Taking sides

Imagine this:
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun.
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me
Langston Hughes

I love this poem. I love its beautiful image of dancing through the day, sweet rest at night and zinging quiet note of identity. Against all the tumultuous, sad news of racial violence this week it’s a respite and reminder. Fundamentally, our enemy is not a people.

What is it then?

I have one answer from another spokesperson on behalf of a people. Overshadowed by the news of tragic shootings came the announcement of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s death. When I read about his passing I pulled his memoir Night from my bookshelf to page through and remember the time I heard him give a talk. Given the headlines his comments carry fresh relevance.

Wiesel was a survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. In 1960 the English version of Night came out, which records his experience. Since then it’s been translated into 30 languages and 10 million copies have been sold in the U.S. Wiesel spent his life bearing witness as a Holocaust survivor through his work as a teacher and writer. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

I heard him give a talk in 2002 at my alma mater. I remember his hair looking mussed up compared to our college president’s carefully combed profile. The men sat on stage in armchairs angled toward each other, glasses of water on a little side table between them. Their conversation easily lasted over an hour but right now I remember only two comments.

First, Wiesel’s announcement that he’d just learned at dinner that the college president’s father had been in the Sixth Armored Division of the U.S. Third Army and liberated Buchenwald when Wiesel was there. The pang of personal connection and Wiesel’s words of deep gratitude were moving.

My second recollection is Wiesel’s response to a question. From an audience mic a student asked, “Have you forgiven all that happened in the camps?” He paused and then surprised me, “Forgiveness is not mine to give. I can not speak for all those that perished...However, I can take sides. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

He concluded, “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.”

These last words are from Night. When people are hurting at the very least indifference is not a response. Caring has to be one way toward identifying the first forward steps out of a tragedy. The enemy is not a group of people. It’s indifference, fear, bigotry. People matter. I don’t know what the next steps are but I know I can care and to try to look beyond differences to find common ground. Since the spirit of the blog is that in everything we do we believe in pushing through boundaries and the edges of limitation, this includes taking sides…for courage, for love.

This is a big topic.

In the meantime, you know tomorrow’s blog is also a bit about love. I had the chance to attend my 35th college reunion last weekend and encountered…magic.

Until tomorrow (and with love),