More than 200,000 souls have been lost to COVID-19. Raging fires continue to gobble up lives and livelihoods on the west coast of the country. White supremacy exposes its ugly face as a significant percentage of our citizens deny the humanity and validity of black lives. John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have departed this life. The President of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader, and Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary lie and then lie about the lies they’ve told. All of this should be enough to make this grown man cry.
Choan Seng Song, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology and Asian Cultures at the Pacific School of Theology and author of the book, The Tears of Lady Meng wrote:
“The world without tears is a heartless world. The soul that sheds no tears is a soul without love. O God, save us from turning into statues of tearlessness! This must be our prayer. Tears are signs of life; they bring life back to the world. Tears well out of the heart of love; they restore to the human community the ability to love. Tears take form in cries and struggles for justice; they revive the soul of our century for a promise and a future. And it is in the people capable of tears that a promise of human community and a future for the world lie.
I’ve was raised and acculturated to keep a stiff upper lip and hold in my emotions at all costs. As a husband, father and grandfather, I had often emulated the other men in my family, attempting to protect my loved ones by presenting myself as cool in the furnace and in control, even when I witnessed firsthand the devastating systemic injustice and raw brutality that was wreaking havoc in the lives of people in my community and in my family. As a pastor, denominational, and civic leader, I was taught to mitigate organizational stress by assuming the unmoved mover’s role.
Yet, time and experience have slowly taught me what Valarie Kaur expressed in her book, See No Stranger, “Grief is the price of love. Grief has no end really. There is no fixing it, only bearing it. The journey is often painful, but suppressing grief is what causes the real damage — depression, loneliness, isolation, addiction, and violence. When we are brave enough to sit with our pain, it deepens our ability to sit with the pain of others. It shows us how to love them.”
America and its citizens need to learn how to grieve again. The ability to mourn or weep with others is the very first step in expressing understanding and compassion. It is a prerequisite to justice-making. An appropriate response to Black Lives Matter is not All Lives Matter nor Blue Lives Matter, just as the response to “I’ve been diagnosed with stage-four cancer” is not, “Yeah, a lot of people are coming down with that nowadays.” Alice Walker counseled, “Those who love us never leave us alone with our grief. At the moment they show us our wound, they reveal the have the medicine.”
Showing up to hear the stories of grief and loss, especially the stories of people of color and the poor, is hard for America to do. Our rugged individualism and the story the nation keeps telling itself about American exceptionalism contradict others’ suffering. A country that understands itself as the beacon of light and the singular enforcer of truth is challenged to see its own past (and present) and the suffering it has caused in the areas of racial equity, health care, economic justice, and the environment. If we cannot see suffering, we cannot grieve with others. If we cannot grieve with others, we will never know them, and therefore never love them.
With C.S. Song, I am praying today that God saves us from turning into statues of tearlessness. Let us once again learn to weep and lament to clean the air of turbulent and terrifying spirits.
Acting Executive Director