For blocks & blocks, she kept chanting “No!”

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What is it about the pitch of a person’s voice that can convey a message, as much or more so than their spoken words?

A woman last week was walking much of 17th Street, the main street in our neighborhood. She walked a measured pace and yelled one word repeatedly as if creating a one-person protest; a few blocks away from intersecting her on the sidewalk – her screams of one word rang out in fierce volume penetrating us nearby with what felt like surround sound:

No!

No!

No!

With every other step, she yelled “no” over and over in fever pitch.

The tenor in her voice held a mix of fierceness and anger. But it is unclear in my mind now how much of that fierceness was actually meant from her (or was instead being projected from the rants in my own head):

No! more polar political rages

No! more starving for food

No! more racist sexist binges

No! more denied grasps over boundaries as a fleeing people collapse on barbed wire

She kept screaming her “no” and I became concerned that I’d over indulge my own frustrations of this world, caving to a self-righteous pity party.

Then as the woman passed by and echoed onward, a memory of a good friend and colleague floated up about the relationship between justice and  persevering. She once said:

“No,  NO, NO ….I can’t sit still with the world this way.”

Yes, with some mercy and discipline (and an avalanche of love), forward let us go.

Brexit & recalling a trapped man

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A kind, raw-hearted man entered my work a while back  (a church not far from the White House). He asked for information about good shelters in the area, and if we could sit together in the chapel for a while.

We sat in quiet some minutes before he shared he’d been hiding in a locked bathroom. His lover in a violent rage had beat him before he was able to scramble to the restroom where he locked himself in; meanwhile his partner attempted to break the bathroom door down off and on for about 48 hours. Eventually the threatening partner gave up and left. So this guy now in the chapel was at least out of immediate harm seeking shelter someplace else.

That’s all I know about that man back then and his vulnerable crossroads toward safer ground. In my imaginings since, I pretend (hope?) the start of his once beloved relationship held some kind of shared appreciation of rights — right to breathe, right to breathe in safety, a right to simply live in a space together, both aware of life’s unforgiving spikes (but as aware that each qualified for safety amidst the turbulence, an equal capacity of deservedness).

Who knows what triggered the violent partner. Did the straining complexity of life spark an evilness within him? Did a tidal wave of vulnerability or sensed lack of control press his weaker side into dominance and cruelty?

I just don’t know.

Something about the recent Brexit vote brings all this envisioning of that weary man to mind again, and his primal run for safety.

It is reasonable to say we as humans in general want to live a safe life. We want to live with loved ones in the framework of safe shelter, safe day to day experience, safe access to food and rest. It’s reasonable to say that’s what Britons want.

It’s reasonable to say that’s what immigrants want also. Immigrants are fleeing for new lands to find new space for safer ground. They are running from violent threats, from lack, from fear, escaping from horrific deficits of safety.

Given this common yearning for safe places, it appears Britons with the Brexit vote have met the immigrant flight from fear with fear itself.

There are many political and economic layers to Brexit and the EU that are in play here too; I respect this and am no expert on all of those dynamics. As it relates to immigration though, I keep comparing Brexit with the threatened man on the run long ago, arriving bewildered at the chapel.

I equate it to this “what if…?” possibility:

It’s as if when the fleeing man knocked at the church’s door back then, colleagues and I locked the doors and then our neighbor’s doors and the doors to potential shelters just to preserve our own territorial comfort. It’s as if back then we even may have slipped out from behind those chapel doors, let the fearful man in for a few minutes, then kicked him out letting the huge bolts of once welcoming safe, oak chambers clamp shut in his face.

It is as if back then we grew childishly discontent from the inherent civility and organizational energy required to share; …..so we elevated our desire for comfort above his primal need for safety. Our comfort then would have arrived at the expense of his basic need.

Brexit smacks of this fear and entitlement.