A friend recently loaned me Jodi Picoult’s latest book, Small Great Things. It’s the story of Ruth Walker, a licensed labor and delivery nurse and Turk Bauer, a skinhead whose son dies in the hospital shortly after birth. Turk blames Ruth and a court case ensues in which Ruth is tried for murder. The significant part of the book for me is the daily, sometimes subconscious, racism that pervades the culture as seen in many of the characters in the book. Racism lives in America today.
While Small Great Things ends with a degree of resurrection, not all stories of racism end that way. Hatred has reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Charleston, Dallas, New York and other cities. The list goes on. Do we feel hopeless in the face of the American tragedy of racism or do we take small great steps at a personal level to examine and root our racism in ourselves and our environment?
Cardinal Donald Woerl of Washington, D.C. recently released a pastoral letter to his archdiocese that’s good for all of us to read. He notes that “without a change in the basic attitude of the human heart, we will never move to a level of oneness that accepts each other for who we are and the likeness we share as images of God” – a contemporary way of expressing Jesus’ own words “That they may be one in us.”
Pope Francis continues by urging us to “combine our efforts in promoting a culture of encounter, respect, understanding and mutual forgiveness.”
The work is ours, but how do we do it? How about gathering some people together for a reading of Small Great Things, with an emphasis on seeing into the characters what we ourselves have said, done, ignored, encouraged? If not this book, surf the web and find a video to view and discuss, or go to a talk or a workshop that gets at the heart of the fact that hatred destroys the hater as well as the hated one. Exploring racism together helps keep us on point.
The work of overcoming racism at a personal level requires the awareness and compassion of all of us who live in a self-centered culture. The current phrase is that “we need to get out of our comfort zone.” Only then, do truth and unity have a chance to ripen in us.
When faced with the world’s most awful problems, I often think of the symbol of the Easter candle from which our baptismal candle was lighted. It is by that candle – the Light of Christ – that we see into ourselves and around ourselves. Stand next to that candle in your imagination, close your eyes and be in the Godspace where you can see the procession of people coming to that candle. They are black, red, yellow, brown and white skinned. They come from Mongolia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Bronx. They stand at the borders of countries and at the edge of slums in Chicago and Sao Paulo. If God is for them, how can we be against them?
~Sister Joan Sobala