“The Stranger Among You”

[Landscaping, Somerville, MA Style, 2016 ]

I live in Somerville, a sanctuary city, and my faith community is located in Cambridge, another sanctuary city. As the xenophobia in this country becomes ever more vicious, I’ve been been examining what this dual citizenship means. Not in terms of my sense of public safety* or, god forbid, to feel smug or politically correct or content; heck, no. But day to day, standing in line at the post office or hearing voices outside my window speak languages I can’t even name, what does it feel like to live into “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”? (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV**)

It’s a spiritual practice. It’s a moment by moment interaction with The Stranger(s) and to pay attention to what that interaction calls up for me. (Lately? Mostly? Incredible sadness.) To daily encounter brown-skinned people, ever more stressed and scared—living in a sanctuary city isn’t a stress-free guarantee—is to perpetually pray: what am I called to do? (Write this for starters!)

It’s to connect with that “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” bit. To know with certainty, with deep and abiding understanding, that The Stranger’s backstory is, in some fundamental way, my own backstory. And that if the folks walking past my house and I were to share our stories, we would find the same themes, the same plot lines, the same unifying beliefs.

But also, these daily encounters are moment-by-moment reminders that my experiences and how I see the world aren’t the whole. Aren’t reality. Aren’t The One and Only. Or, to paraphrase another biblical bit, they’re daily reminders to walk humbly—and lovingly—as I, as we seek to do justice.

*Lots of conflicting studies, lots of rhetoric, but the crime rate in sanctuary cities seems to be lower!

**Slightly amazed I’m quoting Leviticus, one book of the Bible I’ve never connected with!

Losing A Step

[Oval Hole in New Orleans Sidewalk, January, 2017]

I fell yesterday—on a shoveled-bare, brick and asphalt sidewalk maintained by Harvard University. Because of the icy sidewalks all over Somerville and Cambridge yesterday, I’d been wearing YakTrax; one coiled wire had apparently got caught in a gap between two sidewalk bricks and down I went! (Or so I assume. It all happened so fast.)

Two kind young men, a guy who’d been driving past in an Eversource van and a uniformed member of the Harvard University Police Department, instantly materialized and helped me to my feet.  “Do you require medical attention?” the HUPD guy asked. “Is anything broken?”

“I think I’m okay,” I answered, already a little weepy. And hobbled home. An ice pack on my bunged-up right knee and under two quilts, I was still emotional. “I feel old,” I confessed to my husband.

Or, as Kathryn Schulz made clear in her recent, brilliant New Yorker essay, “Losing Streak: Reflections on two seasons of loss,” I lost something. In my case, I’d lost the pre-fall me’s confidence that with the right foul weather gear, the proper equipment, I could walk without incident; no problem. (Such insouciance! Such taking-for-granted! Such ingratitude!)

But, as Schulz points out, losing is what we do.  “Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days.” Finite, indeed. I am definitely feeling that “finity” right now. And, oh, how precious!

Today, when I needed to mail some letters, as if preparing to scale a small mountain, I added a new piece of equipment to my gear: a walking stick. Gingerly, cautiously, still bruised and achy, I walked a half-block on a shoveled-to-the-concrete sidewalk and crossed the street to the mailbox. (Thanks, neighbors!) Crossing the street again, with the light, I heard a car behind me wanting to make a left turn—exactly where I was slowly walking. But instead of impatiently honking, I swear, because I was leaning on a sturdy branch I’d used on a real hike on a real, small mountain last summer, that driver waited. Patiently.

That I’d announced to that driver my need for extra care reminds me of one of my favorite poems; I’m also sharing it in honor of those two kind young men.

  Title Poem— by Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still,

no one wants to know about them anyway.

But those in need have to step forward,

have to say: I am blind,

or: I’m about to go blind,

or: nothing is going well with me,

or: I have a child who is sick,

or: right there I’m sort of glued together. . .

And probably that doesn’t do anything either.

They have to sing, if they didn’t sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.

That’s where you can hear good singing.

People really are strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boychoirs.

But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.

(translated by Robert Bly)

“Preparing”

[Civil Disobedience Training, Cambridge Friends School gym, 2/4/17]

When I’d told an aging activist I was going to a CD training on Saturday he’d snorted: “What’s to learn? You go limp. End of training!”

But I don’t roll that way. If I’m considering something hard, something I’m scared of, I need to do exactly what I did: I need a class. I need to pay money. (Not a lot; $15.) I need to spend five or so hours with other people contemplating the same action. (There were about forty of us.) I need hand-outs. (9 pages, double-sided, no less!) I need lots of Q & A and roll-plays and earnest conversation at lunch. I need to take turns reading quotes about non-violence aloud. I need to contemplate Gene Sharp’s list of 198 methods of non-violent action. And to study a hand-written flow chart explaining what might happen at a civil disobedience event—and my choices at every step. I need to show up.

And now I need to do my homework, the same homework I always do. Which is to ask: What am I called to do? Is getting arrested—and all I now understand will happen to me should I decide to do so— what I am called to do? I’m not clear.

But I do know this. The day after that training, at my Quaker meeting, when asked to give a one-word description of how I was doing, my immediate answer was “Preparing.”

Numbered

[Shipyard, Gloucester, MA; 2016]

On the thirty-first anniversary of the Challenger tragedy and the same, infamous day Muslims were being refused entry into this country, I saw “Hidden Figures.” That such an unlikely competitor to “Rogue One” has been such a surprising, box office hit for much of January; well, I just had to see it. Especially after hearing what Leslie Jones had to say!

It’s not a great movie. And yet it’s a great movie. “Based on a true story,” there are moments when I thought, “Yeah! Right! Never happened like that. No way.” (The Kevin Costner and a crowbar scene, for example. C’mon!) But hyper-aware of the Trump-era world outside that movie theater, it was easy to forgive Hollywood silliness. Because, dear God, do we need good fables right now! We desperately need stories that applaud, that celebrate grit and brilliance and math and science and sisterhood and the idea that when one of us succeeds, we all do. (Both Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer say this at different times in the movie.) Because, as many brilliant people like Joanna Macy believe, what’s happening right now, as terrifying as it is, is actually the death throes of an Old Order. A new era is coming; I truly believe this (if Orange Fingers doesn’t nuke us all, first!).  And we’ll need uplifting (pardon the pun) stories to guide us as we move into that Brave New World.

“Throw sand in the gears of everything.”

[Alderman Chambers, City Hall, Somerville, MA 2016]

Read this post-election, forget-signing-petitions article last week; unfortunately, it makes perfect sense. And so I’m left with The Question—What does resistance look like? For me?  How do I gum up the works? Non-violently.

Here’s how far I’ve gotten: 1. Need to mobilize, hopefully with others at my Quaker meeting, around the sanctuary movement. 2. Need to get civil disobedience training. 3. And I need to remember that sometimes the gears get jammed when a bunch of people, wearing brightly-colored tee shirts, maybe, show up to pay close attention to how a particular machine works. Sometimes this close, unblinking attention allows the machine to see itself through these activists’ eyes. And to pause.

What does resistance look like for you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The World Will Be Saved by the Western Woman.”*

[Venice Metal Worx, Venice Beach, CA]

In high school Latin we’d been taught that “E pluribus unum” had actually been a Roman salad recipe! So in this time of great transition (and fear) I’m wondering what our country’s salad bowl looks like. How out of Many is there One? What holds (or stitches) us/US together?

My Number One response to that question? American Women. Can I get an Amen, Sisters?

*The Dalai Lama