A Day in This Life…This Era

Today, a friend, having seen Facebook-posted photographs of my birthday celebration three days ago, commented, “Clearly, you enjoyed yourself.” Without thinking, I replied, “Yes, it was a pleasant respite from the tribulations of the day.”

As I oft don’t know wholly where I am in my inner being until I hear myself say it (or see myself write it), I have been reflecting, seeking to unearth the unconscious intent behind my reply. I have discerned that, quite without being fully aware of it, I lived into my birthday celebration with relish as a breather, if for only a few hours, from my preoccupation with current issues. About these, daily, intensely, I think and feel, wonder and worry, ponder and pray, converse and write, and work; doing what I can where I am with what I have to make a positive, redemptive difference.

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Ours is a time (indeed, I have come to believe, an era) of dual pandemics. One, viral. The other, racial. Each destructive.

The novel coronavirus pandemic, remaking the earth into a global Petri dish of infectious contagion leading to catastrophic illness and death, among many things, has:

Threatened the solvency of health care systems.

Wreaked havoc on lives dwelling in quarantine.

Upended ages-old norms of social conduct with directives for physical-distancing and non-in-person activity.

Shattered not the glass-ceilings, but rather what were thought to be the bedrock floors of commerce as businesses close, some permanently, with people thrown out of work and unemployment rocketing past Great Depression Era numbers.

Punctured that panaceaic-bubble of entertainment in shuttering the industries of the arts and sports.

There also is the loss of our illusion of the might of American-exceptionalism to mitigate the worst effects of a disaster.

The more ancient pandemic, racism, with the death, the murder of George Floyd, having come once again to the center stage of human consciousness has demonstrated afresh its insidious power. The measures of racism’s ruin are manifold, among them:

Foremost, in lives. People of color die and their families and friends grieve.

Many, across the spectrum of race and age, protest; some of the demonstrations damaging, devastating homes and businesses, lives and livelihoods.

There have been counter-protests, for me, symbolizing, embodying a calloused incomprehension of the pain of “the other.”

There also are the losses of our illusions. Among them:
“Things are better.” (No, they’re not.)
“We live in ‘a color-blind society’.” (No, we don’t.)
“America doesn’t have ‘a race-problem’.” (Yes, we do.)
“Racism is individual and situational and not systemic and institutional.” (It is both.)
“White people, generally and specifically, aren’t ‘privileged’.” (Yes, they are.)

Doubtless, I think, there are some (many?) people who would disagree with me on what constitutes illusory-thinking about race. This, for me, demonstrates that the subject of racism is deeply polarizing (which is also to say, it’s real, it exists).

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Where we, as a world and as an American nation, go from here, I don’t know.

I do know that, at the age of 68, it is not likely that I will be alive some twenty to thirty years from now to read what historians will have written in their creation of a coherent narrative of this era, what happened and how.

Nevertheless, I have visions of hope. Of transformation of our societal status-quo that, resistant to change, persists in valuing white over black or brown or red or yellow in proffering free and open access to educational, vocational, financial, social, and residential opportunities. In a word, I have a vision of the society-wide confession and repentance of the sin of inequality based on race.

So, today, intensely, I continue to think and feel, wonder and worry, ponder and pray, converse and write, and work, doing what I can where I am with what I have to make a positive, redemptive difference.

© 2020 PRA

3 thoughts on “A Day in This Life…This Era

  1. Dear Paul,

    I am grateful for you and for people like you who join the battle day after day, thinking and feeling, wondering and worrying, conversing and writing, working all the time to add your energy to the struggle for racial clarity, truth, and, it is to be fervently hoped, eventually someday reconciliation and a peace grounded in true justice among all people. When you write as you did today, I always anticipate the “visions of hope” you always allude to, and I breathe a tiny sigh of relief that you still find those visions, faint as they sometimes may appear.

    The aspect of the present moment that offers me a bit clearer vision of hope than in the past is what I perceive as the new level of candor, rigor, volume, and frequency with which once-hidden truths are being spoken to white America by people now referred to in some circles as “BIPOC.” I have to attest that these truths do not fall lightly or easily on white ears, but they are truths nevertheless and must be heard and learned. I am committed to trying to hear them and absorb them and take them for the blessing that they are for the hope of a future, even if they are, like many of the words of Jesus, “hard sayings.”

    Here is a link to one of the recent pieces that I found full of hard but essential truth, difficult as it may be for me and others to read or to hear. The author is Sarah Bellamy, the artistic director of Penumbra Theater in St. Paul. She and her father, Lou Bellamy, who was instrumental in founding the theater, an institution devoted to being an arena for Black artists, artists of color, and their works, have worked so diligently to promote and produce both social justice and excellent theater, in addition to educational opportunities for young people and the community.

    https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2020/06/08/the-performance-of-white-bodies/?fbclid=IwAR3g8xoKkwbV-xRHti9lVIBAFreaxpdme3DJAqN70IKjGAj-nZgSVWgL3uE

    Keep those visions of hope alive, Paul, even if they come at a cost to the comfort and serenity some of us think we are entitled to. Until we can all experience comfort and serenity from time to time, the hard truths still have work to do.

    Much love,

    Karen

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  2. Thank you, my dearest Karen, for your wise and compassionate life-breathing, life-affirming witness to the grace of Love. I thank you for your encouragement, for, as I’m wont to say about preaching, it applies to race relations and racial reconciliation, “As long as there is breath and strength, there is life and labor.”

    I thank you, too, for sharing Ms. Bellamy’s passionate, poignant article. Of her many sentiments, the one (yes, of the many) that leapt from the page was/is this, when writing of her reaction to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery: “I felt my spirit crumple as his body did. It stole my breath and ignited a raging panic in my flesh. My heart pounded with a drumming that goes back generations.” Yes, yes, yes! I know of what she testifies. I think and feel, I believe, I know that it is this instinctive, now ageless systemic and rhythmic reaction to atrocity that is an element of black survival (which, as we are proven all too frequently, is not wholly invulnerable to death).

    And, yes, you are most correct. To harbor (to be the recipient of the Spirit’s power, as the Prophet Joel would say, to dream dreams) visions of betterment necessarily demands the cost of personal comfort and serenity. Still, as I most recently was given to recall, hope abides precisely in the space where despair dwells. Indeed, I have come to behold that despair – hopelessness and meaninglessness, which can led me to say, “What’s the use in trying?” – is the nemesis that when confronted grants hope its strength to persevere. For unless hope – that capacity and willingness to envision the triumph of Love and Justice – embraces despair, then, I believe, it is but wishful thinking (in much the same way that faith becomes assurance and not blind belief only in the encounter with fear).

    I love you, dearest sister, and Ted and Emilia,
    Paul

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    1. Amen, dearest Paul.

      And likewise, Ted, Emilia, and I love and cherish you (and Pontheolla too).

      Karen

      Like

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