*Reading given at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, online, August 9, 2020
“Always have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”Maya Angelou
In what do I place my trust? This profound, existential question is, for an inherently trusting person, difficult to quantify. Before the pandemic, I trusted my alarm to go off, my car to start, and my phone to keep me on task. I trusted there would be money in the bank, food in the fridge, and job security for my partner and myself. From the sturdiness of my home and the safety of my Midwestern burg, I trusted the sun to rise and set on another ordinary day.
Though content in my white-privileged, middle-class life, I wasn’t blind to the underbelly of society and systemic injustice. I heard the voices of the assaulted and echoed the rumblings of insurgence, reeling from the daily onslaught of atrocity. But I always believed, I trusted right would prevail, convinced that good people outnumbered those in the videos posted to my Twitter feed.
I always trusted right would prevail.
In this post-pandemic reality, I no longer rise at 4:00 am to teach at the gym. Most days my car sits in the garage. The double-booked calendar on my phone is wiped clean. Our bank account boasts fewer credits, but my family, unlike many others, has access to most of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Self-actualization has taken a hit, but I trust we’ll navigate the unknown and even embrace opportunities for growth. The real threat is to my trust in all that’s holy, to my belief that the arc of the moral universe, even if it is long, will ultimately bend toward justice.
It seems to me the arc has flattened and that curve has been replaced by a different kind: the rising COVID deaths and obliterated incomes, mounting police brutality and vitriolic social chaos, stripped resources and the abandonment of the vulnerable, and the plunging, bottomless corruption of governmental powers poisoning and choking the will of the people. Jaded, my faith is rocked, my trust, fractured.
The arc of the moral universe has flattened.
I’ve been broken-hearted before, grieving and shaken off my trusted path, but those shock waves only reverberated through my own small biosphere. This pain is collective. We are dizzied by the cacophony of the masses and drowned by the firehose of unending crisis.
Yet. We’re still here. The world remains in vibrant perpetuation. The planet continues to turn on its axis. The sun sets on parents everywhere who tuck their children into bed and provide, with their very presence, a sentient trust allowing their babies the sleep of the innocent. And in the morning, when the sun rises, hope renews itself.
We’re still here.
Beneath the rubble of my former paradigm, an ember waits to be fanned into flame, like a jewel in the lotus. Om mani padme hum. I chant the Buddhist mantra transforming empathy from a concept in the mind to a oneness in the heart.
Nelson Mandela, leader of the anti-apartheid movement, who endured 27 years of imprisonment said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
In the morning hope renews itself.
In that bond lies the answer, an antidote to disillusionment. Last week, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman wrote, “When we come together, we change the world. We are stronger as a woven rope than as unbound threads.”
It dawns on me that my crisis of faith is a solitary journey, but the audacity of hope begs amalgamation. Barack Obama, speaking at the funeral of John Lewis, reminded us “. . . in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.” However isolated I’ve become, I am connected to the web of all that is. Detachment is simply not possible.
When it’s quiet, I hear a whisper that says, “Your ability to trust persists. It has not been snuffed out. Look here,” the voice beckons. “Look how your deepest truths hold fast.”
In our beloved community, we do not walk alone.
I peer within and observe. The strength of the invisible tether strung between me and my children, no matter what, no matter where. The devotion of my husband to walk our shared path. The self-possession of the birds that flit and twitter from branch to tree to nest, guided by instinct, protecting their young. The promise of the seasons, each rising to its natural arc before giving way to the next.
The exhilaration of crisp mountain air and the wide open view from the summit. The meditation of waves on the shore as they crest and break, crest and break, and the merging of the horizon, not the edge of the world, but merely the limit of our vision. The wonder of the night sky, a black expanse of diamond stars. The reverence for my microscopic place in it all as a child of the universe.
Look how your deepest truths hold fast.
The resilience of the human heart. The healing salve of touch and the warmth of skin, dissolving layers of anger and hurt. The nurturance of a cocooning embrace and the refuge found in strong arms. The penetration of eyes locking, where souls are bared and secrets unkept. The radiance of a smile bestowed and the joy of reciprocation. The song of the wind chimes signaling ancestors are near, keeping watch.
As I knit the broken pieces together, I find my core beliefs have endured. That we are inextricably linked. That shouldering another’s burden will lighten our own and accepting an offered hand is not cause for shame, but gratitude. That the alchemy of a singular encounter can spark hope and catch fire. That love, the most powerful force in the universe, is the agent of change. And change, the only constant.
My core beliefs have endured.
As Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
I remember now. I remember to trust what I feel: a thrum in my bones, the cadence of my heartbeat, a familiar, yet unnamable quickening at my center. The only way forward is together, seeking the light, becoming the light. From my cupped hands, I gingerly place my trust in us, for we are the ones, and there is no more waiting.