Last night the wind kept catching something metal on the industrial building across the street, and it would rotate with a mournful metal screech – not high-pitched as a dog whistle but lower, like a repetitive sharp note on an alto saxophone. Almost, but not quite, melodic; definitely hypnotic.
It was 3:30 a.m. and I was wide awake. And for some reason, my mind kept reaching back into my life and casting up memories that have long lain untouched.
Screeeeeech: Hubert Humphrey was the first person I voted for who lost a presidential election. I was in, maybe, second grade – my friend Eleanor and I were his lone supporters in our class. (In case you’ve forgotten, he lost to Nixon.) There were protests against the war in Vietnam, in my town as across the country. Walking home from school that day, I saw them in Washington Park, despite the weather. They were not an angry mob. Mostly, they stood in small groups, or walked up and down the sidewalk with their signs. I waved at them, as I did every day. Sometimes, I recognized people I knew waving back.
Screeeeeech: I was with my mom and siblings, going door-to-door asking for donations to support The Cornerstone, a drug half-way house where “hippies” received care, counseling, and had a safe place to come down from whatever drugs they were doing. An older man in a sleeveless undershirt, sitting on his front porch, spit off to the side when I approached him. He smiled as he said, “I’ll tell you what, missy. I’ll give you money if you’ll use it to buy strychnine and feed it to the lot of them!” I was confused, too young to reconcile what seemed a friendly demeanor with words that didn’t seem friendly (though I didn’t know what strychnine was). I held out my donation canister, and took a hesitant step forward. I was grateful when my Mom stopped me, saying, “Jen, let’s move on.”
Screeeeeech: In college, my Dad and I joined the protest when Vice President Bush visited a local campus. I was protesting the military-industrial complex and promoting nuclear disarmament. Dad was focused on protesting Bush’s connection to Big Oil. Most of my friends vied for tickets to the pro-Reagan/Bush rally inside the Fieldhouse, and several of them told me the protest was a stupid waste of time. It was a chilly day, as we waited for the VP and his entourage to come outside after his speech. I moved closer to my Dad, and he took my hand and held it in his.
Screeeeeech: 1991, racial tensions were high in my home town, where crosses had been burned. The city had responded by creating the “constructive integration plan”, to affirmatively bring more diversity to the homogenous city. My father, one of the authors and vocal proponents of the plan, regularly received angry messages, some threats of violence or death, on his answering machine at home. I lived in another city, and I worried about my parents. My dad said not to worry, mostly people just needed to blow off steam. But the first time I heard the threats myself, I understood the word “terrorism” in a new way.
Eventually, I drifted into sleep. It wasn’t restful, and I woke again to the still dark November morning. I felt an oppressive weight – the same that has been on my heart for weeks now. How, I wondered, will I find a way to celebrate Thanksgiving – more important, how will I find thanksgiving in a heart burdened with both fear and worry?
And then my phone trilled at me. And again. And again.
Early morning messages of care and gratitude from friends and loved ones, near and far were my first experiences of the holiday. For me, politics have always been personal; my parents modeled compassionate activism, and I am more proud of that, and them, today than I have ever been. The political ideals I care about: freedom, equality, peace, care for the earth, justice – these are not just words or concepts. The extent to which each one of us experiences them is the measure of how we, as a society, have succeeded in meeting our purpose on this planet.
And all of it, every bit of it, stems from Love. That makes it not just a burden on my heart, but also a joy. In all my recent moments of fear and worry, I’ve forgotten that love is the piece I’ve been called to. That we’ve all been called to. Love in practice may sometimes be a weight to carry, but it also the very fount of joy.
Wishing each of you a Happy Thanksgiving – and much love!
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you.
This is My command to you: Love one another.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another.
Be indebted to no one, except to one another in love, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law.
Love does no wrong to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.
The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”