April 2018

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

With Feathers

Saturday, my partner Ann and I joined Seattle’s river of womxn and mxn marching through Seattle’s streets to say we’re angry and scared and paying attention. Our friend Linda’s daughter Emma gave me a “pink pussy hat” at the end of the march, which was great because the shadows were lengthening and it was getting chilly. I hadn’t brought my own mostly because I’m an over-the-50-hill Southern lady and I just couldn’t bring myself to display such a thing. (As we talked with our friend Leslie and our minister Ann a couple of days before the march, Pastor Ann opened her eyes wide in a moment of insight: “You know,” she said about those pussy hats, “that has another meaning.”

As Pastor Ann left the sanctuary, I said what any good Southerner would say to a somewhat naïve but lovely sentiment: “Bless her heart.”

My partner Ann didn’t need a hat for the march. In fact, a hat would have covered the wide pink stripe down the right side of her silky white hair: at once bold and lovely.

We had taken the bus from near our home with our friend Marion. (Marion had planned to take the #48 to our house, but the buses were all full, so her partner Wolfgang gave her a ride. Another friend and her partner attempted to catch the #48, too, but because the buses were all full, they went to the place where the #48 begins its route and waited two hours with a long line of others.)

The march stretched over three miles, and the first marchers arrived at the end point before the last ones had left the gathering space, so those who were late had plenty of time to join in.
As we marched, booms would travel from the back of the march to the front, giving us a sense of just how big it was. The first time we heard the roar, Marion and I looked at the blue skies above for the jet. That’s what it sounded like.
There’s been a lot in the news estimating how many people were there: 100,000+… 125,000…175,000…200,000? In marches nationwide, I’ve heard a million total.

That’s a lot of people, and I felt hope of a resistance for the first time since the election.

I wonder if Trump paid attention. Maybe. Whatever the number, it was Seattle’s largest political march ever. But a few years ago, after the Seahawks won the Super bowl, a reported 700,000 attended the welcome parade down Seattle’s snowy streets. That’s a lot more. At that time, the numbers in one city approached the national total of marchers on Saturday.

I worry that our culture still celebrates football more than it attends to a threat to who we might be as a country.

So I feel hopeful but not secure in the resistance.

The Sikh Valerie Kaur made me think about the possibility of hope in her rousing talk at a Christian church. I was particularly struck when she said, “The mother in me asks, 'What if? What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?... What if this is our country's great transition?" (The whole speech is short and worth hearing: )

Maybe this thing waiting to be born will be a different creature than Yeats’s “rough beast…slouch[ing] toward Bethlehem waiting to be born,” a creature imagined after World War I.

At church on Sunday, we read the story of Saul, a beast who persecuted Christians but had a conversion experience on the way to Damascus and became a good guy. The focus of the reflection was on the essential idea that even the most awful people can change. I like that idea, but I kept focusing on the line, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

I have seen suffering in El Salvador, Michoacan, Ethiopia, Cuba, and Seattle. I have read about World War II, Rwanda, and Syria. And the lists go on. I have seen that there is a grandness, a largeness of spirit, that grows out of suffering. That’s all well and good, a thing to admire from a distance, but I don’t want the suffering to enter my world.

Trump seems to be the parallel to Saul, and maybe he will be enlightened, but like Ananais in the story, I doubt it. To be honest, I’m not thinking about Trump suffering, though that seems like it would be healthy. I’m worried about my own suffering. How much will I need to suffer in this brave, new world? I want to be faithful to a vision that we might have a more just world, that this may be the darkness of the womb and not of the tomb, but I would prefer not to suffer along the way. Really, suffering is not my strong suit.

So I’ve been thinking about hope, about the vague and energizing spirit of it and the more exacting and nagging question of hope for what.

One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, writes about hope as a kind of spirit, a substanceless thing to be described only through metaphor:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Perhaps hope in this time will be asking a crumb—or more—of me. Perhaps I will learn, as the poet, actress, teacher and activist Leticia Nieto, said, “There’s hope, but hope is not what you thought it was.” Perhaps hope will be harder than I had hoped.

It is true that through my struggles with brain tumors and disabilities, my soul has grown deeper and wider. Perhaps it’s time to grow again, and I know from experience that growing may be more painful than I want it to be, but I’ll be richer for it.

Perhaps this is another way of agreeing with the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

And perhaps for now that is the thing with feathers.

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