On Tuesday, Republican members of the Indiana Senate stripped protected categories such as race, sexual orientation, and gender identity from proposed hate crimes legislation. This caused a backlash from people across the political aisle who derided the move as a step in the wrong direction including Republican Governor Eric Holcomb.
My feelings on hate-crime laws are complicated, but at best I seem them as a symbolic gesture that signals some level of desire to deter violence against marginalized people groups. Which is a good thing, but that is also what makes the actions of our state legislature so frustrating. We can’t even get a symbolic gesture right. (If you want to know more about the law, and why I feel conflicted, check out the work of Elle Roberts. She does a deep dive into the complexities of this issue).
Days like Tuesday make me feel as though the world will never be right. I know people are working hard to improve their communities and protect those who are disadvantaged, but due to gerrymandering and supermajorities, common sense is often sacrificed at the altar of privilege, power, and prejudice.
As much as I believe change is possible, the climb up the mountain feels overwhelming. Its easier to bury my head in the sand and focus on my own problems. I have family members with health issues, student loan payments that seem unsustainable and a career that I can’t quite get a handle on. With the little space I have, I just want to zone out and binge The Office when I go home.
Y’all been there?
Checking out feels like a natural reaction to the fires that are perpetually burning, but when I stick my head in the sand, I feel that slow creep of guilt permeate my reality. My guilt is fueled by the fear that I’m not walking my talk. I speak and write about social justice, but if I’m not backing that up with action, I’m just another talking head. Fear of my own hypocrisy is a powerful motivator. I would love to pretend my motives are always altruistic, but they aren’t. Regardless, I oscillate between involvement and disconnection. One such cycle played out last spring.
I joined a group of people who were supporting a young woman named Erika Fierro. Erika moved to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Beech Grove. She got married, had two children and became an active member of her church community. Early last year, her husband was pulled over and detained on his way to work. After a couple months in a detention center in Chicago, he was deported to Mexico. ICE then targeted Erika and placed an ankle monitor on her. She was ordered to check in once a month knowing that every time she walked into the ICE office, she could be deported.
In support of Erika, Faith in Indiana organized a group of people to come alongside her. Press conferences were held, local clergy were involved and people were present at every check-in. To make a long story short, Erika “voluntarily” left the country in order to keep her family together. Despite the media coverage, the community support, and our constant presence at each of Erika’s check-ins, the forces of division and racism successfully upended Erika and her family. We lost that fight.
I knew that was a possibility, but seeing all of the attention and support that Erika received gave me hope that we could make a difference. Even if it was just for one family, in one city, I thought we could change the outcome. This wasn’t a story I saw on Facebook. This was a real woman who hugged each of us every time we showed up. This was a mom who worried about what would happen to her children if she were detained. This was a wife who missed her husband and suddenly had to hold a household together by herself.
At first, I was angry that this was happening to her, but by the third check-in, I just wanted to cry. I cried for her children who were suddenly without their father. I cried for her husband who was ripped away from his family. I cried for Erika who carried the grief of what she’d lost and the fear of what else might be taken from her.
You can imagine how deflating it felt to learn that despite our best efforts, our prayers, presence and tears, Erika’s family was forced from their home. Knowing they might never return.
That loss left me feeling uncertain and hopeless. Much like many of us felt as we watched the 2016 election results roll in. This may sound short-sighted and immature, but for a second I wondered what the point of it all was. If we can’t even keep one family from being uprooted, what hope is there to stop any injustice? I tucked the question away but didn’t address it until last week when an unexpected teacher helped me make room for hope again.
Brooke and I were driving home from our counseling session, and we saw a dog roaming the neighborhood. He looked friendly and a little lost so we coaxed him into our car and took him home. He had no collar or microchip, which meant we had no way of knowing who he belonged to.
We snapped a picture and placed it on a lost pet website hoping that whoever was looking for him would call. Unfortunately, no one was looking, so I made plans to take him to animal care and control in the morning. It only took one night for this little guy and me to become attached. He loved cuddling and had no limit to the amount of affection he wanted to receive. It was as if he was just grateful to not be alone.
Thursday morning came around and as the time drew near for me to take him to the shelter, I began to imagine him sitting in a cage crying hour after hour, and I started feeling guilty. I knew we couldn’t keep him for a variety of reasons, but I didn’t know what would happen once I dropped him off. How could I, in good conscience, turn my back on this little guy? If you’re not a pet person, you may not understand my dilemma, but anyone who has a dog knows how easy they are to love. As my regret and disappointment crested, I suddenly felt the familiar whisper of intuition, spirit or both and it said:
“Do what you can then let go.”
Translation: you aren’t his savior. Play your role and play it well. Easy to hear, harder to practice, but it was exactly what I needed. I get so caught up in my own ego-driven savior complex that I forget I don’t have to move heaven and earth every day. Once I accepted that humble truth, my perspective changed.
As I sat in my living room, petting Zeus (as he’d later come to be named), I recognized that what I could do is love him and ensure he got somewhere that could take care of him until he found his forever home. That was my role, and I would do it well; trusting that those after me would do the same.
As you consider doing what you can then letting go, what comes to mind? Is there something you’re putting off because it feels too overwhelming?
Maybe you feel the call to make a major life change like becoming a foster parent or joining the Peace Corps. Perhaps it is less drastic like getting arrested at a protest or becoming vegan. Whatever it is, take the first step. We don’t have to fix everything or solve all the problems in order to make a difference. Crazy right?
We can bring healing, salvation, and transformation into the world moment by moment with each decision we make whether monumental or mundane. We don’t have to see the whole picture or know what happens after we play our part. Minute by minute, and day by day, we create lasting change as we do what we can then let go.
I have little hope that Indiana will adopt meaningful hate crime legislation, but true change is not dependent upon state legislatures. If it were, I still wouldn’t be able to vote. True change happens when we accept our limitations, relinquish the illusion of control and do what we can. That is all we have to do. Sometimes what we can do feels like a lot, and other times it doesn’t. Each moment will reveal what is required of you if you pay attention.
Where do you hear the invitation to do what you can then let go today?
P.S. The pup we picked up ended up being adopted by my sister, so he’s getting all the love he deserves.