Once more, with feeling

My first thoughts are that when I say yes, I’m wanting to say I’m all in. I’m willing to follow a credible leader, and not insist on being in the spotlight. I’m willing to share myself and what contributions I can make. I’m willing to stay at the table, and I’m willing to stay in the fight. I am not willing to quit.

Just from what I came up with, I can see already that saying yes involves willingness, and standing in my integrity. In these times, I don’t believe we have time nor space for grandstanding, or arrogance, or righteous indignation. I am beginning to think a real answer to the question should involve no words.

There is so much on my mind this morning. The tragedy of the condo collapse in FL reminds us all of how short life is, and how abruptly the world can change for people. It took less than 20 seconds for those building sections to all, nine floors pancaked into the space for one. In a flash, people were simply not there any longer.

I remember when something like this, on a tremendously smaller scale, happened when a man was suddenly dropped into a sinkhole. In his bed. While he was sleeping. Here one second, gone the next. Does a sudden departure impact us any more than one we are somewhat prepared for? I’m thinking maybe not, because whenever the moment comes when you are forced to accept the transition, when the reality of never seeing that person again drops to your reality like a lead weight, whenever that may be the finality of the situation is roughly the same. There really isn’t an adequate way to say goodbye.

Death is just hard. We deny, we get angry, we try bargaining, we go numb, and then we accept. There is no easy way out of that dance, and the powerful, the wealthy, and the least of us are treated equally. It may be one of the few places in our experience where there is anything approaching equity.

Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22-1/2 years for killing George Floyd. I watched a lot of the proceedings, but it was difficult because there were impact statements from Floyd’s family, and even one from Chauvin’s mother. The victim’s family, of course, wanted maximum penalty for killing their brother, father,, uncle. Chauvin’s mother, predictably, wanted everyone to see her son as something other than a racist murderer.

Chauvin’s mother said she has always believed in his innocence for the crime of murdering George Floyd, and always will. Tha’s to be understood – that’s what mothers do all the time. It was interesting, however, that she addressed not even a glance to the family of George Floyd. Not even a vague reference of being sorry the death of George Floyd had to be experienced at all.

Chauvin himself seemed nearly defiant, saying that he was looking for an appeal to set him free, and that he had no intention of apologizing. Nobody asked him to apologize. Nobody. It would have shown a bit of class and a different side of him if he had expressed some kind of regret for the whole thing. Apparently the apple did not fall far from the tree.

There were more instances of humans behaving very badly last week, including a handful of shootings and politicians who still maintain that Joe Biden is not the legitimate President of the United States. There were even more statements that reduced the insurrection of January 6th to a peaceful protest where nothing much happened at all, then everyone quietly went home. So much for reality.

I was finishing up the annual UUA General Assembly last night, with lectures by Stacey Abrams and a formerly homeless man in Florida by the name of Desmond Meade. Stacey Abrams was masterful, as usual, explaining that she is the daughter of preachers, in the Methodist denomination. She is a woman of great faith, and linked that with her activism and passion for voting rights. She talked about engaging people in the fight for voting rights, emphasizing the long held wisdom of meeting people where they are, and not where you want them to be. She also emphasized that we need to be about the business of construction, and not destruction because people want to be involved with the creation of something new. That makes sense to me. My chosen faith has been talking a lot about deconstructing white supremacy and its culture. Perhaps we should be talking about building a new world entirely. We have a song about that, too.

Abrams also spoke of servant leadership, which I have long contended is missing from most of our elected officials. Reaching to her faith, she talked about responsibility, and being of service as opposed to directing operations and wielding power. This is more what I believe politicians should be about, rather than asserting themselves as the captains of others’ destiny. I felt that she displayed a refreshing air of humility, and good will. I would love to meet her one day, and have a cup of coffee. There is a certain infectious energy that I felt when she was speaking, even though her voice was even and her body language very level and steady. But there is so much more in there. So much more.

Desmond Meade came to the table with a more personal take on activism. He is a formerly homeless man, and a returning citizen (the less harsh language used to describe those returning to society from a period of incarceration as convicts). He is a jovial mann with a twinkle in his eye, but from his story I know there is so much in him that appreciates the gravity and trajectory of his life before now.

Speaking about many who dismiss voting as useless, and their vote won’t count, and they really don’t care Meade framed that in the context of his experience as a returning citizen, prior to regaining his citizenship status. He said that kind of language was a defense, because when people would ask him about voting and his choice of candidates, it hurt that he wasn’t able to exercise that privilege. His defense was to downplay it, minimize it.
Desmond Meade also said something else that he uses as a defense against the voting nay-sayers: if your vote wasn’t important, why are so many people trying so hard to take it away from you? Alrighty then. Why indeed?

I took in all of that, and was very happy to have witnessed it all. Stacey Abrams is a really gifted speaker. Desmond Meade is a really big hearted man who has the ability to reinvent himself. We have leaders, why are we still languishing in the mire? We have stellar lights to lead us out of the wilderness, so why are we still walking in circles and not making significant progress? What is really going on with the Black community?

I suppose there is a lot to be said for generations of Black folks who’ve been beaten down by white supremacy, status quo, lack of opportunity. Many of us have suffered through having everything they produced ripped away by violent mobs just because of the color of their skin. When Barack Obama was elected President, many of those people stood up once again, believed once again. That didn’t last terribly long.

Oppression is a fact in the realities of other races, but I am not sure there is any other group identity that has been so beaten down for so long by their own countrymen. We have been living inside a civil war for many years now, one that is not visible to anyone else. I definitely think having immigrated involuntarily has more than a little to do with the particular struggles of the Black community in America. For a significant period of time, we were not considered human, but property. Other people could own us, and we had virtually no agency. That has left a psychic scar that is now generational, held in the cellular memory of most of us even today.

I have always thought we have a very steep uphill climb to greater inclusivity and new paradigms of unity. Just as we have not raised the federal minimum wage in an embarrassingly long time, we haven’t tended to our base line of identity. Who is an American? What does an American look like? What is an American entitled to? Entitlement is a fighting word, unless you’re the one who gets to cash in on it. How about we build something new that lives up to the Constitution and assures everyone they can still enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The pandemic relief plans prove that it can be done, but everyone is not willing to provide relief for casualties of a war they edeny is happening.

The future is maybe next week for a lot of us right now. We can’t imagine a five-year plan. The immediacy often robs of hope and the room to expand. I am not willing for that to happen any longer. Live is to be lived and not survived. In many ways I feel as though we are on life support, breathing on our own but our hearts are maintained by artificial means. That’s the plasticity of life in this millennium.

I am supposing that injection of meaning and purpose would make our container more pliable, and more form fitting. There has always been doubt that a container existed to house me, and that may be true. But someone told me quite a long time ago that I should create my own. That still resonates like a bell for me, but having the freedom to do that is not quite as simple as it sounds.

When you have been contained in someone else’s matrix for a long time you come to realize that constitutes abuse. Spiritual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, all the abuses. When a prisoner is freed after a long period of captivity, they don’t quite know how to behave. It takes quite a while to become accustomed to moving of your own volitions rather than by someone else’s rules and restrictions. Sharing space with millions of other people does require a bit of management, but management should not eradicate agency. For some of us, that is exactly what has happened.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was finally handed down and fully rolled out to the entire country in 1863, there was nothing about it that focused on success. Not the success of the formerly enslaved people, and not the success of the new blended nation. Ending slavery was a transaction, one nail hammered in the construction of a very large house. There has yet to be anything that plans for the success of marginalized people, but everything that maintains the status quo. This isn’t going to work, and what we’re seeing now in America is evidence of it not working.

There are enough resources for every living being in this country, and on this planet. We just allocate them selfishly, and by irresponsibly. When it’s not important to the allocators whether or not a tiny country in the Middle East has what it’s residents need to survive, then it’s not important to change anything about how we’re allocating resources now. If our only goal is to ensure our own survival, even at the risk or consequence of others’ inability to survive, that is the kiss of death for us. It is a death of more than phsyical being, but of the spirit (whether we know it or not).

Doing the anti-racist work that I do, which is a drop in the bucket of what more celebrated people do, I have to have my act together before I can tell anybody anything about how we might solve this polarization around race. This is where faith without works is truly dead, and where you must walk your talk and know exactly what you’re saying. Just because something is uncomfortable and you can’t see the point in expending the energy to accommodate it doesn’t mean it’s non-viable. We have to believe, so I have to know what it is that I believe.

I suppose that I believe in saying yes. One of the ministers who spoke over the past few days at the UU General Assembly asked the question, “How do you say yes?” I am still thinking about that. How exactly do I say yes, and is it just a word? When I am asked to do something, my natural tendency is to immediately say yes, of course, no problem. On more than one occasion, I have failed in the endeavor because I didn’t have the skills or the resources to satisfy complete the task. I was not fully present when I said sure, no problem. The people-pleaser part of me answered that question, and she doesn’t have the whole picture.

When I say yes, I need to be intentional, and aware, and fully in my body when I do that. I need to pause, instead of ejaculating a stream of bright ideas, to consider exactly what I’m saying, what I’m agreeing to, and whether I can do it justice. Justice is such a multi-faceted issue, but I’m told it needs to begin with love.

If I am not invested in your success, I will probably do a shitty job of helping you out, assisting you in any way. I may also question why I am concerned with doing it in the first place. I hear quite a number of people getting hung up on “personal responsibility” and blaming the victim. They seem to care more about wrapping ethics and morality in a nice, neat package with a bow than in establishing equity, or justice, or relationships with people seeking either. I can’t live with that, because it is hollow. It often looks good on the outside, but it has no substance and can’t add weight to the scales.

It’s hard for me to contend with simply “meaning well”. Left to my own devices, I would probably let myself off the hook for many, many things and just walk on. But these days I have a conscience, and hearing people begging for their lives affects me. Seeing people existing, not living, in squalor affects me. It changes me, and sending a check doesn’t quite satisfy me. I don’t know if I have it in me to organize and achieve in the same way that Stacey Abrams does, or Barack Obama, but I’ve been told that my only real responsibility is to bring what I can contribute and use it when appropriate.

Desmond Meade told us a story, a parable of sorts, in his presentation last night. It was the story of a ham and cheese omelet. To prepare the omelet, you need eggs, maybe cheese, possibly some milk and seasoning, and of course the ham. In that scenario, a chicken contributed the eggs. A cow made the cheese and the milk possible. But the pig was in all the way to provide the ham, giving its life for that purpose. One way to look at the pig’s contribution is to see it as full commitment, but without all of the contributions there could be no omelet. *ting*

I don’t know if I’m the pig, even though I have quite a lot of well-meaning lard to contribute. Sometimes that lard is what greases the way for a coherent understanding, strategy, plan or something else to come forth. I should not discount it as a valid contribution. Quite frequently, I discount anything I am capable of doing as miniscule and without value to anyone or anything else. Looking objectively at that patter, I would say it smells like grandiosity. More humility is needed, perhaps.

However I settle into this effort to change status quo will be fine. There is more than enough work to do. The pot holes on the journey, for me, are perfection and confidence. Perfection should not be the enemy of the good, I am told. Often, we refuse to proceed until all circumstances are perfect, not 80% good or 90% good. We wait until perfection is achieved. If you are producing something for yourself, that might work if you do not want to proceed very quickly. But if you are working in concert with others for a common goal, there’s not room to pause and wait for conditions to be optimal. We have to move, and we have to move now. This is the revolution, and the alarm has already gone off. We’ve been awakened, and hit the snooze button a couple of times, and there’s no more leeway – we have to stand up now or come to terms with going back to sleep, and for some of us that is a fatal decision.

I’m doing something, whatever the hell it is. Maybe it’s just getting people to think about some things they’ve not wanted to think about, or think about things in a different way. Seeing things from someone else’s perspective can be life changing. Saying yes in a way that does not engage my ego, my opinion, or my comfort is probably more valuable than performance quality. We’re going to make mistakes, and that’s just the way of it. Regardless of the mistakes, however, we’ll be in a different place than when we started, and that’s important. We don’t have a chance of getting to the new world if we go back to sleep and wait for perfection to bonk us on the head before we stand up and move forward.

Say yes, believe in yes, and do yes.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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