Life Is Hard, Strawberries Are Delicious

strawberries_sThis winter, I found myself in the midst of an emotional and spiritual storm. The disturbing deaths of innocent black men, women and children in Ferguson, New York and other cities across the country weighed heavily on me.

One morning as I settled in to read the newspaper, I was shaken by the headline that the death of choking victim Eric Garner was not ruled a homicide. I got online and saw that our senior minister was inviting folks to march with him to protest this injustice. With a great sense of urgency, I put everything aside to walk into where love was calling me. That action led to others.

Simultaneously, my intercultural book club was reading selections that unflinchingly delved into the worst things that human beings are capable of doing to each other, telling the distressing stories of individuals whose lives were damaged or destroyed by racism and white supremacy. I was overwhelmed by the terrible immensity of this injustice in a deeper way than I had ever been before.

While I was wrestling with this, Eric, a dear friend from Wellspring, died, and I felt his loss deeply. I struggled with my anger and grief. I wanted to escape from it. How could I hold all these painful realities of life — genocide, racism, my limited racial lens, the death of a kind and loving father of young children — alongside hope, a willingness to connect with openness . . . to joy, love and healing?

It all felt too big to contain.   And it was.

I was reminded of a story Joy DeGruy shared about her trip to South Africa in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. She would sit with the women while they told her stories of ancestors kidnapped from their country and brought to the US to become slaves. With a deeper understanding of the horrific things that happened to them on that journey, she began to cry. The South African women wouldn’t hand her tissue to fix her tears . . . they would begin singing and let her cry.

I shared my struggle within the safety of my Wellspring circle. They didn’t break into song, but they did listen with open hearts and sacred attention. I felt the melody of love and acceptance. I became stronger and braver because of this melody, and I am grateful.

I recognized the need to tend to myself with gentleness. Wellspring asks us to have a daily spiritual practice. I reminded myself of the motto created by my first Wellspring group: “Life is hard, strawberries are delicious.” No matter how challenging life is, it’s important to reach out and savor the delicious parts of living. To balance out the painful reality of injustice and my grief, I modified my spiritual practice to mindfully notice and record the blessings I saw in each day.

After Eric died, we revisited a quote from the Rev. Richard Gilbert that he shared in a Wellspring service two years ago: “A purely private spirituality leads to a shriveling of the self.” Far from shriveling, I’ve found my heart expanded and my spirit renewed through the gifts of Wellspring: whole-hearted listening, self- reflection, spiritual direction and spiritual practice. This experience has given me the courage and clarity to bring my values into the world.

I am called to continue to acknowledge and remind myself of the pain that people of color deal with daily and how white privilege easily keeps me separate and protected from the truth. This damages people of color and it hurts me, too.

It took longer than I wanted to come to a place of equilibrium, and it wasn’t easy. Yet I gradually began to feel a lightness of spirit and the joy of being called to work for justice with others of my faith community. This experience has grown my capacity to hold with compassion the pain of an unjust world. It has given me greater energy for creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to savor the sweetness of strawberries within a circle of love.

The author, a member of First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, is a parent educator and coach and a UU Wellspring facilitator.

The Rev. Dr. Richard S. Gilbert retired in 2005 after serving 44 years in the Unitarian Universalist ministry, including 32 years in service to the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY.


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