|Dorothy Parker with her found pencil|
A church member sent me a link to this essay by Dorothy Parker that was published in the September 16, 1924 edition of Life magazine; I know exactly how she feels. After my burst of creativity last month (well, the subject was sex—who doesn’t love to talk about that?) I have been lying stagnant, metaphorically blaming my lack of words on the loss of a pencil, but here the laptop sits, bold as brass in front of me, the cursor blinking accusingly on this empty open document so now I, too, must ask myself, what the hell am I going to write about?
It’s not for lack of interesting issues--- there is the 50th anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery, and those who were martyred then and those who were lives were changed as a result of participating in that historic event; there’s the correlation to today, with the Department of Justice report finding the police and city officials of Ferguson, MO guilty of a pattern of systemic racist practices in their conduct toward people of color, even while exonerating the white officer, Darren White who shot and killed Mike Brown, an unarmed 18 year old Black man; there’s the irony of the State Supreme Court of Alabama ruling that forbids local jurisdictions to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, ignoring the federal, constitutionally upheld mandate for that state to do so; there’s the sad news that on the eve of the historic commemoration of Selma, the day before our President, Barack Obama, was to speak to the enduring legacy of Selma, that another unarmed black man, 19 year old Tony Robbins, was shot and killed by white police officer Matt Kenny. We don’t know the details of what happened or why; hopefully the truth—such as it is nowadays, as slippery as an eel and twice as squirmy—will be discovered, but until then what is shocking to me is the number of racist websites that completely trammel over this young man’s death by pointing to his arrest record and calling the story the false narrative. This is so familiar to how female rape victims are treated that it sickens me.
Which reminds me that March is National Women’s History Month and that this past Sunday was the International Women’s Day, this year’s theme being Make it Happen, a heartily optimistic cry in the face of so much legislature on both a state and national level which seeks to strip away women’s rights to have control over their own health care decisions, and in the face of the World Heath Organization statistics that proclaim that “violence against women - particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women - are major public health problems and violations of women's human rights.”
And I won’t even mention the recent house bill 1025 that passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives that would end secular marriage and restrict marriage to people of faith and mandate that all marriage licenses must be approved by a member of the clergy. I know: clearly they didn’t think that one through. Still.
Let me just say: it was much more fun writing about sex. As I think of all the things happening in our world I can empathize with Dorothy’s amazing ability to sidetrack herself with trivial thoughts and fruitless desires. And I’m also really glad that during this Lenten season, we at All Souls are learning about how to be more compassionate, following the rubric in Karen Armstrong’s book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.” It’s been good for me to remember that, though cynicism or despair might be our default responses to the events and issues of our day, though it can be easy to reduce the news to caricatures of the players, rather than seeing the humanity of all involved—the shooters and the shot, the fearful legislators and the people impacted by their fear-based laws, the women who have been abused and the men (and sometimes women) who abuse them—there is another choice; the choice to respond with compassion, a choice to dig deep into the messy, chaotic, sometimes brutish experience of being human and to seek love, not hate; kindness, not cruelty; justice, not judgment.
In the seventh step of learning compassion, Armstrong invites us to acknowledge how little we know of others—their culture, faiths, politics, love—and to seek to broaden our perspective to make room for the other. I have to tell you, this can be hard for me. I want to lampoon the Oklahoma lawmakers, scoff at explanations given by white police officers who shoot unarmed black men; I want to deny them the same humanity that I lift up in their victims. Yet compassion is a two way street—really it’s more of a cloverleaf interchange, with people getting on and off the freeway and going in all sorts of directions. Compassion is a country dance, one in which our partners change according to the pattern of the song and we can’t choose with whom we will dance next, we simply must try to dance graciously with each partner the song puts before us, changing our steps to match theirs, inviting them to try ours.
What the hell should I write about? Compassion. Kindness. Love. There’s never enough said about those. Here I go now.