I wish I could be unreserved in extending my condolences to you in the wake of your brother, Robert’s death. I do feel sad for you and for the rest of your family and his friends. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary this week of my brother-in-law’s death and I still think of him almost daily and miss him tremendously. He was like an older brother to me and so while I’ve not lost a sibling to death, I do have some sense of what it’s like and know that it’s hard.
I’d probably be able to be more openhearted towards you if I perceived that you were moved at all by the suffering of the tens of thousands of Americans who have died of COVID or who have lost loved ones to this scourge. If it seemed like you were doing what a POTUS should do in the face of such a crisis, both to stem the devastation and to mourn with us, then I am quite certain I’d be more willing to empathize with you. I’m actually not proud of my withholding reaction to your loss. Nor am I proud that I’ve come to hate you – this is not where I wanted to be all along and it’s not where I want to be now.
Our pastor preached this morning on the idea of deserving and how we may not know how or why quadratic equations are used, but we sure as heck know what we deserve and we know what others deserve, especially those others who we perceive to be like us and those others who we perceive to be not like us. The lectionary for today was Genesis 45: 1-15, which is about how Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, chooses to spare them and to make sure that they and their families (to include their father) are taken care of in the time of famine. Arguably Joseph’s brothers were not deserving of this grace, but Joseph wasn’t using a tit-for-tat calculation and chose not to treat his brothers even remotely how they treated him.
Our pastor did a beautiful job of drawing out what the scripture has to tell us now in our own time of famine. She pointed out that unfortunately, in our time, we still have lots (and lots) of people who’re trying to justify why the brothers sold Joseph into slavery rather than owning that they need to repent and ask for forgiveness for the grievous harm they visited on him (as in the White supremacists who’re holding onto the racist arguments that Black people are undeserving rather than stepping back and recognizing the grievous harms inflicted).
I think I need to go back and listen to the latter third of the sermon again because I really don’t remember how she resolved things to land in a compassionate, Jesus-Christian place where the evil-doers are deserving of grace. Apparently my heart is still rocky ground – the seeds are bouncing off the rocks and the water is not soaking in. Yet.
Coming back to you and your brother, I think many of us are waiting to learn what Robert died of and whether it was COVID-related. I’m seeing reports that he’d been falling and was suffering from brain hemorrhages and I’m also seeing that stroke and brain bleeds are associated with COVID in people with severe cases. Maybe it’s a little bit of a sign that my heart isn’t doomed to stay rocky terrain forever, but the reason I am hoping that Robert had COVID is not at all an “I told you so” sort of deal but rather that it could maybe, just maybe soften your heart around the disease and lead you to want and need to do everything you can to protect others from the same fate. In other words, if Robert’s death was associated with COVID-19 there is more of a chance that some empathy and compassion will be triggered in you. I still want you to flame out and leave the White House ASAP no matter what, but if you could do some bits of real good in your last few months in office it would be good for you and very good for the country.
May we be safe to tell the truth about why people are dying.
May we be willing to keep working to soften our hearts, if only for our own sakes.
May we recognize that heart softening does not mean being weak or letting bad actors off the hook.
May we accept that this is all messy and hard and that there are no easy answers.