I am always reminded of this beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, when I am pained by injustice.
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
We need to talk.
You see, tonight Trayvon Martin’s unremorseful killer was acquitted. Tonight, I fell silent with a dear friend when we heard the news. Our eyes closed. Our heads fell into our hands. There were no words.
Tonight, I heard my mother’s voice crack and tremble under the weight of her grief as she expressed her shock and sadness at seeing an unapologetic black-child-stalker-and-killer walk free.
And tonight I realized, more than ever, that as much as I love your potential, as much as I love the good that I know is in your heart, as much as I appreciate and see the beauty of your highest calling, the truth is that I feel like this relationship — our relationship — is becoming abusive and toxic on a level that nearly boggles the mind.
I’m a student of history, so I knew our relationship would be challenging. But for reasons that defy all logic, I always thought we could find a way. Yet tonight I find myself shell-shocked and worried that we’re simply incompatible. On paper, we have so many core values in common. In practice? Not so much. I know what you’re going to say — No, it’s not just the Zimmerman verdict. It’s the absurd Supreme Court ruling on the voter’s rights act. It’s the profound stupidity and prejudice exemplified in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s defense of stop and frisk in New York, an official policy of harassment and profiling primarily directed toward people of color. It’s the insanity occurring right now in Texas, where women are stopped and frisked for tampons as they enter the legislature to stand up for reproductive rights — even as guns are freely allowed. It’s the fact we do not have a federal ban on the death penalty, despite the fact that we know innocent people — American citizens — have been killed by our imperfect justice system. It’s the inability of this President to keep his campaign promise to close Guantanamo, despite the human rights abuses that continue to take place there. It’s the robust indifference so many of my fellow citizens have to poverty in this country, even the plight of poor whites. It’s the widening of the black/white wealth gap under a black President. It’s also having a black President who doesn’t talk about race. It’s the prison industrial complex and its marginalization of poor, working class people and people of color. It’s the Republican party’s war on women. It’s the crisis in Chicago. It’s the Democratic party’s complicity in establishing mass surveillance and the unconstitutionally invasive practices of the NSA’s PRISM program. It’s the drones. It’s the drones. It’s the drones. It’s the legal, corporate buyout of our political process. It’s the pathetic excuse for “progressive” television known as MSNBC. And — my God, that’s just a few of the distressing issues happening now. I haven’t even begun to talk about our history. The history of black women, men and children being murdered without consequence — a practice so old and institutionalized that it’s become an American tradition. I’ll stop talking about history now, though, because I see your eyes glazing over. Yes, I know, you’re always telling me to let it go, since you think we’ve magically solved those wily problems of the past.
You know you’re in a horrible relationship when you find yourself making those “pro’s” and “con’s” lists, trying to decide whether to stay or go. Maybe leaving has never really felt like an option — because, well, where would I go? Yes, I dated France for a few years and played the field in a few different countries, but I know there’s no paradise down here. Where would I go where there is no injustice? Where would I go where sexism and classism and racism and queer-phobia aren’t salient dimensions of social life? Where would I go where I would not be disgusted by daily forms of micro and macro aggression and oppression?
And then there’s another inconvenient truth.. the fact that I’m kind of in love with you. It’s that irrational kind of love that loves in the face of ugliness, pain and dysfunction. It is this irrational love that has made me hold out hope for so long. Love that made me listen, against my better judgment, when you sweet talked me with “change” I could believe in. Love that has made me – and continues to make me – want to see what is beautiful about you despite your flaws. Because God knows we are all flawed.
Our destinies are intertwined. I’m not saying that we can’t be together, but I am saying that I might need to see – and live among – other people. Other people who do not have a death penalty. Other people who have boldly legalized gay marriage. Other people who do not have a program of mass incarceration. Other people who do not promote a religion of gun ownership and cultural violence. Other people who protect women’s rights. Other people who have laws against hate speech.
Yes, I know no country is perfect and every society has its baggage. I’m not wearing rose colored glasses. But I am wearing tears – and not just my own. I’m wearing my mother’s tears. My community’s tears. My allies’ tears. And the worst thing of all is that there is nothing new about this. We’ve been crying these tears for many lifetimes, for many generations. Here, in my sadness and pain, it would be easy to blame you, to say that you are the problem. But that would also be a lie. I am part of the problem. And I am also part of the solution.
What I know for sure is that it is the ego that ails us. What I know for sure is that the only hope we have of building a more perfect union is spiritual healing. And I know for sure that transcending the bullshit, hypocrisy and violence of it all begins with me.
So, listen America. I’m not saying it’s over. And I have no idea where we go from here. But I now for sure that love is not supposed to feel like this.