There is a wonderful song in the musical, Ragtime, when Mother discovers a newly born Negro baby buried alive in her garden. Her first shocked reaction is “What kind of woman would do such a thing?” Soon after, the police show up with the baby’s mother, Sarah, a washwoman from a neighboring house. Mother inquires what will happen to Sarah and the baby and learns that Sarah will likely be arrested for attempted murder and the baby will be sent to a place “for unfortunates like this.”
Up to this point in time, Mother has lived a rich and sheltered life, moving willingly within the patriarchal hierarchy of her world. Her husband has just left on an extended journey; and in this moment of independence, Mother does the unthinkable. She takes responsibility for Sarah and the baby boy, bringing them in to her home. Standing there face-to-face with Sarah and the child, Mother’s compassion outruns her judgment and horror.
Talking partly to herself and partly to her absent husband, Mother concludes the song with these powerful lines:
What kind of woman
Would do what I’ve done-
Open the door
to such chaos and pain!
You would have
Gently closed the door,
And gently turned the key,
And gently told me not to look,
For fear of what I’d see.
What kind of woman
Would that have made me?
That final line always catches me in the gut: “What kind of woman would that have made me?”
When the pain of the world landed on her doorstep, Mother chose to see it, chose to take responsibility for it, chose to let it enter into the recesses of her privileged and buffered life. She didn’t have to. No one would have blamed her or thought badly of her if she hadn’t. In fact, her husband, if present, would have insisted she look away, and her neighbors would have likely applauded her for protecting her home.
Watching from our cushy seats in the audience, we accept her compassion without much thought, failing to fully grasp her bravery. It’s just a story, right? She did “the right thing,” and now the musical can move forward.
But as I listen to this song, I always find myself thinking: What would I have done? What kind of woman am I?
I feel like God has been dropping some of the world’s pain on my doorstep these past few years and I’ve been trying to make room in my heart and my life to let it in. But it is painful and difficult. I often feel split between 2 worlds: the privileged and buffered world I was born into and the foreign world of injustice, oppression, racism…
In the one world, I and my friends occupy ourselves with buying organic food, decorating (or upgrading) our homes, juggling all of our kids’ extra-curricular activities, etc. In the other, I see people struggling to buy any food at all or to find even indecent housing that they can afford. I see parents who are barely able to meet their children’s basic needs, much less to provide them with even the simplest enrichments or opportunities.
Many days, I am left feeling completely schizophrenic.
It would be so, so, so, so, so much easier to simply close the door. To thank God for my privileged world and spend my time enjoying it to the fullest.
And no one in my world would blame me. I might even be applauded for how well I embrace God’s blessings.
But the door has been opened and I have looked through it. What kind of person would I be to turn back now?
The truth is that I have woken up to the reality of injustice. I have seen, I have read and I have listened. As a result, the way I see the world has changed. I recognize my white privilege. I recognize my complicity in an unjust system. I have some dim awareness of the masses of people in the world who are suffering today–this very moment–in ways I can’t truly comprehend. And I acknowledge my responsibility before God to care…to really, truly, sacrificially care.
But I still live in the other world…the world that is asleep, the world that is blind.
And I find myself grieving.
I grieve for those who are suffering. I grieve because I feel powerless to help. I grieve over my own sin. I grieve over the sins of my church. I grieve the loss of my former (easier) worldview. I grieve because I feel alone.
This journey I’m on has practically turned me into a poster child for the so-called 7 steps of grief:
- I feel shock (How can there be so much evil and suffering?) and denial (Certainly the world isn’t that bad and It can’t really make much of a difference whether or not I care or sacrifice or show up).
- I feel pain (particularly when I internalize someone else’s suffering) and guilt (I should be doing more, caring more, sacrificing more. If only I wasn’t soooooo selfish. and, conversely: I shouldn’t expect so much from others. I shouldn’t let the world’s problems make me so sad/angry/distracted/judgemental).
- I feel anger (some days, so very much anger), both at others (Why doesn’t anyone else see all this suffering and injustice? Why doesn’t anyone care? Where is the church?) and at myself (I’m making things worse by getting so upset. I’m failing to be loving and show grace. Why can’t I get rid of all of this anger?)
- Sometimes, I find myself trying to ward off depression; and I virtually always feel alone in my perspective and in the depth of my feelings.
- Then, I have good seasons when I make an upward turn (I’m able to focus on the good I see happening around me and to feel more gratitude than sadness)…
- …and have a prosperous period of reconstruction.
- Some days, hope wins. I accept that the world is as it is and feel encouraged to believe that even a small and imperfect ray of light makes a dent in the darkness.
A year and a half ago when I started this blog, a part of me was desperately seeking out a community of other Christians who have “woken up to injustice” and who could help me navigate through this difficult journey. I have learned that the blogosphere cannot meet this need (although, bless you Agent X for being the big exception).
And so, I faultingly plod on.
And I continue to share my experience on this blog both as a catharsis and with the hope that someone else along the way will be encouraged. I see you, fellow sojourner. I feel it all, too.