Doing Our Part, High Or Humble
This morning, a crowd of supporters Zoom-watched as Tarra Simmons was sworn in to serve as our district representative in the Washington State Legislature. A woman with a remarkable life story most of us can scarcely imagine, Tarra is the first former felon to serve in this office, where she is committed to serving underserved people as they have never been served before. She can and will, because she brings an understanding of the many factors that drag people into the nightmare web of juvie, jail, and prison and keep them there. As a young child, Tarra was herself trafficked and saw family members and friends abused and killed in gang violence before her eyes. After serving her time for drug offenses, she completed law school with honors yet was only allowed to take the bar by a same-day, unanimous ruling of the State Supreme Court. A tireless advocate for legal equity and restorative justice, Tarra is already deeply engaged in legislative work she’s been advocating for for years. The co-founder of the Civil Survival Project, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people with counsel and legal services, Tarra is actively working for social and legal changes that would help prevent the need for “second chances”.
Tears of pride and wholehearted gratitude dripped down my face as this historic event took place. Those tears were refreshing after the heartbreaking events of last week, the culmination of years of deliberate incitement to violence and equally deliberate blind-eye-turning to that incitement on a national level. A heartsick nation watched in shock as an angry mob of domestic terrorists were encouraged, allowed, and even abetted to invade our nation’s Capitol Building. In the bitter aftermath, one man, Andy Kim, a State Representative from New Jersey and the son of immigrants, shed tears of sorrow as he saw the destruction and chaos left behind when the mob had been evicted. Alone in the huge room, he started to clean up the trash and broken furnishings strewn across the floor. Eventually a few policemen started to help him, but he stayed on, working until 3:00 am in order to leave the place he considers to be the heart of the nation better than he found it.
Hearts Of Stone
The entire nation and the world beyond is struggling to process last week’s historic events. Pretty much everyone I know, whatever their political leanings, is feeling stunned, bereft, and brokenhearted. The phrase “worried sick” keeps coming up; as a people, we are anxious and angry, horrified and scared. If it’s hard to stay openhearted in the wake of recent events, it’s more important than ever to try. Yesterday, a friend hung little bag on my doorknob that held a small heart stone and a note that read, ‘Something to put in your pocket to help you keep your heart open.’ When frustration and fury rise up, holding the heavy little heart helps me move past pain to center on what I DO want to experience and help bring into being; a collaborative culture based on kindness and compassion for all; an equitable society that values the earth and everything that lives upon it; a culture that is not trapped in greedy acquisition and power mongering nor in aversion, hatred and anger.
In short, I want to live in a culture that is not based on racism and capitalism. It’s past time for a national re-set, a reexamination of the very basis of our way of life. If that sounds daunting, it is and it isn’t. While few people get the chance to change to world in major ways, we can all make changes in small ways. I cherish the image of Tarra Simmons wholeheartedly swearing to uphold the constitution. I also treasure the memory of Andy Kim on his hands and knees, patiently bagging up the detritus of the mob attack. By doing our part, humble or high, we can affect our family and friends, our local community, and perhaps more. By holding our hearts open, despite ongoing terrorist attacks on democracy, we can remain strong enough to respond from our hearts with courage and compassion.
Let’s Talk About Everything
This morning, my local Senior Center hosted a Zoom conversation with a biracial young man who recently graduated from the local high school and with his mom, a white woman married to a black man from another country who is always called African-American, as though his country of origin is irrelevant. While in high school, the young man worked with student activist groups to expose the rampant racism hidden beneath the shiny social veneer of our lovely, progressive, wealthy community. His mom decided to do what she can as well, so after the murder of George Floyd, she posted on social media, asking for five people to join her in conversations about race. “In my family, race is something we talk about every single day,” she said, while for most of her friends, it simply never came up.
Her initial conversations became ongoing book study groups, increasing from one group to ten and including teachers and educators eager to learn how to introduce challenging topics like racism into their own schools and businesses. By creating safe, nonjudgmental places to hold exploratory conversations, this one woman influenced people and institutions across the country. Both mother and son stressed that the key to getting people to open their hearts for such conversations is creating those safe spaces and explaining the value of discomfort. Few of us willingly engage in uncomfortable activities or conversations, yet until we do, we will not find the way through the toxic mess our country and our culture are in right now. Just as compost needs air to work its alchemical magic, turning raw manure and garbage into sweet smelling, wholesome, soil nutrients, we must open ourselves up to heartfelt conversations about equity, racism, and social change in order to let the light in. In the light of truth, we can see our way to work on ourselves and with others for the betterment of all. Onward, right?