I don’t know much. I know a little bit about grief—as we all do, any of us who have faced loss. I know the smallest amount about injustice, having experienced a profound violation of my dignity when I was very young. I know what it’s like to feel as if someone has a grip on your life who is not you; like another person gets more of a say in your life than you do.
I’ve lived and breathed and moved as a female in a world where women are too often abused, degraded and treated as second-class citizens.
I know a tiny bit about hate—both because of the ways I have found it to spring up in my own heart at times, and also because I have been the target of it on a few very small occasions. But even then, when I think about the implications of systemic hate and senseless violence…
The only thing I really know is that I don’t know much.
I don’t know what it’s like to be judged or rejected or disrespected based on the color of my skin, something I did not select for myself, something I could not change even if I wanted to. I spent a summer living in South America, not speaking the language, trying to navigate my way around the public transit system, worrying at times for my safety because, let’s be honest, I stood out like a sore thumb.
But even that experience—which feels like it may be the only hand-hold I have for understanding here—was itself was a product of my privilege. Having your camera stolen is not the same as having your life stolen.
And besides, at the end of the summer, I got to come home.
All of this makes me feel so incredibly ill-prepared to say anything on this subject. I’ve thought of keeping my mouth shut. Actually, scratch that. I’ve kept my mouth shut, for fear of coming across as ignorant or uninformed and because I feel more like grieving than taking a political stand and because, while I am aware of my privilege, I’m not entirely certain I know what to do with it.
And yet, here I am, heavy with the weight of the past weeks.
Violence. Shootings. Hatred. Attacks. I have no real answers. But I cannot stay quiet.
How could I write about anything else?
Listening, talking and learning.
A few months ago I spoke at a writing retreat specifically for people of color. Trust me, the irony is not at all lost on me that I was asked to come present at this event at all. It’s safe to assume they brought me in for my writing expertise, because it certainly wasn’t for diversity. But after the event, I was talking to one of the female writers who had come to the event.
She was a black woman who grew up in the inner city of Chicago.
I mostly listened. I felt embarrassed, honestly, that I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. I always have something to contribute to a conversation. As I sat there wishing I had more to say, it occurred to me that even my lack of understanding was a reflection of my privilege. I don’t know about these things because I don’t have to know.
That said, I asked a hundred questions—including where I could start if I wanted to learn more.
She was gracious. She said one thing I could do was to start conversations with people, just like I was doing with her. She suggested I make friends with people who looked different from me, people in my neighborhood, people I didn’t understand. She warned me not be surprised if not all of them jumped at the chance to be friends with me. There’s an inherent distrust there, she insisted, but just to keep reaching out, keep asking.
Okay, I thought. I can do that.
Before we parted ways, I admitted to her how embarrassed I felt that I hadn’t contributed more to the conversation. Again, her response was gracious. She said, “Honestly, sometimes it’s nice for me to be the one doing the talking.” She paused for a minute, “we learn more from listening than from talking.”
We learn more from listening than from talking. Yes, that’s so true, isn’t it? Truth be told, I do a lot of talking in my life. Mostly I talk, in fact. Even when I don’t have much to say, I have something to say.
Perhaps it is good for us, sometimes, to have nothing to say. (Tweet that)
Maybe that means it’s time to start listening.
Some places to listen.
In the spirit of listening, here are some resources that have been helpful to me as I’ve been navigating the past few weeks. Please, if you have other resources to share—anything you find helpful or informative—I’d love to have you do so in the comments.
Here are just a few I recommend.
- The Liturgist Podcast
- This song, called Same Side by my friends Jill and Kate
- Three Things we Need to Stop Doing in the Race Conversation by Jefferson Bethke
- The Secret to Nonviolent Resistance by Jamila Raquib
- Something More is Required of Us Now by Michelle Alexander
I’m sure there are more great resources out there. Again, if you have something constructive and helpful, please share in the comments.
We have more in common than we think.
If there is one thing I have learned in my 33 years on this planet is that we have more in common than we think we do, and that what we are all ultimately craving is human connection. It’s really just that simple. It’s what sends us to our phones, like little addicts, refreshing and updating and clicking and waiting and typing.
We’re just so desperate to not be alone.
Most of us are numbing and protecting and defending against this feeling.
It’s perhaps one of the more uncomfortable feelings of the human experience—loneliness, isolation, the sense that we are “different” than the people around us. It’s part of why we rally together in tribes and groups and church denominations and sports teams and differentiate ourselves with logos and colors and language. It’s why we tell ourselves stories about how we are “different” from “them”.
It is a protection. A defense. But at the end of the day, it is holding us back from the one thing we truly crave, which is to belong to one another.
We belong to each other.
We’re made from the same stuff. We eat, drink, get cold, hungry, thirsty, suffer, cry, laugh, hug and are desperate to be seen, to be heard, to matter, to be truly loved for who we are, to belong, to connect. When we strip away all the excess, this is what is left.
This is who we are.
We refuse to be enemies.
Last March I visited Israel-Palestine with a group of women I respect so deeply, and while I was there, I met a woman named Robi. Robi is an Israeli Jew who’s son was killed a few years ago by a Palestinian Sniper. Her grief has been as profound as you would expect a mother’s grief to be who has buried her own son. But perhaps the most profound part of Robi’s story, for me, is her response to that grief.
Rather than fighting back in anger or retaliation, Robi has taken her pain and turned it into a point of connection.
In fact, she’s begun to meet regularly with a group of people—from both sides of the conflict—who have also lost children. Starting with her friend Basham, who’s young daughter was killed by an Israeli soldier, Robi began to connect with other parents and family members through their grief. What these two friends found is that even though they were on opposite sides of the conflict, so to speak, they were not enemies.
They could bond together over their shared grief.
I suppose the question I have for all of us in light of recent events is this: who would we bond with if we were able to bond over our shared grief?
What if, through our shared grief, we were able to connect?
Grief is collective.
The truth about grief is it is collective—whether we admit it is or not. To say that one person can grieve or fight or die and not have it impact the rest of humanity is like saying one wave from the ocean could sweep up onto the shore without the entire rest of it moving. When one of us moves, the rest of us move.
What one of us feels, we all feel.
We have to stop acting like we are not connected, like what happens to one of us does not affect the sum total of us. We have to stop pretending like we are our own little islands.
Grief is collective.
This is why we are all feeling the collective weight of grief moving through the world right now. Some are more awake to it than others. Some are more aware. Some of us are closer and some of us are further away. Many of us are coping, numbing, because the pain is too great and we have not yet learned how to deal with a pain that feels to big for us to feel. But no matter what, the grief is there. For all of us.
There is no denying it.
And perhaps one of the most helpful things we can do to honor our collective grief is just to allow it to be what it is. To stop trying to talk people out of it or suggest they should do it differently or try to offer up trite solutions, but just to allow it to be what it is and to be kind to ourselves and others and to offer extra compassion and empathy and grace.
I know it doesn’t seem like much, but what if it is more than we think?
Grief needs a witness
One of the most healing things that friends and family did when I was walking through my own season of grief was just to be there. They showed up. They dropped everything and drove to my house when I was feeling afraid. They called or texted daily to check in. They came to court appointments with me and sat on the couch while I cried or just waited with me until I fell asleep.
Grief is desperate for a witness. It needs space to breathe and to be and to exist. Eventually, it does dissipate.
But it doesn’t do so because we force it out.
Are you willing to be a witness to the grief of someone else? Can you hold the space for that? Or, are you so focused on finding solutions, fixing things, coming up with a ten-step program, politicizing everything, voicing your opinions, getting your way, keeping the power you have, protecting yourself, that you have forgotten to look into the faces of people who are hurting?
Are you doing more talking than listening?
When we can stop trying to fix people, or change them, or control them, we can finally begin to love them. And love changes everything. I stumbled across this quote by Maya Angelou the other day and it seemed so fitting:
In the flush of love’s light we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.
Love really does set us free. The problem is most of us don’t know who to do it.
Grief will teach us to love, if we let it.
Grieve changes everything.
I wrote a poem (below) that talks about how grief changes everything. We cannot touch toes with grief and come out the same on the other side.
It doesn’t work that way. Not if we’re really feeling it.
The poem is called This Is Grief and it goes like this:
Grief is a river
We wade through it,
up to our neck if we must,
or work to shimmy over it
on the log that has fallen from
end to end.
We look for ways to hop
from rock to rock—
like the day we got lost
in the woods, you and me,
and you said we had three choices:
to swim like hell
or to wait for rescue.
This is grief.
Grief is an ocean,
unpredictable and swirling,
the waves they come and go
as they please, without
rhyme or reason—
with only the moon,
who draws them out
and back in and back out
without their permission.
They say “it comes in waves”
and that’s true
except they forget to say
that sometimes the tide is high
over our heads and the
current is strong and
the waves have this way
of tucking us into their spiral.
They forget to say that the sand
almost always erodes
under our toes.
The ground is shaky and dissolving.
This is grief.
Grief is a monarch
wrapped in a cocoon.
You think she transforms, but really
she liquifies, disintegrates.
She ceases to be
and then, suddenly, one day
returns as something new.
This is grief.
Grief is a tributary,
rushing itself toward the sea,
where eventually the two become
Here, they no longer
wait for the pull of the moon
but instead, the two of them
allow what is to
This is grief,
in swimsuits and sandals
with sweatshirts and sandy toes—
lover’s hands tucked
firmly into one another—
one by one
as the blazing sun
sinks into the sea.
This is great news, by the way—that grief changes us.
This is what our country needs more than anything right now, what our world needs— to change irrevocably, to never be the same.
A friends said to me the other day, “you can get into a head-on collision with a semi-truck and survive. You’ll just never be the same again.” And maybe this is a is what all of this is—this terror and devastation and violence. Maybe, as tragic as it is, it is the wake-up call we have all needed. We cannot go on like this. We cannot keep ignoring the suffering of humanity.
If we want peace, we must begin to speak up.
We cannot stay the same.
We cannot stay silent.