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A friend and mentor began a recent meeting by noting that we are experiencing “a letting go that sometimes feels excruciating.” It is a teaching time, but also a time of division and tumult. How we continue to respond to the challenges in our world will be the mark of us. Are we the America who went without rubber, without shoes and chocolate and nylon, so as to stamp out fascism in World War II? Or are we an America who equates freedom with the basest selfishness, a tyrannical toddler who refuses inconvenience even as the body count rises?

Who we are at heart will out itself
in small graces, in occasions not taken,
in the less and more of
what we will not do for ourselves,
but what we will do for others.
Change is demanded: for our earth,
for her creatures. Will we rise,
shine silver, mean what we said
when we said who we were?
The promise of America
lies within grasp: It will
bloody our fingers to grab it,
but it will also save our soul.

Have a problem? Ignore it! It is, after all, the American way. If we didn’t do so much testing, we wouldn’t have so many COVID-19 cases — this, according to our own government. True. We’d just have masses of people dying of…something. By that logic, no one ever need have cancer again. Just don’t get screened for it!

Racism, too, is a subject Americans have often ignored, hoping the pain and agony of over 300 years will simply “go away.” Guess what? It won’t.

We have a choice to make. Remain ignorant or confront the painful truth. Which will it be?

Moles are content, I wager,
blind and underground.
It is no place for people.
Open your eyes
and the light will blind you,
true. It will also heal you.
As scales fall from your lids,
you will quake, your inner Saul
excised like cataracts under a laser.
Being Paul will feel as uncomfortable
as an icy plunge, but you will ease into it,
the temperature of the water slowly
warming to buoy your body.
You will see underwater,
without distortion.
It will come as a shock.
True wisdom always does.
There is nothing to do
but bow to the pain of it.
The price is too high
to stumble on, unconverted.

Beata Zawrzel—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Drop me off in a snowstorm, and you might lose me. I’m not just Caucasian, I’m lily white. Polar bear pale. But I can tell you one thing: Black Lives Matter.

I thought it went without saying that to say, “Black Lives Matter” is not to say that no one else’s life matters.

The other day, I had to “unfriend” someone on Facebook because she posted these hashtags: “AllLivesMatter” and “CopsLivesMatter.”

This means that, despite seeing the video of George Floyd being choked to death by an officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, she believes that the police are always in the right.

It’s shocking to see something so graphic and realize that someone else doesn’t appreciate the gravity and brutality of the incident.

In this unprecedented time, the country is contending with two virulent contagions: COVID-19 and systemic racism.

If only there were a way to implant a moral compass into everyone’s heart, the way a surgeon does a pacemaker. Or give the whole world an empathy-injection, along with our B-12 shots. 

There’s no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, and certainly no vaccine for racism.

You can’t regulate or legislate hate out of a heart, but short of that, there are a few concrete steps to be taken:

  1. Remove the issue of police discipline from union labor negotiations. Many police union rules protect officers who act violently. 
  2. Enforce the use of body cameras so that officers aren’t allowed to turn them off to commit acts of violence.
  3. Fire any officer using choke-holds or excessive force on a citizen.

We’ve got some deep rifts in this country now, and many wounds in need of healing. As for those who deny there are systemic problems in law enforcement and implicit bias toward people of color? Sadly, there’s no vaccine for that.

Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This quote finds its echo in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Not in Vain” (one of my favorites): “If I can stop one heart from breaking,/ I shall not live in vain:/ If I can ease one life the aching,/ or cool one pain,/ or help one fainting robin/ unto his next again,/ I shall not live in vain.”

We may not be able to do great things now. But we can do small things that require great love: wearing a facemask, not for ourselves, but for others. Giving up small pleasures like drinking in bars or going to concerts, not because we are afraid, but because we are concerned about those who are vulnerable. Small things. Big results.

Let us take a turn at small things:
the flat of a hand signing acceptance;
the sigh of small voices that soften,
somehow, a bellow; the breath
that says, simply, “yes.”
To return a robin to the nest
is greater than, and will go further,
than any act of anger. Our times require
saints, not soldiers, and sainthood is accrued
one small gesture at a time.

We’re an upbeat crowd around here, but we’re also realistic. So when I heard about David Kessler, an expert on grief, explaining that we ought not to “pole vault” over our pain, I was intrigued. What is pole vaulting in this sense? It’s a coping mechanism. It’s putting on a happy face, determining to see only the positive, while inside you very real, deep (and even dark) emotions swirl and rise.

Perhaps you think, “I have no reason to grieve; no one I know personally has died.” Or “I’m not on the front lines; I have no right to complain.” True, but these times are not like any we’ve lived through before. It’s natural to be sad. Or frightened. Or hurt. And it’s natural — healthy — to express these feelings and work through them.

Dealing with what you’re feeling isn’t easy. But repressing your emotions will only buy time…sooner or later, you have to face pain. But maybe — just maybe — if we all walk through it together, it won’t be so hard?

The morass rises despite our blindness.
I see daily the faces of those who confront it:
the masks leave marks; their eyes hold
a lonely road I fear to tread.
The enormity of my blessings begs me
to be still, but my heart heeds no logic.
Loss laps at our feet. What bridge across,
we must built ourselves out of tag ends
of empathy and empty toilet paper tubes.
It isn’t much. Call across the chasm
as loud as you can, and you will
hear an Easter sound: God weeps
with us. The hard way through
demands much, but it does not ask
that we go alone.

I have a friend who often talks about her resolution to be “a bigger I,” meaning becoming more inclusive, more caring, more open to other people. Granted, it can be difficult right now to feel that anything about your life is expanding, other than an uneasy, trapped feeling. But think about it: Empathy for those on the front lines — that’s enlarging your “I.” Maintaining social distancing, even when it means you’ll miss out on the last rolls of toilet paper in the store — that’s also enlarging your “I.” Everything you do now in the interest of others, in the interest of stemming the tide of this disease, is growing yourself beyond your former boundaries. And that is a good thing.

Though I cannot take up torches
or spears against my enemy,
though I can do no more than Milton,
(stand, wait), though my reaching out
must be touchless, limbless, still,
I stretch the seams of my soul.
Misery lurks and like a sponge
I sip it and, cell by cell, expand.
No one hears, no one sees,
yet empathy moves the mountain,
breaks capital I’s into a rubble of “us.”
Small though we be,
we will hold off the tide.

You’ve seen the memes, the stories on the news. People are having a difficult time with social distancing. I ran into a church friend at the grocery store last night, and it was all I could do to refrain from hugging her. Right now, being together is not good for us. But how can we cope with being alone? It will take a journey to the center of ourselves to find the answers.

Though you fill a room with silence,
you are not alone.
Though you thrash in a sea of panic,
you are not lost.
Instead, remember:
everything you do is sacred;
every movement a dance.
Let your touch be only healing.
Draw energy from the sun.
Turn with purpose toward
what is essential and cull
with tenderness what is not.
Do not lose yourself.
Let the holy within you rise
to greet silence as a friend
and enter into prayer
that moves and lives
and has being in you
for as long as it lasts.
Gethsemane surrounds us.
But Easter is coming.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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