Out with friends at lunch the other day, the conversation turned, as it inevitably seems to these days, to politics.
There was lots of ranting, lots of cursing, lots of "Can you believe?" and "Monster!"and "Well, he'd better be ready for a fight."
No question the behavior in question is appalling. No question the character in question is reprehensible. No question that people of good will the whole world are, rightfully, deeply indignant, disturbed, and frightened.
Still, over our heirloom black rice, gluten-free tortillas, and green chai tea, I ended up being disturbed as well by the conversation. There was no space in it for the kind of heart-to-heart exchange that, to my mind, is the bread of life: that nourishes, strengthens, and sends us forth to fight the right battles and on the right fronts.
On my way to Trader Joe's afterwards (I was out of Italian roast and arugula), I sat musing at a stop light. Suddenly I noticed a homeless guy sitting by the side of the road, around my age, with a crudely-lettered Vietnam Vet cardboard sign. I rolled down the window and gave him four bucks. (Lunch had been $13.58). "God bless you," he said gratefully, humbly.
I was reminded of a recent NYT op-ed piece called "Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever." The author observed, "On a recent trip to Madagascar to report on climate change, I was struck that several mothers I interviewed had never heard of Trump, or of Barack Obama, or even of the United States. Their obsession was more desperate: keeping their children alive."
This morning I watched a video by the late Mother Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills socialite and mother of eight who after her second divorce, gave away all her belongings, moved to Tijuana, and installed herself in La Mesa, a notoriously violent maximum-security prison.
She said, "When I went into prison for the very first time, I went into the infirmary and it was a cell block. The cots were there and the men looked at me coming in and they stood up because they saw a woman and a priest. So they stood up even though they were trembling sick and very weak. There were about six bunks and they all stood up to see us. I was very touched at how they received us and I saw a need for medicine and other things."
Mother Antonia lived at La Mesa for over 32 years, in a 10 by 10-foot cell, ministering to the inmates, raising bail money, performing the works of mercy for hardened criminals. One of her spiritual mentors was St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who offered himself up in place of a husband and father of six to die in a starvation bunker at Auschwitz.
"I had a deep love for those saints who had been in prison--Paul, the prisoner. Paul in chains, Peter in chains, and on to Auschwitz, where we had St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was a great example for me. He stood up for mercy and justice, the two things Jesus called upon us to do for one another. That was his criticism of the Pharisees. They followed the rules; that was fine. But they didn't go beyond the rules to the two most important things--justice and mercy. St. Maximilian Kolbe did go beyond. He died for it."
"And he never complained."