I’m writing on a Friday night, sitting in a cold basement of a row house in Northeast DC. Outside it is dark, and this room is dark, and I don’t feel like turning on a light. I hear sirens and helicopters. I think about food and work and love and friends. I think about the news, about violence and weapons and the internet.
Went for a lunch-break walk around Capitol Hill earlier. A sunny, 50-degree DC day. The eerie quiet of carless streets. Honks and exhaust and delivery trucks replaced by silent flashing red-blue lights and concrete barriers. National Guard troops hold big guns on street corners, their faces masked and sunglassed. I pass them quickly. The East Coast sun settles its sad winter light onto chipped-paint crosswalks. Dead plants and dormant trees. Pieces of trash and tree roots. Stale light in a pale sky. I see a slice of the Capitol dome glaring with mist and sun. I turn around.
The evils of the American empire are boiling like sores. I’m living in the center of it all, regimes and screams, lies collide above my head and I feel dull. Walking among colorful row houses today, I felt a deep loneliness, a deep ache and sadness for the future. I think of all those suffering. Of the evil of whiteness and power in this country. The ‘normalcy’ of people dying when they could have lived. It makes me sick and then I feel numb and frozen, but I don’t want to feel this way.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the angel figure in Durer’s Melencolia—the gaze of boredom, of numbness. Of being so tired of suffering and not knowing what to do with it. Since the pandemic began, we for the most part have only been witnessing human suffering through screens. Through internet messages and photos and videos. It is unspeakably alienating for human beings to be reduced to statistics and numbers on a phone. I am so sad and my brain can’t catch up. Grief begins to turn to monotony. Pain into indifference.
I step outside for fresh air. Blotches of dying moss crawl up the concrete steps. It’s cloudy tonight. The street lamps glow a blurry yellow through lung-like trees. It is quiet for a moment before I hear a siren scream.
I need something true and real to anchor me right now. When my mind is full of images of weapons and anxiety. Somewhere in the sky, though I can’t see it, is the moon. The moon and the quiet. What do I know to be true in this world?
Christmas was less than a month ago. I was really moved by the lyrics of ‘O Holy Night’ this year: Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn … Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace; Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, And in his name all oppression shall cease…
Thought about this hymn again after I read on my phone about the threats of extremist violence that could happen in this city, and around the country, in the coming week, the coming days. God of stars and God of skies and holy nights, where are you? We are destroying ourselves and our souls ache with the lies of worthlessness. Has the hope of Christmas—the hope that God entered this human condition—worn itself down already? Has it become banal and forgettable? Does it mean anything when the message of Christ has been co-opted by hate? It is hard to have hope. I’m weary. And yet…
God is a witness, as our minds wrestle with images of terror and our bodies grow cold like ice in our veins. God is a witness, as our hearts bleed and break, and our tears moisten our cheeks. God is a witness, in us, and in our world, as we pray, and we write, and we love and love.
I am terrified. Still. But I know, just as night gives way to morning, terror gives way to liberation and love and life. “To be with God,” James Baldwin says, “is really to be involved with some enormous, overwhelming desire, and joy.” I am terrified. But I am alive. There is love.
Somehow, an evening star, a burning evening star, lives in my chest and won’t leave me alone. It makes me do this—write. This evening star stubbornly, continually, tugs me toward goodness, toward believing that the Good and the True and the Just are still stronger than all of this death and apathy.
Justice. Liberation. Hope. Truth beyond language, beyond myself. I hold onto it through a haze. That star that glows in the sky behind eight thousand layers of clouds.
I’m living in a city with red zones and barricades and bridge-closures and constant whirring helicopters and anxiety. Yet I sit here and I write and I try my best to speak of hope. DC is a city full of brave people. Brave community organizers and brave leaders and brave residents who are doing work to protect the most vulnerable and who won’t allow violent and evil white supremacists to take over. I hold these brave people in prayer. They are giving me hope. DC is strong and will be okay because it is a city full of people who care about justice and who care for one another.
God, God who witnesses, God who is empathy and love and who allows me to have empathy and to love, keep me from the abysses of apathy. Let me not live in despair, despair that is indifferent to suffering, or despair that puts ideologies and power above actual human life. May I always honor the dignity of each human being, which means denouncing white supremacy. Which means denouncing the lies that America is innocent and that it is a ‘Christian’ nation. The truth will set us free. And the truth is we are in need of a holy power beyond ourselves to convert the hearts of stone and death. Remind us that you are the evening star of overwhelming desire and joy. We are alive and we need you. Come Holy Spirit.
Even if just for the splittest second, may my soul know it’s worth, may the souls of every human being know their worth. If we did, this evil—this violence, this alt-right hatred, these liars and these lies—would be impossible, because how could we defile the face of God standing before us? For in defiling the image of God in another we defile ourselves. Violence toward one person is violence toward everyone and everything.
I must remind myself of evening stars, twilight stars. Constellations of sacred choirs singing to weary worlds. The evening star drawing us to goodness, burning in us even in the moment of despair, pulling us to life and joy, reminding us to care for one another in the nighttime of life. The star that, Georgia O’Keefe wrote, “fascinated me, excited me.” The star that fills us with overwhelming desire and joy.
Mary Oliver: “The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.”
God who became human, longings are stirring in my heart, longings I can’t exactly name. Longings for you to breathe onto our aching bones, for oppression to cease. For something more than this. For each soul to know its own worth. For evening stars to burn through the sheets of clouds and guide our way toward goodness and liberation. For us to recognize our own voices. For gentle hugs to envelop our tired bodies. For justice. Truly You taught us to love one another; Your law is Love and Your gospel is Peace. You are here.
On a holy lonely night I type these words. I think of the people I love and how they have sustained me—my best friends, my housemates, my family. They are the reason I have the hope I have. I hold them in love. They carry my sorrow and my pain with me, and that is the greatest gift.
There’s a poem called “Leaf” by Sean Hewitt, and the last line says, “For even in the nighttime of life / it is worth living, just to hold it.”
I don’t have a lot to say. I can only hold this quiet sorrow in my hands, my trembling hands. Because I believe, I make myself believe, that even in the nighttime of life, it is worth living, just to hold it. And I hold it.