My husband, granddaughter and I went on a half day rafting trip down the Nantahala River on August 21. We were in a group of about 100 very lucky people who paddled downstream between mountains that rose up steeply on either side of the river. We rested in a cove as the color seemed to drain from the world. The air temperature dropped to 63 degrees as we sat in the gray semi-darkness and watched with wonder as the moon slid perfectly into position and blocked the sun. Though much anticipated and very exciting, I was surprised that I also felt twinges of discomfort.
At totality, the moon suddenly appeared to me to be much bigger than usual, and I thought "wow, that's a really, really big chunk of rock up there, right over our heads." And I noticed myself reaching for my rock solid belief in gravity for reassurance. I wasn't really afraid, but there was an uncomfortable feeling of being unsettled, and I could certainly relate to the fears that earlier people reportedly felt during an eclipse.
The shadows of the eclipse are layered in my mind with the chilling shadow of violence in Charlottesville. The sudden and unusual appearance of men who proudly displayed vile, socially unacceptable fascist images and language, who were armed with torches, clubs and guns was shocking. Fascists' violence is aimed at destroying other people. They start with anyone they perceive as marginalized, and they don't stop. They destroy in an effort to find confidence, purpose and meaning that they lack. But that urge to destroy is a voracious monster and there's no end to their violence until they're stopped by a larger force. And what force looms larger than the President? But as our President rolled out his very strange version of who was responsible for the violence, even louder alarm bells went off in my mind. The leader of the free world was apparently trying to gaslight the American people. And I wondered, where is this headed? How is it going to be stopped?
I've always been taught, and I think it's right, that evil and violence is to be resisted. And yet, what the ongoing resistance of oppressed peoples also teaches me is that in order to truly preserve ourselves we have to resist evil and violence in ways that protect and preserve our body, mind, and essential sense of self-worth, human dignity and soul.
In these complicated instances when so much is at stake, when fear is trying to run the show within my body, I've found that hard as it is, the way I can best protect and preserve myself is to find a place of refuge, which sometimes is a literal place where I'm safe from physical harm. And then I'm also on the lookout for a place where I can put down my fear within a larger, more positive force...a larger love. Which usually isn't a feeling at first, but is simply the recall, and then the conviction of the ultimate way that things should be: fair, honest, inclusive, non-reactive. And I try to act in a way that will lead me further into that destination, that vision, that outcome.
How do you find your way into a better place when you're in danger, physically, emotionally, spiritually? We could talk about this in terms of which UU principles help us find a good way forward. The search for truth? Inherent worth and dignity? Interdependence? Or perhaps our sources might show us a way. Might we talk about Hindu teachings about what it means to be a spiritual warrior? Or the prophetic deeds of people who have a long tradition of resisting violence and oppression? What does science have to offer?
As beautiful as any concept or natural wonder might be, what helps me most are companions on the journey—others on this little blue boat who begin as strangers, who in critical moments share their questions and struggles. Who squeeze my hand and allow me to see their tears, their vulnerable sense of wonder, their humor and love. And when it's time to move, it's a blessing that together we
can paddle through the rapids and help keep each other in the boat.
I'm glad to be on this journey with you.