Last night on the abortion hotline, the first call I returned was a woman who had called multiple times and limited by 119 dollars between her and aborting the baby borne of rape. Post a hazy happy talk with my roommate, I was stunned into the sharp grief as she folded in the desperation and cries. The grief that belies a lot of anger injustice inspires barralled into the space and I could barely apologize that all of our donations had dried up. Anything but silence is pithy in wake of this sadness.
I wanted to pay for her, something to grasp at. It was that same grief that hit me when I was organizing in Chinatown and this lady came in during orientation. Armful of groceries and a fake LV bag, she was fabulous in that Chinatown lady way until she sat down and went from whimpers to near howls in her exhaustion at this predicament. Her building had evicted her because of unsafe housing finally phoned in by out of state folk after a newscast. Never mind that residents had been calling for repairs for years.
She looked just like a distant auntie of mine. And I could show her no help. Knowledge is useless in dire living. Did she just come from shopping for food to find herself evicted and alone on the streets? I was living on little funds, so it’s not like I could whip out my cash to help. But that’s all I want to do, I understand that so much. To leap into whatever avenue avails itself as “help” or really a posture of defenselessness/irresponsibility. Without skill and means, good intentions often harm. This was one of the biggest moments that broke apart the notion of helping others for me. All I could do was listen, and I admit I did it pretty poorly because I was so stunned I didn’t go back to the org for a month. The work though…once my roommate, an acclaimed organizer in the Bronx gave me a sharp fixing and also shared how she ran away multiple times from the organization she became the director of, I began going back and doing door knocking outreach. Not to work out grief, but also to honor that connection that I felt to this woman. I don’t know what happened to her, but I recognized that my ignorance up to that point was part of the reason I didn’t do any work. It’s privilege to not work to alleviate suffering. Thay’s only metric is “does this alleviate suffering or increase it?” and I think about honoring my political ancestors…who are everywhere. In Taiwan, each year, at least once, we must go back to the graves of our ancestors, clean them and sweep them, offer them food and blessings and paper money burned for their journey.
These are the traditions I want to remember with actions and thoughts today in work.