Today is the day after Martin Luther King Day. In some ways it is the most American of the holidays in the year here in the USA. The 4th of July, Independence Day, celebrates liberation from British rule, establishing an independent sovereign nation, and its relationship with other nations, but MLK Day calls us into the ideals of the relationships within this nation, as articulated by Thomas Jefferson,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thomas Jefferson The Declaration of Independence
Martin Luther King Jr reminded us that there is work to do because that which was declared as “self evident” in the founding of the nation, apparently did not include “all”. It is a good premise for a story, but the story is still being written.
In 1982 I attended a workshop in Toronto, coordinated by the Toronto Justice Council, an organization established to address issues of justice related to those who have been put in jail. The presenter at the workshop was a man from the Mennonite Central Committee. He shared a perspective on justice that came from the ancient Hebrew people. Justice was the state of “right relationships”, and when relationships are “right” there is an experience that can be felt in our being, in the space between us, and it is peace.
The workshop was all about “restorative justice”, doing the work of creating the conditions for the break and violation within in the relationships in a community to be healed by bringing together those who have harmed, with those who have been harmed, and together to confront the experience and discover possibilities for righting the relationships, bringing the community into closer alignment with each other. It is a high ideal, maybe even the highest of ideals. It was an ideal that Martin Luther King Jr lived, worked, and died for.
When Nelson Mandela was elected as President in South Africa, he charged Desmond Tutu with leading the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to recognize the harm of a violent history, and work on reconciliation.
I have been reading a book, “Just Us: An American Conversation”, by Claudia Rankine. It has been a slow read, slow because it takes us into the space between “us”, the us who live here in the USA. It is an emotionally charged space filled with hurt, and ignorance, different stories we tell ourselves, and uncertainty of how to proceed with our relating in the face of it all. I have been taking it slow, because somehow it is not to be glossed over quickly. How we see each other matters. It shapes what happens in the space between us. Claudia Rankine takes us into the uncomfortable place of questioning how we see ourselves, and each other, and how that impacts the way forward.
“What if what I want from you is new, newly made a new sentence in response to all my questions, a swerve in our relation and the words that carry us, the care that carries. I am here, without the shrug, attempting to understand how what I want and what I want from you run parallel— justice and the openings for just us.” Claudia Rankine. “Just Us: An American Conversation.”
I have been pretty safe in my choices of when I use the camera lens to see people. I usually have been welcomed into the space, and the camera is a way for me to participate in that welcome space. I am not very skilled at multi tasking however. I can either participate by observing people through the lens, or I can participate in conversation, activity or play, but I can’t do two things at the same time.
This past year my camera has not been a way that I have participated and related in the world, except on Zoom.
It has been a year that highlights the trouble boiling over in "the space between" us. I don't know yet what it can look like, or how it can be created, but somehow I feel we need safe (even though they may be uncomfortable) spaces to come together, in large and small ways, to address what has and is happening between us.
I wonder how that will shape what I see through the lens.
Yesterday I listened to another of Krista Tippet's On Being podcast with Nikki Giovanni, author, poet, activist, and Professor at Virginia Tech. She shared a poem to highlight how we see each other, called "Nikki-Rosa".
"...and I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me because they never understand Black love is Black wealth and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy" Nikki Giovanni "Nikki-Rosa"
I wonder how I will see differently through the lens after time to explore "the space between". Or will it just be as T.S Eliot wrote,
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." T.S.Eliot