With You All the Way

Plenty of days lately I have not wanted to do anything.

Last night I got brave enough to take my new sewing machine out, and try every possible wrong way of threading the bobbin and threading the needle and threading the machine. It seems outrageous that this 2020 machine requires as much setup as the machine someone worked on in a tenement in 1890, but to me this seems true.

What am I even doing.

I sewed some orange cloth into a pillowcase. It didn’t fit any of my pillows, so I stuffed it with a dress I had stopped wearing, and a sweater I’d stopped wearing.

Well, that was done. Why was I even bothering.

Mornings, I am both desperate and frightened to hear what is going on, and what has gone on, in the continuing hellish saga of white supremacists and leaders with no interest in morality.

On MLK Day, I have often felt extra tired, extra bitter, like I have been trying to participate in my community and make things better, but what difference does it make? One day a year people are like, aw, yeah, racism is bad. I know this isn’t the point of the holiday, but I’m just as petty and cranky as anyone else.

As I get older, I finally realize that no one will ever praise me in a way that makes me feel loved and safe.

That’s something we have to do for ourselves, and I’m just starting to do it, in the smallest ways. Literally hug myself and say out loud, “I love the essence of you, the way you are,” and resist the temptation to tell myself I am proud of something I did. That’s not how love works.

This looks and feels crazy, but it seems like a new way out of my brain, which is constantly thinking about how to do something good, how to make other people feel good, how to not make a big thing of it, how to be fine with no one noticing, how to argue myself as a good person in front of some judge who doesn’t exist, and if he did, he wouldn’t waste his time on my petty shit.

I avoid watching any of the great movies and TV shows from the recent past if they have to do with racism. I feel like my anger is so huge that I can’t risk adding to it.

But I did find my copy of Strength to Love, and read the chapter on fear again. I’ve probably read it the most of any of the chapters. I have a bit of an anxiety disorder. Smile.

Different parts of it speak to me at different times. This time, this part made me cry:

“One of the most dedicated participants in the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, was an elderly Negro whom we affectionately called Mother Pollard. Although poverty-stricken and uneducated, she was amazingly intelligent and possessed a deep understanding of the meaning of the movement….

“On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week which included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting. I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although inwardly I was depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, ‘Come here, son.’ I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately. ‘Something is wrong with you,’ she said. ‘You didn’t talk strong tonight.’ Seeking further to disguise my fears, I retorted, ‘Oh, no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong. I am feeling as fine as ever.’ But her insight was discerning. ‘Now you can’t fool me,’ she said. ‘I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you? Or is it that white folks is bothering you?’ Before I could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, ‘I don told you we is with you all the way.’ Then her face became radiant.”

Then Mother Pollard speaks about God, which I’m into, but if you’re not, this is a fine place to stop, I think. We must be with each other all the way. We have been, we are, we will be. Even someone who is as powerful a leader and an intellect as Dr. King needed support, and a community.

Let us celebrate the ways our communities have sustained us through the horrors of the last year, and vow to be with each other through whatever comes next.

I’m not totally satisfied that this is a photo of Mother Pollard. Her image is, sadly, not easy to find online. But there’s a reasonable chance this is her, and if it isn’t, it’s probably another amazing civil rights activist.

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