Caring and loving take courage. It always has and always will.
Turning 60 was the year of my enlightenment, a time to take stock of my life, assessing it for what lessons were learned, and what lessons I had yet to uncover. Almost ten years later, I have come to some conclusions. The most important conclusion is the journey I’ve set course on was impacted by my past. As a black woman nearly 70, I was born less than a 100-years outside of the era where the freedom of my ancestors’ enslavement was enacted, an enslavement that should have never been. I am taunted by this in various ways, a second-hand trauma that I don’t always understand, a deep sense of grief that can be overwhelming. Moreover, this trauma is further exacerbated by witnessing the killing of George Floyd filmed by a bystander and the brutal questioning of Judge Ketanji Brown in her Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Over the past two decades, I’ve used my voice to not only speak to the ills of this society, but also to speak to the redemption of society through love and care. The latter is the most difficult because the ills are so endemic that love and caring seem to be a fool’s errand. Why bother if nothing seems to change for the better? Why waste my time? And yet I persevere. Because, I realize, time is not wasted if I am working with others to change for the better. Moreover, what I know now is that there is no one way to achieve these goals. We look not only for restoration, but recovery, healing, and a re-building of our society that includes justice for all, not just some.
In 2021, the term of a new president, after a particularly difficult four years, ushered in so many mixed feelings, it made one dizzy. Some believed that a new president meant that the ills of the past would be eradicated. If only it was that easy. Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We cannot begin to fathom the fact that we’ve been here before and in truth, we are doomed to repeat once more the same antics, the same philosophies, and same lessons—and do so without any changes to ourselves. Who among us is ready to change? Who is willing to try? Who therefore, has the courage necessary to do what we haven’t tried before? Can we be courageous enough to replicate the acts of good people who were courageous enough to turn the tide of unrest into peace? But what is courage? The dictionary defines it as “strength in the face of pain or grief.” We must be specific because courage is action, and it means doing what is right. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. learned, “the time is always right to do what is right.” It’s a fact.
We live in a country where that simple fact is essential for workers of peace. And just who are these workers of peace? The list is long but the one that stands out for me is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. People described Dr. King as a man who had the “courage” to ask, no demand, the freedom of his people. But he also did something different than even the abolitionists of the past didn’t. King sought to use non-violence as a tool, and to push love and compassion in restoring hope for blacks, even as they dealt with those who took hate to a new level. He was courageous in his efforts, but he committed to something else. He committed to a world he didn’t get to see but struggled to build anyway. Would he be disappointed with the world as it is now, or would he give us insight into our next steps, influencing us to have hope.
And here we are several generations later at yet another presidential inauguration, hoping that something will change. Well, it did. A young woman stood at the podium with words to inspire. She didn’t come as those before her came (older, more established), yet she came with power and strength—some might even call it courage. As the youngest poet to perform at presidential inauguration, she came with something new, to speak her truth, and her vision of the world.
“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
~ Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman came unafraid but maybe wasn’t quite sure of the impact her words would have after finishing the poem just hours after the January 6th insurrection. Still, her words spoke to a new dawn and was, without a doubt, filled with genuine love and an unabashed caring for the America she lives in. Her words speak to life’s longing for itself, which Khalil Gibran so eloquently spoke about 100 years before. His words were prophetic, and her words became the prophecy fulfilled.
As I get older, I find I’m not only more observant about the world around me, and more than willing to take the risks of what it means to love and care. I commit to being more loving and caring because it takes courage and the more courage you exude, the opportunity for change increases. When I think about my life (I was born a century after slavery), and Gorman’s life, I see a similar viewpoint in what Gibran writes in The Prophet. He wrote this a century before Gorman expresses it through her poem, The Hill We Climb. Gorman supports Gibran’s belief that life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. And in this, having courage stands on the precipice for us to believe in it rather than the ills of society. It is to have lived long enough to be affected by slavery, while at the same time being affected by the fulfillment of a prophecy that Gibran didn’t get to see.
Maybe the truth about courage is that it changes things. I think courage is something we deny ourselves because we refuse to care or love and that’s mostly because we’re selfish. We believe that societal ills are here to stay. It requires less effort to deal with the ills than to care about another human being. Other people can hurt us and being vulnerable is a risk we don’t want to take. But I take the words of the prophetic writer and strive to learn from the newer prophets who dare us to care, dare us to love. Amanda Gorman is a light and there are lots of bright, shining lights out there waiting to brighten our path. Gorman leaves us with the forecast that “there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Be courageous. Love fiercely. Be unwavering in your care.