Tears, unlikely boats, and saintly stars

President* Trump,

I don’t know if there’s some cyclical hormone thing going on – I could probably figure it out if I went back through these letters and marked the days when I told you I was feeling emotional and tearful. Being well past having an obvious monthly cycle, it’s hard to tell. Whatever drives it, I actually appreciate these days since they are when I feel most connected with and tethered to everyone else in the world.

Ok, so, I’ve barely just finished my morning tea and I’ve already seriously teared up twice. And yes, I’m going to tell you who and what occasioned the tears even though I know full well you could give a rip about either my tears or who and what occasioned them.

The first was an article in the WP (shock, I know) about the all-Black high school men’s crew team from the West side of Chicago and the film that’s debuting today about their 20-year anniversary. I almost certainly have told you that our daughter rowed crew through high school. Well, I’m positive that this had something to do with why I had my middle-aged white lady verklempt reaction to the story about the Manley High School crew team. I know from having watched her crew career what an intense degree of commitment was required along with a willingness to love, if not always like, all the young women in her boats. Having gotten to see all that up close gives me a tiny glimpse into what it must have been like for the Manley crew team to come together and to figure out how to be a team even though some of them were coming from rival gangs.

Typing that last bit, I realize I’m totally bullshitting myself in thinking I have even the smallest of clues what that was like for them. Mostly white high school girls whose personalities don’t completely jibe is in a completely different league from Black high school boys who had to put aside life and death rivalries to sit within inches of one another for days on end learning something brand new. Plus, the Manley crew had to contend with flak from people in their neighborhoods and the white crews they competed against didn’t exactly embrace them.

I also need to admit that some of my verklempty tears were driven by the feel good nature of the story of Black young men achieving something together that beat the odds (this is how the article is framed), which I learned last night from Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, is assimilationist thinking. That is, that Black individual people somehow need to be developed and nurtured to be all they can be rather than addressing the systemic racism that keeps the West side of Chicago ghettoized and its inhabitants oppressed. I have a lot of work to do.

The other thing that brought tears is that at the end of John Lewis’s service yesterday, Reverend Warnock referenced Shakespeare’s passage about little stars from Romeo and Juliet. Here it is:

“When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

Warnock was dissing you (garish sun) and simultaneously leaving us with a beautiful way of thinking about John Lewis –he’s now a series of little stars flung against the night sky, making it more compelling and lovely than before. Plus, last night on my dog walk, I found a small card with seven tiny star shapes in a random, star-looking pattern. Even though it turned out to be a punch-card for Mighty-O Donuts (which I somehow think Rep. Lewis would’ve appreciated given his reported sweet tooth), it feels really special and like it’s an odd link to that wonderful human being who had to leave us far too soon.

Cue the tears….

May we be safe to feel tender and connected.
May we be willing to check our autopilot reactions to feel-good stories.
May we keep our emotional health intact as we contend with blazing, garish suns.
May we accept that it’s our turn to move John Lewis’s mission forward for the next generation.

Tracy Simpson

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