How do you fight injustice, how do you struggle with this pain, and still find peace?
Since November 8th, many people I know have become more vocal. We respond to ignorance on social media and we share articles incessantly. We seek out arguments with friends and family, or perhaps worse- we avoid speaking to them all together. We march in protests, sign petitions, and join Facebook groups. If it is fight or flight- we. are. fighting. We are seeking out ways to fight back with everything we have.
How do we keep this fight from consuming us? How do we find a balance between staying vigilant and finding peace? Is it even possible? Are there only two options: be hardened by the fight, or be dulled by complacency?
For myself, since November 8th, I feel like every choice is between being singularly focused on the fight and being happy but ignoring the struggle. I feel as if very moment I’m not struggling against, every time I ignore an article, every time I choose not to respond- is a moment wasted.
But what is my other choice? Is it really easier to pretend like this doesn’t tear me up inside? If I ignore it long enough, will I be able to forget that I’ve been betrayed by my country and my church? Can I ignore it? Is that my only other option?
I think about MLK. How did he do it? How did he maintain his sanity? How did this betrayal not eat him alive? How did he continue fighting, day in and day out, and still smile? Why didn’t it consume him? I think about Malala Yousafza, who the Taliban tried to kill. How can she look evil straight in the eye and keep smiling? Where does that peace come from?
This betrayal is still so raw. For me, the hardest part has been engaging in conversations with people who seem to have a veil over their eyes. I have found it nearly impossible.
their hatred and still find peace in the midst.
It feels like peace = complacency.
But I found something. Or rather something found me. There is a poem by Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense.” It is not a short poem, so I’ll include only a few verses here, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety.
A Brief For The Defense
By Jack Gilbert
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
The poor women at the fountain are laughing together…
There is laughter in the terrible streets of Calcutta…
We must risk delight…
To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the devil…
I have a very dear friend who has personified this naturally. I’ve always given her credit for it and called it grace. Because she is also terribly graceful. But what this really is, as I see now, is peace.
We must admit that there will be music despite everything.
Some words just rip open your chest and pull your heart right out. We are made for more that the fight. We are made for delight, and joy. Despite the suffering.
— otherwise the morning before summer dawn would not be made so fine.
I think this is, at least in part, what the Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr, is trying to get at with the idea of Silence in his book Silent Compassion. Silence is the space between the words. Life is not about choosing sides: Fighting or Peace, Struggle or Joy.
“Silence is a kind of wholeness. It can absorb contraries. It can absorb paradoxes and contradictions.” Like struggle and peace. Like betrayal and joy.
Life is: “yes, and…”
Yes, my country has disappointed me
and it has also made me proud
Yes, women are still subjugated, raped, abused, ignored
And they are also loved, cherished, and highly regarded.
Yes, people I love voted in a way I can’t wrap my mind around
And they love me more than anyone else in the world.
Yes, I will continue to fight, and battle, and struggle (and argue)
And I will also allow myself peace.
Yes, there is suffering
And there is music
And there is laughter
And there is delight
This isn’t about choosing battles or choosing ignorance or even about choosing joy. It is about accepting it all. It is about allowing yourself to take a breath, to appreciate the sunlight on your face, and to love those who disappointed you.
It is about