Frailties, possibilities, and getting down to work

Dear President Trump,

I’m not sure whether I’m really fighting a cold or am just tired, but yesterday morning I felt pretty awful and decided to take today as a sick day preemptively. It wasn’t really necessary since I seemed to have bounced back, but it was nice to be able to sleep in and it was nice to be able to watch most of Elijah Cummings’ funeral.

It was a beautiful service – did you catch any of it? Ok, just needling you – I’m sure you didn’t.

Because of the time difference I ended up watching it in a strange sort of way. I got to see the final segment live, which Cummings’ Pastor, Bishop Walter Thomas, preached, and then I went back and watched President Obama’s portion. Several hours later I started at the beginning and got to see Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, several members of Cummings’ family (his daughters, brother, wife), and various friends, people he worked with, people who mentored him and who he mentored. I ended with President Clinton because right after him it was President Obama’s turn and I’d seen his remarks earlier. There’s another hour or so left of the video so maybe tomorrow I’ll finish it out (or at least up to the point where Bishop Thomas takes over).

They were all so poised and articulate and I so wasn’t – I kept crying and mostly just kept saying “yes” and “thank you” over and over. It was clear there wasn’t any coordination among the speakers as some of the same stories got told more than once and many of Cummings’ favorite phrases were shared multiple times, and really, it was all the richer an experience for that. There wasn’t any posturing or pretense, just a series of beautifully crafted and lovingly spoken words honoring a dear person they all loved and wanted to share with the world. It was like they were all contributing to a painting of Cummings, some filling in around his nose, others focusing on his eyes or his forehead, and lots of them putting little flourishes in to get his mouth and his smile just right. It was such an amazing expression of love and care that it made me wish very much that I could have been in his presence even just once.

Politics were definitely laced through almost every one of the speeches and that felt absolutely correct – Elijah Cummings’ tool for addressing the ills and inequities of the world was politics, and what was so clear from the stories was that his politics were informed and bounded by respect and compassion for every single one of us, for every single community. There were bits that were clearly meant to call you out without naming you, though really it was never so much about you as it was about how Cummings was the anti-you (and even there, it really wasn’t about you in the person of you, but rather people like you who seek to perpetuate oppressive systems). And there were lots of bits about the importance of us all carrying on his work, about the importance of lending others a hand, stepping aside so someone else can shine, about being love in the world. It was pretty great when someone suggested we ask ourselves what Elijah would do when we are confused or sorely tried by a situation – what a wonderful way to honor someone.

I’m sure he had his moments. In fact his pastor spoke of how Cummings was steadfast in his church attendance (every Sunday morning at 7:15am!) in no small part because he recognized his frailties and still held onto his possibilities, because he needed to be reminded that he could be somebody even with a whole lot of baggage hanging off of him and he wanted others to know this about themselves too. It’s a good message – it’s a validating message and an important one for us to hear because we can’t waste time worrying that we aren’t good enough or pure enough to do the work that needs to be done – we just have to do it, baggage and all.

May we be safe in our own skins, in our own homes, in our communities.
May we be happy for the life of Elijah Cummings and the gift of his being.
May we study and carry on his work on behalf of all children.
May we resolve to be peace and kindness.

Tracy Simpson

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