When Prayers Aren't Enough

Amazing Readers, my heart is shredded right now. 

 
It’s Saturday morning, April 20, 2019, as I write and another young Black teenaged boy has been bloodied, yelled at, humiliated, disrespected and mistreated.  His name is Lucca.  I saw video of his arrest on Shaun King’s Instagram feed.
 
We must stop this.  We must stop the humiliation and beating of black boys.
 
And I don’t know how. 
 
I…. don’t…. know….how.
 
My first impulse when I feel this kind of heartbreak is to freeze in overwhelm while beating myself up in my mind for being so incapable of action.  But today, thanks to the H.E.A.R.T. Method for Racial Justice and Mindful Living which I have been learning from Amanda Kemp and her colleague, Erika Fitz, I paused. 
 
Then,
 
I checked in with myself — my body, my mind, my emotions, my schedule and responsibilities for the day — and I asked myself whether I could respond right now in the way I felt I “should” – by doing more research and finding out how to help this particular kid, maybe speaking out or sending money…SOMETHING. 
 
I left space for the possibility that my answer in this particular moment might be, “No. I don’t have the capacity right now, or I don’t feel called to act right now.”  This is new for me because as a white person I have believed that I must ALWAYS act – or I am not doing my part.  (Mind you the thought that I SHOULD act in every instance has not historically actually CAUSED me to act in every instance – more often I froze in overwhelm, grief and shame.)  You may be a person of color who feels the same way - like you should act every time you hear of another racial injustice, or experience racial injustice yourself. 

I hope the approach I'm sharing here will be helpful to you whether your frozen in shame or exhausted by the fight - or some combination of both.
 
On this particular Saturday I had several hours of work I’d committed to do for my day job at a big university in a department filled mostly with women, many of whom are women of color.  I sensed that I needed to stay committed to that work and it was probably all I could do – that work and fitting in a tiny portion of the usual soul-renewing activities I typically do on Saturdays, which (as you know if you've been reading my posts) I usually take off from work and business.

And unsexy as it seemed (I was writing performance reviews) I needed to honor my commitment to a job that gives me the power to influence policy and practice in ways that could make a positive difference in the lives of my staff and the children and families we serve – and maybe even the whole field of early childhood education. 

That’s part of my part in this work. Just to do my job.
 
So, with that bit of clarity, I took the next step.  I “held space for transformation.”  To do this practice Amanda first taught me a meditation built on the phrase “I am unconditional love.  I am unconditional acceptance.”  But for at least 6 months I literally COULD NOT do that meditation.  I had SO much resistance to UNCONDITIONAL love.  I’m much more comfortable with EARNED love – love that you get because you were good and followed the rules.  So, I've been trying out a few other alternatives, one of which is “I belong.” 

Today what arose from my heart was, “You belong.  You belong.  You belong.”  So, I sent this thought-prayer out to this young man and so many others who are being told by the action and inaction of my people (i.e. the citizens of the United States, White people, people with a Christian heritage or identity) that they do not belong here. I sent this love-prayer out to him and to the many mothers of Black boys whose hearts are shredded today and every day (including and especially those of you in the Thriving Thursdays community.)
 
Then I gave my son a hug and a kiss as he went out the door, knowing that though he is also a Black boy/man in some ways (he has a tattoo that says, “too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks” – so I don’t want to claim that identity for him) his light skin leaves me without the kind of daily fear faced by moms (and dads) of darker skinned Black young men.  
 
Those prayers weren’t enough.  They aren’t enough. 
 
But I could feel that my impulse to take some other BIG ACTION in that moment was more about making my own pain go away quickly than about doing whatever is MY part in taking a stand for Black boys and for racial healing.  I needed to sit with the pain.  I needed to discern what my part is and do that. 
 
And part of my part is prayer.  So, I prayed. 
 
Then I took my shredded heart to the kitchen and made breakfast and listened to the On Being podcast – one of my favorite sources of heart-healing words.  I was encouraged as I was reminded of the amazing legacy of W.E.B. DuBois in an interview with Arnold Rampersad.  I was encouraged by the present-moment reconciliation work of Paidrig O’Tuama and the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland.  The words I heard strengthened me. 
 
Then I went on a short hike with my husband — caring for my body and my relationship in the midst of a day full of commitments.  As we walked, we talked about how he’s claiming his identity as a Black man in new ways. 
 
Part of my part is to walk alongside him as he heals from the damage inflicted on his soul from decades of being a “good Black man” in many white-dominant contexts—and claims his right to be ALL of who he is. 

Part of my part is also to care for my own body and spirit, and to reclaim my voice as a woman – this hike included all of that.
 
We walked up Baldwin Hill and I felt so grateful to be in the middle of such a mix of people which is a rare gift in our divided nation – Black, White, Latinx, a range of abilities and ages.  I also felt the magical amazingness of being surrounded by a sea of blooming yellow flowers.  I walked past a Latino man taking a picture of the scene while music played from his phone (usually that would irritate me as I prefer silence, but this time it didn’t.)  “It’s magical,” I said.  And he beamed a smile back at me.  “Yes, it is.”  A tiny connection across our differences. 
 
Part of my part is to notice the magic and share that noticing with others who see it too. 

It’s not enough, but it’s not nothing.
 

Part of my part in this work for race and gender justice and healing is to study and read and listen and write and tell new stories – or uncover old ones, the stories of the silenced. 
 
And part of my part to write words of encouragement for people like you who want so much to change the world, but sometimes have trouble just finding the strength to be in it for another day. 
 
If that sounds like you, I want you to know right now as you read this that you are enough.  You are. You are big enough and strong enough to make a difference. Even if all you can do today is love the crazy teenager (or toddler) in your house who is shredding your heart to pieces.  Even if all you can do today is watch movies with strong black women in lead roles, so you can heal your own heart just a little bit.

Sometimes your part is just to walk to the kitchen and make breakfast and not give up on life just yet. 

Sometimes your part is to rest. (If you’re a parent, you might check out my previous post about the day I did not rest when I needed to and then screamed at my kid for not wanting to eating metal shavings with his potatoes.)  Another day you may be called to something else.  For today, maybe not.  
 
One last part of my part is coaching people like you whose hearts break with sorrow for those who are unjustly treated ­— from gay and transgender teens to Native Americans, to Pit Bulls, to young Black women, to kids with Down’s Syndrome.  I feel so lucky and honored to have that be my job.  

I love helping people who tend to beat themselves up for not doing more, better, faster to learn how to offer to themselves the compassion and ease and kindness and dedication that they offer to others.  That is, until they can’t do it anymore.  Because eventually you can’t give what you don’t have.

Your part will probably be something you love and feel honored to do as well.  Not easy, but something you love just the same.
 
There’s more to this story of mine – and to yours too, I know.  And to our journey together to find justice and healing for Lucca and for ourselves.
 
 But I’m going to stop here for today – because my husband said that the whole piece is a bit of a “long read” J  And ending on “you are enough” feels just about right for today.
 
You are enough.  This is hard AND you can do it.  But you don’t have to do it all today.  Just do what’s yours to do.

If you think you might want support figuring out what that is  - or learning how to do your work in ways that don't feel so heavy and overwhelming, you can schedule a time to talk with me here (see the P.S. below for exactly what to expect on the call.)
 
And if you know someone would be encouraged by this post, would you please send it their way?  Or share it through Facebook which you can do by accessing it here.
 
Here’s to thriving…and equity, and much healing for shredded hearts.
 
With much love,
 
Deb
 
P.S. What you can expect if you sign up for a free call: 1) We talk about what you’re longing for, the change you want in the world and in your life; 2) We talk about what’s in the way; 3) If I think I think working with me might help you, I’ll ask if you’d like to hear about options and if you say yes I tell you about them. If not, we’ll talk about another action step you can take to get yourself moving toward the goals you just clarified for yourself.  Maybe... 4) If you’re saying you really want to work with me, but are struggling ONLY around the cost, I’ll ask if you’d like help sorting through whether it’s really about the money or just old patterns getting in the way (which sometimes it is, but not always.)  If you say yes, then we’ll keep talking, or set up a follow-up.  If you say no then we won’t.  Cuz that’s how consent works!  5) You’ll decide whether working with me is a good next step for you or not.  If yes, you’ll put some money behind your decision within a set period of time (but not on the call.)  Because I’ve found it doesn’t help anyone to keep wavering long-term in trying to decide.  The scared parts of us start working hard to stop us at that point – and you want that energy to be moving you forward!