–On Being Hated
I’m going to write about something that I have never written publicly about before—at least not in this direct a way. I want to address the emotional weight connected to being hated. It is very unusual for me to write about something like this; I have striven over the past few years to be positive, affirmative, optimistic. But lately I suppose I’ve been a bit of a funk, and as I really began to assess where it’s coming from I realize that at least part of it emerges from the invisible and constant presence of hatred that surrounds, envelops, and blankets me and others like me in this country, and perhaps even in the world. I am not sure how clear and articulate (yes, I used the “a” word) I can be in describing this feeling in the constrained, brief format of a blog. I could write a thousand words, or 10,000 or even 100,000 and still not adequately or clearly express what I, and so many others, are feeling/have felt/will feel. But, as always, I will try.

I can remember as a child saying to or perhaps about someone, “I hate you.” My mother would say, “That’s not nice. You should not hate anybody.” Years later, as a mother myself, I found myself echoing her words to my children after they said “I hate you” to one of their playmates or classmates or someone “mean” they saw on TV. I admonished them not to hate the “mean stranger,” who frightened them or wished them ill, but instead we would offer prayers for them along with those for our family and friends and others when we said our nighttime prayers. How wonderfully simple that was, but life is quite a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it? It might be a simple thing to tell children not to express hatred for another being, but much harder to teach them not to hate, and harder still to explain to them how to deal with being hated.

I grew up in a family of action, raised along with my five siblings, as a product of civil rights activist parents. We learned the power of words and marching and boycotts, and to battle hatred with love, determination, steadfastness. Now here I am all these years later, a so-called champion of social justice, and still feel the weight of hatred all around me. People hate me simply because of who they perceive me to be, rather than who I am, and the weight of that is crushing.

White people tell people of color that we should “get over it,” “move on,” “stop whining” and “stop playing the race card.” Here I am, an advocate of social and racial justice, having worked for over 30 years on issues of equality and freedom for all people who have historically been ignored at best, hated, reviled, and even murdered at worst. I am tired, and I am discouraged, and I would like to do nothing better than to run for the safety of the hills, to retire quietly, and “study war no more.” But in this environment today I cannot do that, not because I am too tired to fight (which I am), but because I’m not sure there is any place that is safe in the hills, on the coast, in the cities, or anywhere else. This is the weight of being hated.

I am sure that my white friends, and perhaps even some of my nonwhite friends would say to me, “Oh my dear, you are most certainly not hated. You are loved and cherished.” And, that might be true, however, I as an individual may be loved by individual people, but I, as a person of African descent—brown-skin apparent to all, no “passing” or hiding—am hated by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people in the United States and around the world. And the weight of that hatred is crushing.

White people talk a lot about “the angry Black woman” or “angry Black man.” They are afraid of our rage, as well they should be. But the rage, born out of centuries of being considered and treated as “less than” (less than equal, less than qualified, less than human) is not the only, and perhaps not the predominant emotion that I, and many others like me, feel. For me, it is the mixture of rage, deep, deep sadness, and confusion—genuine bafflement—about the depth of hatred that people who don’t know and have never met me and mine have of me, that presses down on me on a regular basis. And please, please don’t tell me to “stop whining.”

I don’t write much about politics in my blogs, and I won’t today either. But what I will say is that the current political season with its vitriolic and hateful rhetoric directed at entire swaths of the US (and world) population is fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred against nonwhite people that have existed and remained healthily crackling since the first white people set foot on this continent in the 1400s. This wildfire is scorching hot and spreading, threatening to consume people like me who are held up as the problem, the enemy, the outsiders in this nation full of outsiders. It is this hatred that follows me around in stores, that hurls insults at me out of car windows, that has me literally fearing for my life and those of my family, friends, and loved ones. I mean actual fear. In my 58, nearly 59 years on this planet, I am more afraid that someone I love will be murdered simply for being Black than I have ever been—even in the 60s when some fool blasted several shotgun shells through our house in the “white neighborhood” because we had the nerve to move in.

So here I am, writing about, exploring, and trying to find meaning in the solemnity of these 40 days of Lent. And so how to reconcile this oppressive weight of hatred that crushes down on me in March of 2016, with 2,000-plus years of history since Jesus walked the earth. Jesus and his “kind” were also hated, reviled, and murdered by the political and social establishment of the time. I suppose he knew what it meant to be utterly hated, to be surrounded by people who plotted and schemed to bring about his death. I do not know and cannot speculate whether or not he experienced it as the same oppressive weight that I do. I mean, after all, he was the son of God, who incarnated on earth for a very specific purpose. He had a direct connection to God, and so perhaps had some sense that while the situation in which he—Jesus—and his people found themselves was in its way horrific, he was in on the ultimate plan: resurrection, redemption, revolution, and so forth. He came with foreknowledge, assurance that everything was going to be alright. That yes, he would be beaten, tortured, and murdered in the most ignominious way, but that he would come back to life and ascend up into heaven to be with God, his father.

I have no such luxury, no direct connection to the divine, no assurance whatsoever that lets me know that there is a plan and a purpose and that even though things look really bad, it will come right in the end. When is the end, anyway? How long must I/we wait until the end? Please don’t tell me “stop whining,” that I am imagining things, that the hatred I experience doesn’t exist.

So what to do with the hatred? I want to say to my white friends and family that this is not about visiting hatred back on others—I have neither the inclination or the energy to be hateful and vindictive. It is about me trying to explain and hoping you can begin to grasp, as I walk through every day life, wanting only to live and love and go on engaging in the mundane, routine business of life, that I am utterly exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and now even physically, by the weight of the hatred that surrounds and smothers me like a leaden blanket. I can only hope that my spirit, the spark of the divine that resides in me and within us all, continues to keep my feet moving, my hands laboring, my heart pumping, and my eyes searching for the glimmers of love that must exist somewhere in this world.

Please don’t tell me to stop whining, that I am being dramatic, that the world is a beautiful place. Please don’t deny my actual lived experiences of hatred and tell me about how you’ve been hated too. Please don’t. In these remaining days of Lent, may we each ask the question the disciples asked Jesus on the night he was betrayed and given over to be tortured and killed: “Is it I, Lord?” Is it I, will it be me? Am I willing to look inside my heart, my life, my actions, and be willing to accept the very real possibility that I am capable of doing the unthinkable—of betraying, denying, perhaps even contributing to the suffering and death of someone I love? There is the contemplation for these 40 days and the 40 to come and the 40 after that. Let us pray.

Posted in Grief, Random Musings | 5 Comments