God is always in the moment,
be that moment hard or easy, joyful and painful.
(Theologian Henri Nouwen)
As I was scanning through my social media feed this morning, seeing photographs of the hateful graffiti at Glenelg High School and responses from local notables and friends, this quote appeared. I share it not to forward a religious view but rather to look at what it means to be in the moment with this uncomfortable occurrence. If you don’t like the God reference, feel free to replace it with the word “truth”.
Each time something like this happens in our community, I read statements like this:
This isn’t who we are.
We are better than this.
We rush in with denials. We wash away the ugly words. We run from the painful implications.
We don’t want any of that ugliness to stick to us or to tarnish our community. But until we truly enter into the truth of that moment, we can’t begin to develop the strength to address it. And in our denials and avoidance we allow these experiences to follow us and stalk us until the next one inevitably comes along.
And it will.
We are not One Howard. Saying it will not make it so. Look at the photographs from Glenelg, not only filled with racial hatred, anti-semitism, homophobia, but also a pointed personal attack against the school principal. Look at them. Don’t look away.
This is who we are.
We are not better than this.
Local leaders will be quick to say we won’t tolerate this behavior. They are right; we shouldn’t. But painting it over, either literally or metaphorically, is not the medicine that will cure our ills.
I have a mental image that I can’t shake: what if each time this happened we all had to wear those words on our bodies and had to explain to everyone who asked.
No, it wasn’t me...I would never do this.
What did you do to keep things like this from happening?
Well, um, nothing really. I’m a good person.
And imagine if those words wouldn’t fade away until we actively bore witness to the truth and did something tangible to change that reality for ourselves and our community.
This may sound fanciful and/or twisted, like an episode of the Twilight Zone. But it’s closer to reality than you may think. Until we own this experience—truly own it—it owns us.
We can’t wash it away. We need to work it away.